Life in the time of Anne Howard
(An Unconventional Officer)
by Lynn Bryant
Wellington’s headquarters in Freineda, Portugal
Anne Howard, the fictional heroine of the Peninsular War Saga, was born in the small Yorkshire town of Thorndale in 1791. She was the youngest of the four children born to a wealthy textile manufacturer, Matthew Howard, who rose from humble beginnings to become the wealthiest man in the Thane valley. Anne’s mother died giving birth to her and she was raised by her stepmother, Harriet, who came from a family of Leicestershire gentry.
Socially, Anne came from the wealthy middle class of the industrial revolution although her family, partly because of their wealth and partly because of her stepmother’s more genteel background, were beginning to move up the social ladder. Sir Matthew remained very much a manufacturer but his eldest son George had political ambitions and was about to step into the shoes of Mr Benjamin Carlyon, the local MP who was retiring. The move would take him to London and into a world outside the restricted society of Thorndale. Katherine, Anne’s older sister was also about to make a very good marriage to a man holding a minor government post and she too is moving up.
Anne’s role was supposed to be to make a good marriage and she was offered a selection of suitors, each one of whom would bring some advantage to her family. In particular, her father favoured Lieutenant Robert Carlyon who had little money but could bring his father’s support to George’s political ambitions. Sir Matthew and Lady Howard were affectionate, if somewhat exasperated parents, and were willing to offer their wayward daughter a limited choice of husband although they were very keen to see her settled young. This was by no means general in Regency times where girls would often not marry until they were in their twenties, but one suspects that the Howards were slightly anxious about Anne’s independent spirit and were hoping to see her settled with the right man before she did something outrageous which would spoil her chances of a good match. They were probably right.
We meet Anne part way through book one at the age of seventeen when she runs into the married Paul van Daan in the middle of a snowstorm. The attraction between the couple is immediate but by the end of a long day snowbound in a shepherd’s hut, it is clear that there is a lot more to the lovely Miss Howard than a pretty face and Major van Daan is a lost man.
In 1808 the battle for equality for women had barely begun. Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792, which argued that women ought to have an education suited to their position in society and that they should be treated as human beings rather than property or ornaments. Women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century had very few rights. They could not inherit property or money unless there were no male heirs. Within marriage, women had no legal identity of their own and their husbands controlled every aspect of their lives. Divorce was not a possibility for a woman; it was difficult for a man unless he was very wealthy. A girl moved from the control of her father to that of a husband and there were virtually no respectable career opportunities for women. Certainly there were no women doctors; the first woman to graduate from medical school was Elizabeth Blackwell in the USA 1849 and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in the UK did not graduate until 1862.
In the restricted world of her time, Anne Howard was out of place and she knew it. Well-read and highly intelligent, she had been allowed a good deal of freedom in her education by her indulgent stepmother who was aware that despite the limitations of her gender she was academically ahead of both her older brothers. At the same time, it was always understood that despite her remarkable qualities, Miss Anne Howard was destined for the traditional feminine career of a useful marriage which would bring advantage to her family. Anne both accepted and resented her position in the world but had she not met Paul van Daan she might well have made the conventional marriage expected of her and made the best of it.
Anne’s love affair with Paul and her subsequent marriage to Lieutenant Robert Carlyon changed everything for Sir Matthew Howard’s unconventional daughter. Taken from her Yorkshire home to the army camps of Portugal she discovered a side to herself she could never have suspected. Boredom led her to volunteer to help with the nursing at the army hospital and under the tuition of Dr Adam Norris she began to learn surgical skills, encouraged by the somewhat eccentric army surgeon who was desperate for help in the overcrowded and understaffed field hospitals. Under the disapproving eye of many of the established army surgeons she worked alongside Norris throughout the war, a doctor in everything but name, her unofficial role protected by the support of Lord Wellington and Sir James McGrigor, the head of the army medical service. In civilian life she would never have been allowed to continue but in the desperate conditions of wartime her usefulness outweighed convention and her second husband was deeply proud of her achievements.
Anne is one of my favourite characters. As a historical novelist it is always important to know the restrictions and conventions of the time but it is equally fun to research the men and women who stepped outside them. There were many women who followed Wellington’s army to be with their men, from the humblest camp followers and wives of enlisted men, dragging their meagre baggage and their children through appalling conditions to the wives of officers, searching through the dead and wounded after a battle for their missing husband. They are often seen as a footnote in history, which writes of the glory and the tragedy of battle and forgets each individual tragedy of a child lost to camp fever or a husband or lover dead in the breaches at Badajoz. Juana Smith, the young Spanish wife of Harry Smith of the rifles, followed her husband throughout the war, through the most appalling conditions at times and her story, which I first read as a teenager in Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride and later in Smith’s highly entertaining autobiography, was one of the inspirations behind Anne’s character in An Unconventional Officer and the rest of the Peninsular War Saga.
Life in the times of Anne Howard offered few opportunities for a gently-bred middle class girl to step outside the limitations of her class and her gender but trapped in an unhappy marriage and a long way from home, Anne seized every opportunity with both hands. By the end of book one, the unconventional officer of the book’s title had found himself an unconventional woman to share his life and their extraordinary love story is at the heart of the Peninsular War Saga.
Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London's East End. She studied History at university and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including being a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor and manager of an art gallery before she realised that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book.
She now has eight novels published on Amazon including the first four books in the Peninsular War Saga. Her ninth book, An Unwilling Alliance is set during the Copenhagen campaign of 1807 and will be the first to feature Captain Hugh Kelly RN as well as Major Paul van Daan from the Peninsular War novels.
She now lives in the Isle of Man, is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two teenage children and two labradors. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she spoils her elderly dogs, reads anything that's put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house.
An Unconventional Officer
(Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga)
It is 1802. Bonaparte’s armies are sweeping through Europe and Britain is at war on land and at sea when two new officers arrive at the barracks of the 110th infantry just in time to join the light company on its way to fight in India under an ambitious young general called Arthur Wellesley. Junior officers have come and gone in the 110th but none of them have been quite like Paul van Daan, a man with a past and a whole new view of army life which is to change the 110th into a regiment like no other.
Ambitious and unconventional with a fiery temper and a fierce courage, Paul van Daan is a man destined to go far in Wellesley’s army; a man who inspires both loyalty and envy and the love of two very different women.
As Portugal and Spain are consumed by war, an unforgettable love story is set in motion...