The Hero-With-Benefits (HWB)
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
In my newest novella Stand & Deliver, I present my dashingly heroic Lieutenant-Colonel Brock, who must contend with a difference in social rank when he pursues the woman he loves: the Countess of Essex. Why does her status matter? Well, it all depends on your definition of 'hero'.
In the Regency era, it was considered a boon for a Regency lady to wed above her station and/or class. When she did so, she gained the rank and title of her husband. In my novella (read your extract here), Olivia Harding is the daughter of recently created baronet. This wasn't uncommon at the time. The long wars with France allowed many military families to gain rank, title, and fortune. In the case of Miss Harding, her father's new title brings her to the notice of an earl, leading to her first marriage. As per the laws of the day, she elevates from baronet's daughter, to countess. This is the goal of a many a Regency lady who faces the marriage-mart.
When the earl dies however, Olivia finds her second chance at love - this time with a man considered beneath her station. Our war hero cannot wed Olivia if she remains a countess. She'd have to give up her title and agree to become a Lieutenant-Colonel's wife only - but is this something a romantic hero would allow his lady love to give up? In the case of my heroine, she has a young son to consider which makes a material difference to her choices. In the end, I had to decide whether Brock was heroic enough to know he might never be able to join his love in matrimony. Not without asking her to give up too much - and how can this be heroic at all?
The Dower Money:
For a man of lower rank than the woman he woos, he's asking her to step down. In the case of a widow, she'd not only give up her rank, but also any claim to the income left to her by her late husband. In the case of my heroine, the earldom - and its income - necessarily belong to her son. She is however, entitled to one-third of it. This is known as the dower income, and it ceases to flow to any widow on her remarriage. This turns out a little differently for my countess, as you'll see, but the point is that any man looking to woo a widowed aristocrat had better be worth it.
The Unmarrying Kind:
It's no secret that many a Regency gentleman maintained a mistress. I couldn't find any record of a woman keeping a man in a similar fashion, but it was certainly possible. Probable? Perhaps. Scandalous? Certainly, but scandal doesn't stop everybody - and it's never yet stopped a determined pair of lovers.
What of their children, I hear you ask? Ah, my delightful beta readers had the same outcry. It's possible for a man and woman to love each other for years, produce a prodigious amount of progeny, and never wed at all in the Regency period. The Fitzclarences demonstrate precisely this achievement. They represent an illegitimate line descended from the royal family, no less.
The Duke of Clarence:
Prince William, Duke of Clarence, was the third son of King George III. He fathered around ten children by his mistress Dorothea, all of whom took the surname Fitzclarence. They lived together for years, until the duke was required to marry, at which point his mistress was granted an annual stipend and custody of their daughters.
The children were also granted the rank of a marquess' younger sons or daughters. If you're wondering why these illegitimate children were granted such high ranks and honours, it's because their father became King William IV in 1830, after the death of King George IV (the former Regent himself).
So love may conquer social scandal - if one is a king - though irony clearly abounds. It's a comfort to know that any children of our hero and heroine mat not quite be out in the cold.
The Unmarriage of a Hero:
As my hero cannot marry my heroine without placing her in relative penury, and jeopardising her child's future, I had to seriously consider: what's a hero to do? Can he accept love without marriage?
Well, he can't have her give up her income. That's hardly heroic. He can't ask her to throw away her child's future either. Can he love then? Just love her, and accept that she may never legally become 'his'? This means living alongside her in sexy scandal for a good long while... This is big call for for a Regency gentleman - so, how heroic can our war hero be?