Catherine Kullmann introduces the Duchess of Gracechurch
An Author's Inspiration.
Some characters slip into your books unplanned and unheralded only to play a pivotal role in the story. So it was with Flora, the young Duchess of Gracechurch in The Murmur of Masks.
It is 1804. Eighteen-year old Olivia Rembleton, the daughter of a naval captain, has made a marriage of convenience following her mother’s sudden death. Strolling along Pall Mall with her uncle, Mr Harte, she is overawed by the passing throng.
To Olivia’s provincial eyes, the street was busy enough and many of the ladies were so stylishly turned out that she felt quite a drab hen among these swans. Just look at the younger of the two ladies approaching them. Everything about her was just so, as if she had stepped out of one of the modish prints, and so well suited to her delicate form that she would have resembled nothing more than a Meissen figurine were it not for the liveliness of her expression as she talked to her companion, an older woman—her mother perhaps? Olivia was transfixed with envy of the elegant silver satin jockey cap, decorated with ruching and twisted braid, with a cunningly-wrought tassel mingling with the dark curls at the back of the wearer’s head.
The ladies are the Duchesses of Gracechurch—Flora and her mother-in-law, the dowager, a cousin of Mr Harte’s late wife. On learning of Olivia’s recent marriage, the young duchess invites her, her husband and her uncle to dinner the following evening.
I am very much a pantser rather than a plotter and this was one of those moments when a book takes flight. The following evening I learn that Flora is twenty-three and has a son of almost five. She tells Olivia, “I was not yet seventeen when I married, so you see I know what it is to have one’s life suddenly turned topsy-turvy.”
Now she has intrigued me. Flora played in increasingly important part in The Murmur of Masks, befriending Olivia and helping her find her feet in society and, bit by bit, I learnt more of Flora’s own story. Here they are at Flora’s ball.
“Tell me what is wrong. Has someone upset you?”
“It’s foolish,” Olivia said. “I should have been better prepared.”
“Someone asked me to dance with him. He called me Miss Rembleton.” Olivia stopped abruptly, her lips trembling.
The duchess reached over and took her hand. “It brought your circumstances home to you,” she suggested gently.
Olivia nodded dumbly.
“I understand. I didn’t have to contend with it in that particular way, for I was Lady Stanton from the day I was married.” She shrugged, smiling wryly at Olivia. “Mine was a made match”………. “I should have thought of this,” she muttered in Olivia’s ear as they moved as quickly as permissible across the ballroom to the alcove where the dowager sat with Mr Harte.
“Mamma, Mrs Rembleton needs a duenna,” the duchess said gaily, “one who will help her separate the rakehells from the rascals. I know I may depend on you to help her, you were such a support to me in my first Season.”
Book Two of The Murmur of Masks opens ten years later. Olivia and Flora are close friends and Flora has acquired a reputation for “looking out for young wives whose husbands are—distant, shall we say? She encourages them to be independent, to make their own lives. They’re known as Flora’s fillies.”
The Murmur of Masks tells Olivia’s story and my next novel, Perception & Illusion, tells the story of another of Flora’s protégées, Lallie Grey. But Flora’s hints about her own story continued to fascinate me, especially after I found this miniature in a little antique shop in rural France.
It hangs on the wall above my desk, just at eye level. The lady’s costume suggests the late 1790s. I was captivated by her big, wistful eyes, her mass of dark hair and the cap that seemed incongruous for such a young woman. That could be Flora at just seventeen, wearing a cap to emphasise her married state.
In 1815, when The Murmur of Masks ends, Flora and her husband, Jeffrey are in their thirties. Their relationship is distant and I began to wonder what her future life might be like, after her children had left home. Modern solutions of a friendly divorce or ‘conscious uncoupling’ were not possible at the time. Short of killing off Jeffrey, I could see no hope for Flora’s future happiness.
And then I found this miniature of an unknown regency gentleman and began to wonder about Jeffrey’s story. Why had he neglected his young bride? What if, after all these years, he wanted to change their relationship? Would it be possible and could I make it plausible?
What might trigger such a radical change of heart? Early in 1816, Jeffrey literally runs into a father who is mourning the loss of his son at Waterloo. Later that day, He was restless, unsettled by the morning’s events. The unmistakeable evidence of the older man’s love for his son, his grief over his death, his pride in his son’s achievements, the way he valued each son as an individual to be loved and cherished, forced him to consider his relationship with his own children. It was distant, he had to acknowledge, as distant as his relationship with his own father had been.
And what of his marriage? He could not say simply, as the other had, ‘My lady will be expecting me’. His duchess would neither offer nor accept comfort, he thought wryly.
Jeffrey longs for a proper family life and resolves to try and make amends with his wife and children. Flora is first shocked, then angry. As she tells Olivia:
“Then I was furious. He experiences this change of heart and we are all expected to—to accommodate him. He is suddenly calling me Flora. I haven’t heard my name on his lips since he made his marriage vows. It was always Lady Stanton, and then Duchess. And then, which was truly sad, he could not decide which of his Christian names I should use. He did not have a particular connection to any of them, it appears.”
“As if he had no sense of his inner self?”
“Exactly. I could not but feel for him, Olivia. And he does seem to sincerely wish to change his ways. But must I change mine too?”
Will Jeffrey be able to convince her of his sincerity? Dare she risk her heart for the prize of unexpected happiness?
Because The Duke’s Regret contains spoilers for The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion, I have repackaged the three books as The Duchess of Gracechurch Trilogy which is now available as individual eBooks, paperbacks, and an eBook boxed set.
*Giveaway is now closed.
*Giveaway is now closed.
Catherine Kullmann is giving away one paperback copy of
“The Murmur of Masks, Book One of The Duchess of Gracechurch Trilogy.”
All you need to do is answer this question:
Carnival is a time of masked celebrations.
If you could visit one famous Carnival would it be Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Cologne, New Orleans of Nice?
Leave your answer in the comments at the bottom of this post.
• Leave your answer in the comments at the bottom of this post.
• Giveaway ends at 11:59pm BST on July 19th.
You must be 18 or older to enter.
• Giveaway is open Internationally.
•Only one entry per household.
Start you reading adventure today.
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Catherine was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-six years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. After taking early retirement Catherine was finally able to fulfil her life-long ambition to write.
Her novels are set in England during the extended Regency period—that fascinating period between the demise of hoops and the invention of crinolines- the end of the Georgian era but before the stultifying age of Victoria. It was a time of war, revolution and inspiration. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and more than a decade of war that ended in the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 are all events that continue to shape our modern world. At the same time, the aristocracy-led society was under attack from those who demanded social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies.
It was a patriarchal world where women had few or no rights, but they lived and loved and died, making the best lives they could for themselves and their children. And they began to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation.