Sneak Peek and Bon Voyage!

I have just finished and sent off to the publisher the first book in the series of “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy”. Here is an excerpt – the Prologue.


The Jack Flash Tavern, the Strand, London, England
31st March, 1802

A rain-racked Kit O’Malley squelched his way up the tavern’s narrow staircase, following the flickering light of the candle carried by the maid showing him to the back room where the meeting was to be held. This, he determined, might be an error. This could be a trap sprung by the agents of the Intelligence Bureau who were searching for him so assiduously. He could be about to step into a lion’s den, the lion’s invitation sweetened by an accompanying draft for fifty guineas. Inwardly Kit cursed himself for his greed but he needed the money: sedition was an expensive business.

20161120_170756-aa‘This is the room, Sir,’ said the maid nodding in the direction of the door on the far side of the landing.

Kit pressed a penny into the girl’s hand and then waited while she slumped her way back down the stairs, taking the opportunity this gave to bring his thoughts and nerves to order. What did he have to fret on? He had five loyal and lusty lads downstairs keeping dick on things and ready to warn him if the traps put in an appearance and he had a pistol to hand. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the door’s handle and, adopting the demeanor of the feckless Pat that had served him so well during his time in England, pushed through into the room beyond.

The meanly furnished room was hardly better lit than the landing, the only illumination coming from the fire blazing in the hearth. The effect was strangely disturbing; as the firelight struggled over the walls, the room seemed to shiver and move, almost as though the place were alive. A man – young, blond, well-timbered and having the air of the army about him – sat at a table with a pewter mug, a bottle and a pistol set before him. He and Kit eyed each other for several silent seconds, their immediate and mutual animosity palpable.

Kit decided that to stand on ceremony would be a mistake. ‘How are yer blowing?’ he said in a jaunty manner emphasizing his brogue for all he was worth. ‘Kit O’Malley’s the name …’ Blondie made no reply. Kit tried again, ‘D’you mind if I take a place by the fire? It’s desperate drooky weather out there; I fecking near drowned what with the rain plumping down in staves and all. Me cacks are soaked through and I think there’s an icicle growing out o’me arsehole.’ Without waiting for a reply, he tossed his sodden coat and hat onto a chair, strode over to the fire and made an exaggerated pantomime of rubbing life back into his buttocks, all the while careful to ensure the pistol he had hidden under the flaps of his redingote remained out of sight.

Still Blondie remained silent, watching him with unblinking eyes. Kit nodded to the bottle on the table. ‘I’m after having a scoop o’ whatever you’re enjoying yerself. Something to warm me cockles would be grand.’ The man made no move to serve Kit. ‘So would you be “A Friend” who sent the note that summoned me here, ’cos if you are, boyo, you’ve been sadly misnamed.’

‘No. I sent the note.’

Kit started, cursing himself that he hadn’t realized there was a second man in the room and how easily he’d been foxed. But then, he supposed, that the voice came from an alcove swathed in shadows – this rendering the man doing the talking all but invisible ‒ made his error understandable … understandable but not forgivable. In his line of work mistakes were punished hard.

‘And who would you be?’

‘My true name is my business. My nom de guerre is General Chaos.’

‘General-fecking-Chaos!’ Kit laughed. ‘What sort of a name is that?

‘A very appropriate one, as you will discover.’

‘Well, if you’re General Chaos what does that make the blond dangler with the barking iron set in front of him and the sour look on his mug … Corporal Punishment?’

‘Have a care,’ snarled Blondie. ‘And keep a civil tongue in that empty Irish head of yours.’

Definitely English army, Kit determined; he had the same disdainful tone of voice all English officers had, as though they went through life with a dab of shite lodged permanently under each nostril. Puke though he undoubtedly was, the chances were he could handle himself and the pistol. He was one of whom to be wary … but not that wary. Time to show this bug the mettle of the man with whom he was dealing.

‘Bollocks,’ sneered Kit. ‘Don’t lose your dander with me, boyo, or you might lose yer fecking teeth as a consequence.’

An angry Blondie made to rise from his seat.

‘Enough!’ snapped the General. ‘I would be obliged to you, Mr O’Malley, if you would join me in a drink and consider a proposition I have for you.’ He used a foot to push out a chair set against the table at which he was seated and then poured Kit a bumper of brandy.

Colin Farrell – the epitome of Kit O’Malley… and vice versa!

Kit did as he was asked, maneuvering the chair such that he could keep both the General and Blondie in view. He raised his mug. ‘Sláinte,’ he announced and then took a hefty sip. ‘That’s grand, that is,’ he said smacking his lips. ‘I needed to get some heat into me extremities. The old bald fella’s so cold he’s fit to drop off.’

