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Guest blogger: Clyve Rose

26 March 2023

Regency England is more than ‘just Austen’

With the release of The King’s Mistress (the second in my trilogy), I’ve been getting more questions about the Romany and their presence in England during the Regency period.

The first novel is Always a Princess, where a Romany Prince faces Wil, a duke’s son, in a duel. The Romany man is standing proxy to pay off a debt to another peer. This system of barter was a usual form of exchange between the English and Romany.

In any case, the duke’s son injures the Romany man, and his sister Syeira works to heal the wound. She insists the English help in this—and Wil is so taken with the Romany princess, and their entire family’s sense of care and connection, that he falls in love. We also meet Wil’s siblings in this novel, including his oft-neglected little sister.

The King’s Mistress is the sequel novel and takes place eight years later. The neglected young girl, Lydia, is grown up now. Her isolated childhood and casual cruelties at the hands of her father have left her with anxiety—and I very much worked to include this condition in my story. It isn’t called that of course, but my heroine has a stutter and several habits that stem from anxiety, which some readers have reached out to say they recognise.

With no proposals forthcoming after her second Season, Lydia’s father demands she wed his friend, the much older (and arguably more violent) peer. Understandably, she flees under a false name. To protect herself, she puts out the lie that she’s mistress to the Romany King (the Romany Prince Valkin from book 1). News of his English mistress traversing the countryside comes as a shock to Valkin and he’s determined to find out why this woman is lying. He has a lot more to protect than a girl he’s coming to care for though—he’s responsible for the wellbeing of his House, and the current goodwill existing between some of the English and the Romany.

The series was inspired by Chapter 39 in Jane Austen’s Emma. For those who don’t know the work, readers are presented with a curious incident: Miss Harriet Smith (the heroine’s BFF), is accosted by a ‘group of gypsies’ while out walking. She isn’t saved by the hero, but rather by the pseudo-villain, but this part of the story always bothered me.

In her incident, Austen does not accuse the ‘gypsies’ of being heathens, but they’re clearly depicted unfavourably; they’re kept outside the town limits and written up as dark, terrifying, criminal, and dangerous. They do not ‘fit’ in Austen’s England, and are quite unsatisfyingly removed from Emma’s tale as soon as they’ve served their rather meagre narrative purpose: “The Gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice: they took themselves off in a hurry.”

Austen’s England is usually a place inhabited only by the English themselves, but the truth is that there were non-English people present in Austen’s England; other voices with their own perspectives and their own stories worth telling, and worth writing. Syeira, my first Romany protagonist, grew directly out of my unhappiness at Austen’s treatment of the Romany people.

The English Romany occupy a unique position in Regency British history. They lived, loved, and mattered in the same geographic spaces as Jane Austen herself. They still do.

England was, and is, a shared land. Two cultures, so vastly different in so many ways, coexisted for centuries, and rarely peacefully. The English Romany were as present and alive and wonderfully romantic as the Regency English.

It isn’t easy to be born in a place that never allows you to become a part of it without a fight, a plea, an effort to assimilate and cut away the parts of you that discomfit the powerful dominant culture all around you. It is more than difficult; it’s painful and damaging.

For myself, born into a marginalised culture with a mostly oral tradition, the ‘minor’ incident in Emma stands out. I understand that real history is profoundly unromantic—and yet, somehow, I still want to try. There’s beauty in stories, in narratives of the tales about long-ago lovers and their imagined worlds. There is much solace to be found in story.

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The King’s Mistress

Why does the Duke want Lydia to marry his friend so badly? What is he trying to hide from her?

​Mortified by his younger son’s marriage, the now-ageing Duke of Carston doesn’t suffer Wil’s name to be mentioned in his houses, nor does he show any interest in his son’s whereabouts. This distresses Lady Lydia, who was delighted for Wil when he found happiness with his Romany Princess Syeira.

​But now Lydia is alone, with no one to safeguard her interests but her distant father. Once vivacious and friendly, she grows more isolated. After her ‘coming out’ in London fails to secure any proposals, His Grace determines to marry Lydia off to a man known for his cruelty.

​In the face of this, Lydia undertakes a desperate attempt to reach her eldest brother in Paris. Travelling under a false name, she wards off danger by declaring that she is mistress to a Romany royal, and under his protection.

​Everything seems to be going to plan… until she runs into the Romany royal himself.

For the life of him, Lord Brishen can’t figure out why this beautiful young Englishwoman seems so familiar, or why he feels so drawn to her.

​What is she hiding – and why?

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