A Pledge of Better Times
By Margaret Porter
I was a teenager. I remember the day being extremely warm. Normally my love of gardens would draw me outside, but England was suffering an abnormally hot summer, and the grandly baroque rooms of Hampton Court Palace were comparatively cool.
In the King’s Private Dining Room I saw her. She was somewhat younger than the ladies in the other life-sized portraits ranged around the room, and prettier. In her hand she held an orange. In the lower left corner she was identified as the Duchess of St. Albans. Much later would I learn a great deal about the Hampton Court Beauties, painted by Godfrey Kneller at the request of Queen Mary II. On that stifling summer day, I only knew that I liked her picture best.
|The King’s Dining Room, Hampton Court. The inspiring portrait is on the left side.
On return visits over many years, I was always drawn to that same portrait. To put it quite simply, I felt a connection.
Some time later, the family genealogist provided me with a lengthy and detailed pedigree chart and a narrative. One section dealt with my de Vere forbears, and my eye lighted on a sentence stating that Lady Diana de Vere, heiress of the 20th and last Earl of Oxford, had married Charles Beauclerk, the first Duke of St Albans, the son of King Charles II by actress Nell Gwyn. I realized two things at once—this was the lady of the portrait, and I appeared to be related to her.
I was under contract to my publisher for one or two more books, definitely not in search of an out-of-genre project. But from the start of my career I had aspired to write biographical fiction, and Lady Diana was a potential subject. But I needed to know more about her life.
Over many years, after long hours in the British Library and the London Metropolitan Archive (where the Beauclerk family records reside) and many other places, I was able to piece together her story and that of her soldier husband, a royal bastard, and her courtier father and the queen in whose household she served. I visited and re-visiting the places she knew and lived in—Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Bestwood Park near Nottingham. In Windsor, I visited the site of her mansion (many times) and received permission to enter the private chapel where she was laid to rest at the end of her long life. I discovered two unknown portraits of her, also by Godfrey Kneller, and one of her husband. I became acquainted with and corresponded with their descendants.
|On the Street Where She Lived, Margaret in Windsor.
In that era—and all others—men’s lives were documented in greater detail than women’s, so I was able to trace her duke’s history and movements. Although I discovered everything I possibly could about Diana, there were so many gaps. As a historian, I was often frustrated. As a novelist, I was grateful—my imagination and informed speculation are reliable and essential tools. To fill in blank spaces in my protagonist’s history, I shared something of myself. I gave her a dog modelled on one of mine. One of my favourite flowers, Passiflora incarnata, is also hers. Because she was one of Queen Mary’s attendants, and there was ample information about the daily activities of the royal retinue, I knew Diana had to be proficient in needlework and appreciative of gardens and fond of walking.
When the time came for cover art decisions, I was adamant that the Hampton Court portrait be used. As a bystander to the involved process of obtaining the reproduction rights, I never lost hope. The Royal Collection, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, assented to the request.
To my delight and relief, the initial inspiration for my novel is indeed featured on its cover, many years after it enthralled my teenaged self.
|Margaret with Lady Diana de Vere’s portrait, Hampton Court Palace.
A Pledge of Better Times
“Porter’s ambitious novel of 17th-century England is brimming with vivid historical figures and events . . . rigorously researched and faithfully portrayed.” ~ ~ Publishers Weekly
“The remarkable figure of Lady Diana de Vere stands at the center of Margaret Porter’s sumptuous, wonderful new novel.” ~ ~ Historical Novels Review
A sweeping tale of ambition, treachery, and passion incorporating 17th century historical figures, royalty, and events.
For generations Lady Diana de Vere’s family loyally served England’s crown. But after King Charles II’s untimely death, her father firmly opposes James II’s tyranny. Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans—the late king’s bastard son by actress Nell Gwyn—also rebels against his newly crowned uncle’s manipulation.
Political and religious turmoil bring revolution and yet another coronation before Charles returns to from war to claim his promised bride. As companion to Queen Mary Stuart, Diana has followed her de Vere forbears into royal service. She expects Charles to abandon his military career after marriage, but he proves unwilling to join the ranks of the courtiers he despises and mistrusts.
In palace corridors and within their own household the young duke and duchess confront betrayals, scandals, and tragedies that threaten to divide them. And neither the privileges of birth nor proximity to the throne can ensure their security, their advancement—or their happiness.
MARGARET PORTER is the author of A Pledge of Better Times and eleven more British-set historical novels for various publishers, including several bestsellers, award-winners, and many foreign language editions. She studied British history at universities in the U.K. and U.S., and afterwards worked in theatre, film and television.