The General ignored Kit’s banter. ‘If you are settled, Mr O’Malley, perhaps we could turn our attention to business.’ This was said in a careless enough manner but there was no denying the touch of iron in his voice. This was a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed.

‘Sure enough, General.’

‘I understand you are the leader of the United Irishmen active in the north of England.’

Now that was a straightener and no mistake, Kit having been cautious to a fault to ensure only a handful of trusty Wexford lads knew what he was about in England. The General was a sharp and then some … and, as a consequence, one of whom it was best to be wary. ‘Now why would I be admitting to that? How do I know you’re not one o’them Intelligence Bureau coves who’ve been giving those intent on liberating Ireland from the grasp of the English such a wonderment of grief?’

‘What if I am? Habeas corpus is no longer suspended―’

‘Habeas corpus,’ laughed Kit. ‘And what’s that when it’s at home? Innocent until proven an Irishman, that’s what. I’d better rely on me wits than English justice to avoid a stretching.’

‘I appreciate your concerns, Mr O’Malley, but if you truly wish to remove the English yoke from about the neck of Ireland you will listen to me and my proposition.’

Kit leaned back in his chair and considered this strange General Chaos. Masked by shadows he might be but that he was English was made obvious by his accent and his well-put-on suite of clothes signaled he had money.

‘I’m listening, General, but of a certainty I’d like to know what’s Ireland to an Englishman like you? All you jackeens have ever done is feasted on Ireland leaving the poor sods living there with only the broc … the scraps from your table. Why would you want to help us?’

‘Because in return you – and other similarly-minded Irishmen – will help me. You are quite right, Mr O’Malley, I care not a fig for Ireland but I offer you a chance to liberate your country and by doing so―’ The General stopped and took a swig from his own mug. ‘It is of no import to these discussions what will be my reward. Suffice it to say, I have undertaken a careful study of the attempts made by the Irish to free themselves of the English ‒ most especially the jumble that was the 1798 rebellion – and my conclusion is that they are incompetent revolutionaries.’

Kit felt his hackles rise. The English were always so fecking contemptuous of the Irish, but one day … ‘In what way?’ he asked, forcing himself to smile.

‘Where to begin? Firstly, your leaders have a disdain for secrecy bordering on the suicidal. It is impossible to plot a rebellion if your adversaries – the English – are kept informed of your intentions by leaders so enamored of their own self-importance that they are unable to keep their mouths shut.’

Uncomfortable though it was for Kit to acknowledge it, he knew what the General said was correct. He had been in Paris to witness the wrangling between Wolf Tone, Charles Teeling and Napper Tandy, vainglorious sots to a man and more intent on their own fame than the freedom of Ireland.

‘Fair doos,’ Kit admitted. ‘It is said the Rebellion of ’98 failed through mischance and misfortune but the truth of it is that we were led by dunties, feckless bastards who couldn’t take a shit without someone calling instructions to them through the door of the jakes. Worse, nary a one of ’em knew how to keep their gob shut, clucking around Dublin and Paris like dunghill cocks and poor mouthing one another in the process. You should know though, General, that I have learnt from their indiscretion. All my men have taken an oath of secrecy, each and every one of them has kissed the card.’ Kit gave the General a sly look. ‘But I have a notion, General, that secrecy is something in which you are skilled.’

‘Indeed, and this is why I think we will deal well together. And that brings me to the second cause of the failure of the Irish … the French. I understand your people see it as a condition precedent that any successful rebellion should coincide with an invasion of Ireland by the French.’

‘That is the truth of it, General. The leaders of the ’98 rebellion believed the country would only rise when the Frogs were seen marching on Dublin.’

‘But this is not your belief.’

‘No, Sir, for the simple reason I do not trust the Frogs. The Frogs may have issued their Edict of Fraternity and announced that all governments are their enemies and all people their friends but to my way of pondering, we Irish should keep Bonaparte at arm’s length. He’s a might too acquisitive for my taste. It is of little purpose us fighting and dying simply to exchange one master for another.’ Kit took another comforting sip of his brandy. ‘The other thought I have, is that the Frog army ain’t all it is cracked up to be. Conversations with their Generals are punctuated with too many “peut-êtres” to inspire confidence. The manner in which General Humbert fecked up when he landed his army in Killala back in ’98 is witness to the truth of that.’

The General dipped his head to signal his agreement this giving Kit a glimpse of his fine forehead. ‘Then you will be pleased to know my plans have it that you and your fellows will have nothing to do with the French. There will be no invasion of Ireland. Instead the French will invade England.’

