It’s exciting to be guest blogging here at Susana’s Parlor on Bastille Day! The storming of the Bastille radically changed the path of French and European history in ways that are integral to the period in which most of my stories are set, the English Regency. One minor (but fun) example is the way in which the heavy full-skirted gowns and immense coiffures and hats of 1788 had completely given way to the simple, slim, “classical” silhouette by 1795.
In revolutionary France, this mode of dress was associated with democratic societies such as ancient Greece and the Roman republic.
More important in the long term, the political instability that resulted from the overthrow of the French monarchy also opened the door to the Napoleonic era, and wars that not only extended throughout Europe and into the Middle East, but into North and South America. These military campaigns, and the fear of democratic radicalism crossing the Channel from France, hugely impacted English society at the time, hardening the conservative views of many English aristocrats about the importance of birth and breeding even as the industrial revolution and trade with India created a rapidly growing class of nouveau riche.
Only six years after Bastille Day, Napoleon, who was then just 26, and had joined the French Army to promote Republican ideals, had undertaken his first campaign against Austria and Italy after saving the French Directory, the successor to the first revolutionary government. He conquered Italy and became a national hero, and then embarked on an invasion of Egypt that was his launch pad to becoming the ruler of the entire country in 1799 as First Consul.
Napoleon successfully replaced the unstable revolutionary government with a more sustainable populist regime, albeit one that was rather authoritarian. Napoleon is remembered most today for his wars, ill-fated campaign in Russia and eventual defeat, and his government reforms are often ignored. In spite of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the first revolutionaries, Napoleon was in many ways far more the basis for the modern state that recognizes the rights of the individual than the Revolution itself. The revolutionaries were disorganized, philosophically polarized and devolved into the violence, irrationality and bloodshed of the Terror.
Napoleon however, had a positive mania for organization and codification and introduced secular education, replacement of feudalism with modern property law, and the Napoleonic Code that set forth clear civil and criminal law that specified and codified the rules of due process that protect people living in functional states today (as well as numerous other reforms).
Napoleon’s mania for organization was pervasive; he not only set up vast and detailed bureaucracies for military and civil administration, he personally took a hand in facilitating the meetings. One weird manifestation of this was his largely successful effort to control the smuggling trade between England and France for his own benefit. His success was remarkable when one considers the strenuous efforts the English had made for centuries to bring smuggling under control with minimal results.
Napoleon’s job was perhaps easier, because he didn’t want to abolish or heavily tax the trade as the English did, but rather to centralize it and document the comings and goings of the smugglers, at least partially in order to facilitate the smuggling of gold guineas badly needed by his government to pay his troops and prosecute his wars.
This led Napoleon to establish a “ville des smoglers” or city of smugglers, initially located at Dunkirk and later at the more secure city of Gravelines nearby. French authorities received and documented the arriving English smugglers and their transactions with their French counterparts. They actively encouraged smuggling, even allowing the boats to be built there for British crews when the Inland Revenue Service and Royal Navy destroyed boats to prevent it.
I found the story of the City of Smugglers irresistible and a perfect backdrop for Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy the third book of my Arlingbys Regency romance and intrigue series. In this book, Valerie Carlton is the well born but impoverished widow of a soldier who lost his life in the Peninsular Wars, while Sir Tarquin Arlingby conceals his secret spying behind his wealthy gentleman of fashion persona. Their love story stretches from London across the English Channel to the City of Smugglers as they seek to uncover Napoleon’s secrets to support the English troops.
In the excerpt below, our daring duo is about to get their first glance at the fortress of Gravelines and the City of Smugglers.
About Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy
Mrs. Valerie Carlton is the widow of a soldier who died in the Peninsular Wars. Disowned by her family for “marrying down,” she survives working as a governess. When the elder son of the family makes unwelcome advances, Valerie leaves, seeking refuge with a close friend until she can find another position.
Sir Tarquin Arlingby, a wealthy, handsome bachelor on his way home, is staying at the same inn as Valerie and witnesses her being robbed before she can board the coach. He goes to Valerie’s aid and is instantly attracted to her. As her friend’s home is near his estate, he offers to drive her there.
An unfortunate accident forces the pair to spend a night in a village inn. Over dinner, Valerie talks about her experiences during the Spanish campaign against Napoleon and the sense of mission that she felt following the drum, which she misses in her current life. Sir Tarquin, who is secretly spying for the Crown by masquerading as a smuggler to pass information in and out of France, is intrigued by her bravery and his attraction increases. Valerie is also drawn to the handsome baronet.
Tarquin needs a French-speaking woman to pose as a smuggler during a mission to the “City of Smugglers” in Gravelines. When he discovers that Valerie speaks French like a native, he successfully recruits her for the job.
Will the pair survive their dangerous mission? Will they finally acknowledge the depth of their feelings for each other?
Find out in Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy, a Regency romance with intrigue, humor and just the right amount of moderately explicit sex for those readers who enjoy sensuality with their romances.
