Interweaving fiction with history
While my latest release, the Scottish historical My Highland Lord, begins in 1837, the history goes back seventeen years, when one of the most daring assassination attempts of the nineteenth century rocked Regency England.
"What happened next was a frenzy of killing…"(1) This is how the night might have ended for the Ministers gathered at Lord Harrowby's London home, February 23, 1820 if not for the intervention of His Majesty's spies. The Cato Street Conspiracy, as the mass assassination attempt was dubbed, was led by Arthur Thistlewood, leader of the radical Spencean Philanthropists Society, and was one of the most daring assassination attempts in England's history. Thistlewood and his men were stopped by John Stafford, Bow Street Sheriff and supervisor of the Home Office spies.
The trap Stafford set was a full blown sting operation worthy of a modern day spy movie. Spies were installed in Thistlewood's organization and a few members were recruited as snitches. A notice was placed in the paper that the Cabinet would be meeting at Harrowby's, and money was funneled into the organization for the weapons needed to carry out a mass murder. Thistlewood snatched up the bait like a hungry lion and he and his men set up their headquarters at the Horse and Groom, a public house on Cato Street that overlooks the stable. On the day of the planned assassinations as the would-be criminals gathered for the task they believed would herald in a new era for Great Britain, Stafford's men swooped in and arrested them. One Bow Street officer was killed—run through with a sword by Thistlewood himself—and the guilty men scattered. Over the course of a few days most of the top conspirators were found. Two months later, they were tried and hanged for High Treason. But one man, Mason Wallington, Baron Arlington, escaped…or so goes the history in My Highland Lord, the second book in the Highland Lords series.
There is, of course, much more to the story of The Cato Street Conspiracy. For example, Arthur Thistlewood believed God had presented him with the opportunity he'd been waiting for to murder the top government officials in one swoop, and the government conspiracy to stop him seems to stop short of the King himself. But such details are an example of the lifeblood that infuses the subtle elements of a story.
This dramatic backdrop and its dark undertones was a perfect setting for the heroine of My Highland Love. Phoebe Wallington, daughter of Mason Wallington, followed in her father’s footsteps and became a British spy. Phoebe, however, wanted to do more than protect her country, and set out on a quest to prove her father’s innocence. He was a patriot, a man who put his life on the line by spying for the Crown.
When our story officially begins, being Scottish was on the cusp of being in fashion and Scottish lords were hard at work to abolish the old ways of farming in favor of more lucrative business ventures. Yet there were leaders who understood that many of the changes made in the name of progresses weren’t all positive. The political climate in Scotland called for leaders who understood both sides of the argument. So was born the hero of My Highland Lord, Kiernan MacGregor, the Marquess of Ashlund, a Scottish lord who was as much British as he was Scottish—at least in appearance. And, as unique as my hero might be, he wasn’t alone in walking both sides of the political line.
I often hear “I couldn’t write historical romance. The research must be daunting.” For me, the research is half the fun of writing historical fiction. I always feel like I’m cheating just a little when I weave real events into a story because my characters gain a credibility that makes it easy for readers to accept the possibility that they could have have lived and acted as they do in my stories. But with that advantage comes the responsibility to root the reader firmly in the past and slip our characters in as if they belong there. Once we gain the reader’s trust, they’ll be fans forever. That’s a win/win situation for everyone. The trick is, never letting the lines show between truth and fiction. That’s a challenge I just can’t resist.
(1) Take from Enemies of the State: The Cato Street Conspiracy by M.J Trow
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Genre – Historical Romance
Rating – R