‘Bollocks,’ sneered Kit, wondering for a moment if this General item took him for a clodhopper, too pudding-headed to know when he was being gulled. ‘England and France are at peace; the ink on the Treaty of Amiens is hardly dry.’

‘The peace will not last. Give it a year and the war will be resumed.’

‘And what if it is? Boney will never jump the ditch.’

‘Oh, Bonaparte is determined to have his army cross the Channel. I have placed my plans before him and he has agreed that to subjugate England an invasion is vital.’

Kit admitted himself impressed. For the General to have gained the attention of Bonaparte himself was something the Irish had never been able to do. They had always been fobbed off with deputies and nobodies, never getting to speak with the man himself.

‘So be in no doubt, Mr O’Malley,’ continued the General. ‘Bonaparte has seen my plans and has approved them. This time there will be no prevarication, none of your “peut-êtres”. He has charged Talleyrand with ensuring my Great Scheme is executed.’

‘Talleyrand, eh? Boney’s Foreign Minister? Well, he’s a big dog with a brass collar and no mistake. A fly fecker to boot. So what is this “Great Scheme” of yours, General?’

‘In August 1803 there will be a number of simultaneous actions designed to humble England, bring it under the power of France and by so doing free Ireland from England’s grasp. The first of these actions will be the invasion of England by the Armée d’Angleterre, an army two hundred thousand strong.’

‘The Royal Navy―’

‘The second action will be the mutiny of the Irish sailors in the Royal Navy. These constitute nearly half of the crews of English ships-of-the-line and, hence, at a stroke, the Royal Navy will be rendered impotent, unable to prevent the French invasion flotilla crossing the Channel.’

Kit nodded his understanding. The mutinies in Spithead and the Nore back in ’97 showed how vulnerable the Royal Navy was to insurrection.

‘The third action will be the assassination of King George and his Parliament.’ The General said this in such a careless manner that for an instant Kit thought he had misheard. ‘The English will be made leaderless at the very moment the French army is marching on London. The confusion this causes will be compounded by the Irish once again rising in rebellion. This, the fourth part of my plan, is designed to give the Irish their liberty … an Act of DisUnion, so to speak. I will be financing and sponsoring another rising in Ireland.’

Kit held his tongue, though this last statement filled him with nothing but dread. He had fought in the last shambles of a rebellion and had seen the terrible price paid by the people when it turned into a drunken, pillaging, revenge-riddled riot. Four years on, he doubted that much had altered for the better. All the best leaders from ’98 were gone: culled, executed, imprisoned, exiled or, like him, simply grown tired of the struggle. Now though, was not the time to voice his doubts.

‘All this will take a powerful amount of money and organization.’

‘Money we have aplenty and as for organization … you are my final recruit, Mr O’Malley. All the other players are in place. In August of next year, with one bold and decisive effort, success will be ours. I need you to execute the fifth and final part of my plan.’

‘Which is?’

‘You have a great deal of influence with the disgruntled weavers in the north of England, Mr O’Malley. It is your remarkable ability to ferment violent dissent that I wish to exploit.’

Kit took another – longer ‒ sip of his brandy, more dismayed than he cared to show that his frame-breaking and mill-burning exploits should be known to the General. The bastard was too well-informed by half.

‘I wish you to bring out the workers in revolt,’ the General went on. ‘I want the north of England set afire. Can you do that?’

‘Oh, I’m a dab hand at the dissenting business, General, and if it’s devilment you’re after then I’m your man. But …’

‘But what, Mr O’Malley?’

‘I hear what you say, General, but I must advise you that a tow-row like the one you’re talking of sponsoring will require a desperate number of guns and pikes and men to carry them. So the question, General, is do you have the tin to finance your scheme?’

The General reached to a stout leather bag standing on the floor next to his chair, and with some effort lifted it onto the table. He pushed it towards Kit. ‘This satchel contains two-hundred and fifty guineas, Mr O’Malley, and is a companion to the second bag still resting on the floor.’ This he tapped with the toe of a brightly-buffed hessian. ‘The bag also contains a note giving the address of a stockroom in Manchester holding enough pistols, pikes and cutlasses to equip an army.’

For a few seconds Kit was unable to speak as he struggled to comprehend what the General was saying. He had half come to the conclusion that he was being humbugged, that the General wasn’t quite the full shilling but such a lavish investment was attestation of his seriousness and then some.

‘Five hundred guineas? That’s a lash of blunt and no mistake, General. With that I will cause an uproar in the north of fearful proportions.’

‘Then we are agreed?’ and the General held out a hand.

