In today’s inflammatory political climate, spurned by the worst of social media, why on earth did I decide to incorporate politics into my new release, TO RESIST A SCANDALOUS ROGUE? On some days even I don’t know.
At the start of the book, the hero, Finlay, has discovered devastating news about his past, and he’s desperate for a distraction. Like any good rogue of his day, he’s tried women, booze, and gambling…but he’s grown bored. The affairs of Parliament attract his interest, and after studying the issues and engaging others in lively debates, Finlay knows he’s found his calling and decides to stand for a contested Parliament seat.
Great, I thought when the idea came to me. And then I wondered, what does it mean to run for political office in 1830 England? Like any good historical romance author I began to investigate, and with the aide of Rose Lerner and her excellent research skills, I learned the following things:
– Not everyone could vote. I’m sure you’re just as surprised as I was to learn this, which is to say not at all. In Regency England, or more aptly, pre-Reform Act of 1832, only landowners could vote. Now let’s scratch our heads as we consider who owned land at the time. If you guessed “wealthy white men” you win a gold star. So the entire empire was run by a minority group of men who did not understand the everyday struggles of the poor and working class, which was the overwhelming percentage of the population. And don’t get me started on how these men also governed the rights and welfare of the other half the population (I’m looking at you, ladies!).
– Parliament is divided into two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. If you’ve read historical romance for any length of time, these terms are probably somewhat familiar to you, but what exactly do they mean? Lords is made up of, wait for it…peers of the realm. Your dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons voted in the upper house of Parliament. The power of the House of Lords diminished over the years, especially after the Reform Act of 1832 (which many fought against), but those wily noblemen have always known how to make their voice heard.
Incidentally, a portion of seats in the present-day House of Lords are filled with life peers appointed by the Queen, in conference with the Prime Minister. A cap on hereditary peers was set at 92, and only one of them has been female since 2008: the Countess of Mar. Womp womp!
The House of Commons is comprised of elected seats…although it has not been without corruption. Before the Reform Act, the boundaries of many constituencies (i.e. boroughs and counties) had not changed for centuries. So a large city like Manchester might be represented by one member of Parliament (MP) and a small podunk village in Surrey might have two MPs. On top of that, small constituencies were often susceptible to bribery, so a wealthy landowner in the area…like say an earl…could guarantee that his candidate won every election, thus consolidating his power. These were called pocket boroughs, and the Reform Act did away with them.
– Running for a Parliamentary seat cost a good deal of money, thus ensuring the majority of candidates were people of means. Candidates were expected to visit the constituents of their county or borough, perhaps pay for a new spire on the local church, purchase new primers for the children in the schoolhouse, or pay for a round of ale at the local pub. Some candidates had fundraising committees, while others bankrolled their entire campaign with their own funds. It was no small or cheap feat.
Now since Finlay was an heir in possession of a courtesy title (Viscount Firthwell), he was not eligible for a hereditary seat in Lords until he assumed his father’s title, so he decides to stand for a contested Commons seat. And that’s where the action in TO RESIST A SCANDALOUS ROGUE begins. Like most young, rakish nobleman, Finlay has baggage that tarnishes his candidacy, but he’s a hard worker and determined to prove he will work hard for Weobley, the borough he’s keen to represent. But then he meets the heroine, Charlotte, who – of course – throws a monkey wrench into all his plans.
Quick fact: Weobley is a village in Herefordshire that was once incorporated as a borough with two MPs…until the Reform Act dissolved it. Boom!
I’m certain politics was just as toxic and inflammatory in 1830 London as it is now, but guess what? Without social media, my research into the era was far more palatable than it would be in modern day. #Truth