Much later, Valerie awoke to Tarquin shaking her shoulder. She looked around in surprise to note the sun just rising over the horizon.
“Madame Carleon, we are approaching the shoreline. You will wish to watch as we arrive,” he said.
“Bien sur, Jake,” she replied, gathering her wits. She looked across the water to see the coastline clearly delineated before them. The golden-pink rays of the rising sun imbued the sandy, rolling shoreline with a pearly glow, and wavelets sparkled in the emerging daylight. As the shore grew rapidly closer with the long oar strokes of the rowers, she could see the narrow mouth of a waterway cutting through the beach. They glided into the channel and moved inland as rich green farm fields, dotted with cows and distant villages, scrolled past on either side.
Within an hour they were approaching the fortress of Gravelines. The looming walls, built hundreds of years earlier, reminded Valerie of the fortresses her husband had helped to besiege in Spain, and she shivered a little at the violent memories they awoke in her.
To banish her unwelcome recollections, she looked over at Tarquin. In the daylight she could see he had been correct in saying that a change of clothing and some walnut juice to temporarily brown his skin did much to disguise him. His blonde hair was tousled, his face looked as though work in the sun and wind had tanned it, and a day or two of stubble on his cheeks gave him the appearance of a farmer or deckhand. His billowing cotton shirt was partially covered with a leather vest, and the open collar allowed her to see the strong column of his throat. She acknowledged ruefully that the disguise made him no less attractive. Many a woman would take an interest in Jake West.
But there was little time for daydreams. As they drew up to a pier, the crew sprang into action. Tarquin shipped his oar and stood in one lithe movement, while Valerie grabbed her reticule from its spot atop the tarpaulin covering the golden cargo destined to support Napoleon’s armies. Seconds later, she found herself on the pier with the members of the guinea boat’s crew and other passengers, facing what appeared to be a small army of customs inspectors, coast guards, and police officers.
Unfamiliar with the procedure and somewhat intimidated by the crowd of officials, Valerie stood as close to Tarquin as possible, taking reassurance from his height and strength, while attempting to maintain an outward calm. A hard faced customs official wearing close fitting white breeches and an elaborate green coat crisscrossed with bright white leather straps approached her.
He looked her over briefly. “Qui etes vous, madame?” he barked.
“Madame Carleon, une modiste,” she replied, handing over her papers. “I am here to select fabrics, trims and stock for my shop. Ces hommes ne peuvent pas selecter les mieux tissus.” For additional effect, she sniffed and cast a dismissive glance towards Tarquin.
“Bien sur, madame,” the inspector said, giving her a more interested look and a smile. He rifled through her papers, pausing a moment to squint at one of them, as Valerie held her breath. “Allez, you may go.” He leered at her, his eyes raking over her figure. “A pity you live in England. France could use a fine woman such as you.”
“You never know,” said Valerie saucily, “I may return. Particularly if there are more strapping men such as you.”
“Not too many like me, but I’m sure I could satisfy you.”
Valerie laughed and moved on, giving him a teasing glance over her shoulder. The inspector, clearly recognizing Tarquin, nodded at him briefly, and he followed in her wake.
When they were out of earshot, Tarquin spoke in a low voice. “You did well there. That was a member of the Douane Imperiale, Napoleon’s elite customs unit. All of its members have served in the Army and they undertake armed missions when necessary.”
“I’m glad I didn’t know that before I spoke with him,” Valerie laughed.
“I’m sure I did not encourage you to flirt with the officials,” observed Tarquin.
“It seemed to be the easiest way to convince him I’m harmless.” She glanced up at him. “Are you jealous?”
“Jake West has no right to be jealous of Madame Carleon’s doings,” responded Tarquin, and she had to be content with that.
She turned away and watched the crowd bustling around them with interest. “What do we do now?”
“Let us go find some bread and coffee first,” he suggested. “Then I will take you to the fabric merchants. We will spend one night here; it takes them some time to count the gold and be sure that all is accounted for, and that the manifest is accurate. There is an inn for the smugglers that is quite decent. Everything here is very well organized.”
Valerie looked about her. Although the walls ran close around it, and the primary language to be heard was French, she thought she could have been in a market town almost anywhere. There were counting houses, and a great many shops, inns, taverns, and other businesses.
“It seems to be,” she agreed. “I’m afraid I had another picture in my head, with dark, narrow streets and people skulking about in the shadows. Instead it is almost disappointingly ordinary.”
Tarquin smiled. “Everything required for the smugglers to conduct their business has been thought of. There is even a shipyard, for in some regions the tidesmen have taken to destroying the guinea boats, so they make them here, and then row them to England to pick up the cargoes.”
“That’s rather shocking,” Valerie replied.
Tarquin shrugged. “I suppose it is. I am doing all I can to improve matters, but that is the reality of the treachery we are contending with.”
Giveaway: Two lucky commenters will receive free copies of Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy. The winners will be randomly chosen one week after this post is published.
About the Author
Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.