Kit shook the hand, reassured by the strength of the General’s grip. ‘We are. Come August next year me and my boys will stand ready to sweat the English, have no fear on that score.’

‘I am sure of it. Just remember this, Kit O’Malley, I am not a man who tolerates failure.’

‘And I am not a man who is inclined to deliver it.’

The General was silent for a moment, then, ‘There may be one other service you might render me, Mr O’Malley.’


‘You have heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy?’

Kit laughed at the absurdity of the question. ‘Oh, I’ve heard of the fecker right enough. He was the bastard who banjaxed the Irish Rebellion of ’98.’

‘The word is that the English government is attempting to persuade Darcy to reassume control of the Intelligence Bureau.’

‘Not welcome news for you, General,’ said Kit with a dismal shake of his head. ‘Darcy is a cool hand with a multitude of touts at his beck and call, these forever ear-wigging on things best kept secret. Back in ’98 you couldn’t fart in Ireland without Darcy knowing of it.’

‘I recognize the danger posed by Darcy and have made arrangements to persuade him not to interfere with my schemes. He is recently married and that makes him vulnerable to pressure.’

Kit blinked at the news. From what he’d heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy there wasn’t a romantic bone in the bastard’s body. All he could think was that the woman who had melted the frost covering his heart was a rare beauty and the very devil between the sheets. ‘You should know, General, that I don’t make war on women.’

‘I appreciate your scruples, Mr O’Malley.’ Here the General waved a hand in Blondie’s direction, ‘Fortunately Mr … Smith does not share them. That is by-the-by. It is possible that the bullying to which I will make Darcy subject will persuade him to remain standing in the wings of history, but should he determine to move center-stage he will need to be deterred. He will need to be assassinated.’

‘Then I’m your man, General. I’d pay good money to put a ball through that fecker’s eye.’



The arrest of Lord Edward FitzGerald (is that Darcy with the pistol?)

As you may have read in a previous blog, I made the assumption that the action taking place in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ begins just before Michaelmas (29th September) in the year 1800, two years before ‘the restoration of peace’ – the Treaty of Amiens signed in March 1802 – referenced in the book’s final chapter. On this basis, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were married in November 1801. Book One of my ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ (‘TFMED’) series begins in October 1802, ten months on from Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy. As the action in the three books is meshed with real-life events and characters, I was obliged to develop a Timeline in which I could place the key events in both ‘P&P’ and ‘TFMED’ and interlace them with the historical events referenced in my story. Without a Timeline it’s oh-so-easy to misplace things.

The first part of my Timeline is shown below, detailing the events leading up to the start of P&P. The entries in bold are real events, others fictional. I’ve also done my best to cite the references in ‘P&P’ that led me to pick those dates (I’ll admit to some guessing, especially regarding the day and month of births and deaths). I’ve also allocated a number of new forenames.


12th May: Marriage of Mr George Darcy and Lady Anne Fitzwilliam.


4th May: Fitzwilliam Darcy born (‘from eight to eight and twenty’ i.e. he was 28 when he married Elizabeth).

30th September: George Wickham born (‘a young man of very nearly the same age with himself (Darcy)).


19th April: American War of Independence begins.


13th June: Marriage of Mr William Bennet and Miss Francis Gardiner (‘the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character’).

29th September: Mrs Reynolds hired to serve in Pemberley (‘I have known him (Darcy) since he was four years old’).


27th June: Charles Bingley born (‘Mr Bingley had not been of age two years, when he was tempted by accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House’. As he did this in September 1800, q.e.d. he was 22 at the time, 23 when he married Jane).

20th November: Jane Bennet born (‘She is almost three and twenty!’).


27th September: Elizabeth Bennet born: (‘I am not one and twenty’).


14th January: Mary Bennet born (Okay … it’s a guess but we do know she’s the middle daughter and, hence, born sometime between Elizabeth’s 20 years and Kitty’s 17 years).


2nd April: Catherine ‘Kitty’ Bennet born (‘for I am two years older’ (than Lydia)).

3rd September: Treaty of Paris signed, ending the American War of Independence.



5th June: Lydia Bennet born (’she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt …’ and ‘she was only sixteen last June’).

12th October: Georgiana Darcy born (‘She was but fifteen …’ and ‘My sister, who is more than ten years my junior …’ Actually, if Darcy were accurate, she’d be twelve years his junior).


22nd May: The first meeting of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.


30th April: George Washington becomes President of the United States.

14th July: Storming of the Bastille.

26th August: The French Assembly publishes ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’.


27th August: Darcy attends Cambridge University, studying mathematics under Thomas Postlethwaite. As Darcy’s father put Wickham thru Cambridge, it follows he’d have done the same for Darcy. Darcy, being a very bright chap, goes up to university at the age of 17.


13th March: Thomas Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ published. 14th April: William Wilberforce introduces the first parliamentary bill to abolish the slave trade.

14th October: Theodore Wolfe Tone establishes The Society of United Irishmen.


1st February: France declares war on England.

1793-execution-of-louis-xvi6th June: Darcy graduates from Cambridge (I have him graduating at the age of 20).

21st July: Emperor Louis XVI executed.

14th August: Death of Lady Anne Darcy (No reference to this in P&P, so I’ve had her predeceasing her husband).


22nd April: Death of George Darcy (father of Fitzwilliam Darcy): (‘since the death of Darcy’s father, five years before’). I think the Narrator was a little in error here, Darcy’s father having died six years before.

7th May: The Habeas Corpus Suspension Act passed by Parliament.

16th June: Death of Peter Wickham (father of George Wickham): (‘his (Wickham’s) own father did not long survive mine’).

22nd December: George Wickham refuses the living granted in George Darcy’s will and instead accepts £3,000 as compensation (‘within half a year of these events …’).


4th January: William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Earl Fitzwilliam arrives in Dublin as the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He is accompanied by his 21-year-old cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy (this is a plot device of TFMED).

25th March: Earl Fitzwilliam is recalled.

26th April: Darcy, ordered to remain in Ireland after Earl Fitzwilliam’s recall, forms the Intelligence Bureau (this is a plot device of TFMED).


18th October: Thomas Bingley (Charles Bingley’s father) dies (‘his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it’). A pure guess but I needed him to die after 1792 (you’ll have to read THFMED to find out why!).

17th November: Tsar Paul I assumes the Russian throne.


4th March: John Adams becomes President of the United States.

16th April: Sailors of the Royal Navy’s Channel Fleet mutiny at Spithead (an anchorage near Portsmouth).

12th May: Sailors of the Royal Navy mutiny at the Nore (an anchorage in the Thames Estuary).

30th May: Darcy’s success as Principal of the Intelligence Bureau results in its responsibilities being extended such that it is ‘empowered to thwart, baffle and prevent all malicious and seditious schemes designed to disturb the peace and tranquility of His Majesty, King George III, or his subjects in any and all parts of his realm’ (this is a plot device of TFMED).

20th September: George Wickham demands the living he once refused (‘For about three years I heard little of him …’).


12th May: The Combination Act outlawing trade unions is given Royal assent.

18th May: Sir Henry Sirr and Fitzwilliam Darcy capture the leader of the Irish rebels, Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

luny_thomas_battle_of_the_nile_august_1st_1798_at_10pm24th May: Ireland rises in rebellion.

1st-3rd August: French navy destroyed by Nelson in the Battle of the Nile.

24th September: Irish rebellion ends.

1st October: Darcy dismissed as Principal of the Intelligence Bureau and ordered back to England in disgrace by Prime Minister Pitt (this is a plot device of TFMED).

9th November: Napoleon stages a coup d’état and becomes ‘First Consul’ of France.


3rd July: George Wickham takes Georgiana Darcy to Ramsgate (‘last summer he was again most painfully obtruded on my notice’).

Questions, Questions…

robert-emmetI have been doing my research for Part Three of ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’, this, in part, to be set in Dublin. It will feature Elizabeth’s involvement with the rebellion of 1803 led by Robert Emmet.

I have to say that I have found the books on the subject quite confusing. Let me give you a for instance.

Emmet was a committed United Irishman – those struggling for an Ireland independent from England which espoused full political and religious emancipation – and I came across this picture (Featured Image above) which shows that movement’s leaders in 1798 (another year the Irish rose in rebellion).

I believe Thomas Pakenham painted the picture but what was the artist’s criteria for including the personages shown? I think this is at one with some of the ‘romanticizing’ of the Irish rebellions I come across in my reading. As an example, Robert Emmet had just dropped out of Trinity College in 1798 so he was hardly one of the UI’s main men and Thomas Russell had been in prison since 1796.

So these are the questions I’m struggling with at the moment:

Which of those shown in the picture actually fought in the Rebellion of 1798? and,

Which of them were Catholics and which Protestants?

Any help welcomed!

(Featured Image taken from: )


In my previous blog post I asked which of the words and phrases below could be used in a story set in 1802. These are the answers.

  1. Agent provocateur: used pre-1802?   No

According to the first referenced use in English as a borrowed French term was in 1845 (this was a surprise: I was sure it dated back to the Napoleonic Wars).

  1. Spy: used pre-1802?   Yes

The Random House Dictionary has this word dated from 1200-50, a variant of the Middle English spien. So any of you planning a story about a medieval James Bond, go right (or should that be write?) ahead.

  1. Yokel: used pre-1802?   No  has its first recorded use in English from 1812 (it has, apparently, come to us from the German jokel, a rude name for a farmer). Really annoyed about this as I had to substitute ‘yokel’ in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ for ‘bumpkin’ (1560s) which to my ear doesn’t have quite the same heft.

  1. Bedrock: used pre-1802?   No cites its use from 1869.

  1. Blindside: used pre-1802?   No                  puts the first use of this US football term in the early 1970s.

  1. Snob: used pre-1802?   No

Tricky one this. Although the word ‘snob’ was around pre-1802 its use was confined to Cambridge University students as a dismissive term for the local tradesmen. The meaning we infer – those who look down on those they believe to be their social interiors ‒ was popularized by William Thackeray’s ‘Book of Snobs’ (1848). So there’s a jarring moment in Jol Wright’s visually beautiful film version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Mrs Gardiner accuses Elizabeth Bennet of being a snob (just one of many historical faux pas, the worst of which is Keira Knightley’s penchant for wearing rubber wellies!).

  1. Standby: used pre-1802?   Yes

Merriam-Webster has the first recorded use of ‘standby’ (as in ‘one that is held in reserve ready for use’) dated at 1796, so Elizabeth can indeed reach for that conversational standby, the weather.

  1. Upstage: used pre-1802?   No dates this from 1855, which was a painful discovery … the synonyms for ‘upstage’ just don’t cut it. I ended up using ‘overshadow’ but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  1. Stage-struck: used pre-1802?   No

Another 1802 no-no, dating this from 1813. The good news here is that the term stage-smitten dates from the 1680s.

  1. Scuttlebutt: used pre-1802?   No                         

Although the word scuttlebutt – a barrel of drinking water for the use of the sailors – dates from 1805, its use as a term for rumor and gossip is much later, 1901.

  1. Femme fatale: used pre-1802?   No

French borrowings are awkward in terms of dating. According to Merriam-Webster the use of femme fatale in English dates from 1912 ( comes in a little earlier at 1895). My problem as a writer is that these anglicized Frenchisms are so marvelously succinct and evocative I really regretted having to ditch them. Some of the others that fell by the wayside:

“A woman diving off a bathing wagon in to the sea” 1790 by Thomas Rowlandson , Wellcome Library, London. Here: dipping more than her toe into a new language
  • Volte-face (1819)
  • Decolletage (1894 – try finding a synonym for that!)
  • Bete noir (1844)
  • Habitue (1818)
  • Declasse (1887)
  • Aperitif (1894)
  • Chic (1879)
  • Bona fides (1838)
  • Debutante (1817, as in ‘a young woman making her first appearance into Society’)
  • Fiancee (1844)
  • Fiance (1864)
  1. Mores: used pre-1802?   No

1907, from Latin mores “customs, manners, morals”.

  1. Goal: used pre-1802?   Yes

Figurative sense of “object of an effort” is from 1540s.

  1. Dutch courage: used pre-1802?   Yes

This dates back to the British troops seeing the Dutch troops getting ready for battle in the Thirty Years War (1618-1638).

  1. Sang-froid: used pre-1802?   Yes

1712 (from the French meaning of ‘cold blood’). Fortunately a number of other anglicized Frenchisms made the cut-off date of 1802. These included:

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, not a snob but definitely wearing her wellies
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, not a snob but definitely wearing her wellies
  • Passe (1775)
  • Rendezvous (1640)
  • Pique (1530s)
  • Sobriquet (1640s)
  • Faux pas (1670s)
  • En route (1779 – I was so pleased about this, synonyms are a nightmare)
  • Tete-a-tete (1728)
  1. Red-handed: used pre-1802?   Yes

1781 (of Scottish origin, I understand).                                                         

  1. Light-fingered: used pre-1802?   Yes

I had one of my characters described as ‘light-fingered’ so when I read in The Cassell Dictionary of Slang’ that ‘light finger’ was ‘US, 1950s’ I was a little put out. Fortunately, further research had the term backdated to 1540. Phew!

  1. Vendetta: used pre-1802?   No has this making its debut in 1846, from Italian vendetta ‘a feud, blood feud’. A shame it’s so recent, it’s such a very evocative word.

  1. Proletariat: used pre-1802?   No         

I was searching for a synonym for ‘the mob’ and tried all manner of alternatives. ‘Proletariat’ was a no-no: 1853, from the French prolétariat.

  1. Hoi polloi: used pre-1802?   No

Another try at finding an alternative to ‘the mob’ and another no-no: 1837, from Greek hoi polloi ‘the people’. (OK, Byron used it in 1822 but that was in Greek so it doesn’t count!). If you do need alternatives, ‘the commonality’ is OK (1580) as is ‘riff-raff’ (late 15C).

  1. Itinerary: used pre-1802?   Yes

This came as a surprise to me, ‘itinerary’ sounding quite a modern word, but no: mid-15c, ‘route of travel’ from Late Latin itinerarium “account of a journey”.

  1. Deadlock: used pre-1802?   Yes

One of only two decent (and usable) alternatives to ‘stand-off’: ‘deadlock’ was first used in 1779 in Sheridan’s play ‘The Critic’.

  1. Stand-off: used pre-1802?   No                         

A really useful term but one, sadly, no one in Georgian England would have employed. Its use in the sense of ‘stalemate’ is dated 1891.

  1. Impasse: used pre-1802?   Yes

Good word and usable! 1763, from the French impasse meaning ‘an impassable road or a blind alley’.

  1. Sham: used pre-1802?   Yes        

In the sense of ‘something meant to be mistaken for something else’ it dates from 1728.

  1. Transfix: used pre-1802?   Yes

I was certain this was a modern word but no: 1580s, ‘pierce through, impale,’ from Middle French transfixer.           

  1. Grouch: used pre-1802?   No

I needed a word to describe Darcy when he was in one of his moods. This seemed perfect until I discovered its first use was in 1896. Drat!

  1. The game is afoot: used pre-1802?   Yes

This phrase is so synonymous with Sherlock Holmes that I’m guessing most people would think it was coined in the late 19th century. Wrong; it was first used in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’.         

  1. Pedestrian: used pre-1802?   Yes

Another surprisingly usable word with its meaning ‘a walker’ dating back to 1793. Fortunately the word ‘pavement’ is from the 13th century so they had something to walk on!

  1. Bric-a-brac: used pre-1802?   No

1840, from obsolete French à bric et à brac (16c.) “at random, any old way”, a nonsense phrase.

So … how did you do? My score was 14/30 … pretty poor, I suppose, but as they say practice makes perfect (a mid-16th century maxim so one Elizabeth Bennet might have used). 


I am just completing what I hope will be the final, pre-submission, edit of “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” and one of the tasks I’ve set myself is to cull all those words and phrases which no character of 1802 would ever have used. Morning-dress-Ackermanns-ca1820This proved more difficult than I anticipated involving much reference to (amongst others) “The Cassell Dictionary of Slang” and Having done this I thought it might be fun to give those of you writing Georgian-era tales a chance to see just how clued-up you are on the words and phrases that are a no-no (or a yes-yes) in England of 1802.

So which of the following words and phrases could be used in a story set in 1802? I’ll give the answers in my next blog post. Have fun and good luck!

  1. Agent provocateur:                                     used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                          (as in ‘I wish you to act as an agent provocateur and raise the mob in rebellion’)
  1. Spy:                                                                    used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                   (as in ‘Gaston was suspected of being one of Napoleon’s spies’)
  1. Yokel:                                                                 used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                  (as in ‘She possessed all the grace and manners of a village yokel’)
  1. Bedrock:                                                            used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                 (as in ‘Loyalty to the King is the bedrock of our society’)
  1. Blindside:                                                          used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                 (as in ‘His attacker came from behind, blindsiding him’)
  1. Snob:                                                                    used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                 (as in ‘Sir Percy was an arrogant man, a real snob’)
  1. Standby:                                                              used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                (as in ‘Elizabeth reached for that conversational standby, the weather’)
  1. Upstage:                                                               used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘Elizabeth wore her plainest gown, not wishing to upstage the other ladies’)
  1. Stage-struck:                                                      used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘I’ve always wished to an actor, being stage-struck from an early age’)
  1. Scuttlebutt:                                                         used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘These rumors of invasion  are nothing more than pernicious scuttlebutt’)
  1. Femme fatale:                                                    used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘Wearing her gown sans-chemise she looked the femme fatale of legend’)
  1. Mores:                                                                   used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘When in Paris one must adopt the mores of the Frogs’)
  1. Goal:                                                                       used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘Our goal must be nothing less than the defeat of Napoleon’)  
  1. Dutch courage:                                                  used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘The stench of brandy on his breath signaled he had sought a little Dutch courage’)
  1. Sang-froid:                                                           used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘Darcy was unperturbed by the threat, his sang-froid unruffled’)
  1. Red-handed:                                                        used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘The butler was caught red-handed, stealing form the cash-box’)                  
  1. Light-fingered:                                                  used pre-1802?                  Yes/No             (as in ‘She is a light-fingered girl, much given to thieving’) 
  1. Vendetta:                                                               used pre-1802?                  Yes/No             (as in ‘This is more than simple dislike, it smacks of a vendetta’)
  1. Proletariat:                                                         used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in “I will have nothing to do with the proletariat, they have neither breeding nor manners’)
  1. Hoi polloi:                                                            used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘I will have nothing to do with the hoi polloi, they have neither breeding nor manners’)
  1. Itinerary:                                                              used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘Bingley has changed his itinerary and gone to Paris rather than Rome’)
  1. Deadlock:                                                              used pre-1802?                 Yes/No             (as in ‘Our army is deadlocked in its struggle with the French’)
  1. Stand-off:                                                              used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘The French and English armies are in something of a stand-off’)
  1. Impasse:                                                              used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                (as in ‘Negotiations with the French regarding Malta have reached impasse’)
  1. Sham:                                                                    used pre-1802?                 Yes/No               (as in ‘Her marriage was a put-up affair, nothing more than a sham’)             
  1. Transfix:                                                             used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                (as in ‘Elizabeth stood stock-still, transfixed by the pistol pointed at her’)            
  1. Grouch:                                                               used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                (as in ‘Susan did not much care for Darcy, judging him an ill-natured grouch’)
  1. The game is afoot:                                           used pre-1802?                 Yes/No                (as in ‘Bring your pistols, Darcy, the game is afoot’)
  1. Pedestrian:                                                           used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘The pavements of London were crammed with pedestrians)
  1. Bric-a-brac:                                                         used pre-1802?                 Yes/No              (as in ‘Lydia’s box was crammed with a miscellany of bric-a-brac)                          download


One of the fun things about writing historical adventures is the opportunity it presents to have real historical figures interact with your fictional characters. In “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” I’ve included such notables as Talleyrand (Napoleon’s duplicitous but oh-so-effective Foreign Minister), Talleyrand’s sexually-liberated wife, Catherine (what a find she was!), William Pitt (the ex-Prime Minister and Darcy’s arch-enemy), William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (given the name ‘Fitzwilliam’ I couldn’t resist making him a relative of Darcy and, anyway, his Irish connections were very useful with regard to my plotting) and Horatio Nelson.

Laurence Olivier as Nelson
Laurence Olivier as Nelson (with eye-patch)

Nelson only makes a brief appearance (basically to explain how concerned everyone was in 1802 that Napoleon was set to invade England) but brief though it is I had to make sure I drew him correctly. In popular myth, Nelson is always associated with an eyepatch (this largely thanks to Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Nelson in 1941’s “That Hamilton Woman”) but it seems that though he lost the sight of his right eye from injuries sustained during the assault on Calvi in 1794 the eyeball was undamaged. Hence no eyepatch: (

Emma Hamilton by George Romney
Emma Hamilton by George Romney

But it wasn’t only Nelson’s appearance about which I had to be careful. The books I’ve read (“Horatio Nelson” by Tom Pocock is a stand-out) don’t, in my modest opinion, make enough of the personal impact the adulation heaped on Nelson by an adoring public after his victories at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen (this is pre-Trafalgar, remember) had on the man. I think it went to his head a little. This, combined with him having quite an eye (sorry!) for the ladies would have made him something of a handful in mixed company (especially, as in my book, when Emma Hamilton wasn’t around).

Having said this I think the headline in The Metro of the 19th October – ‘Love-rat Nelson Banned Wife to Be with Mistress’ – a trifle excessive. Nelson’s marital arrangements and infidelities were pretty much par for the course in mid-Georgian England so the opprobrium he suffered at the hands of the beau monde (he was ‘cut’ by a sizeable number of them) was, I think, a consequence of their being envious about his popularity with the mob.

Still I have the feeling that when Nelson was confronted by a woman as attractive as Elizabeth Darcy, the result would be inevitable. This is the scene when Elizabeth and Nelson are using a telescope to study the invasion preparations the French are making in Boulogne harbor:

Nelson turned the telescope back over to Elizabeth but if anything stood even closer, his thigh now pressed hard against hers and a steadying hand placed – rather unnecessarily – on her back. Elizabeth found it difficult to concentrate on the invasion preparations being made in Boulogne when invasions of a more personal nature were being initiated in Dover.

‘Your husband’s intelligence tells us that the intention of the French is to excavate Boulogne’s tidal basin,’ Elizabeth heard Nelson saying. ‘They are doing this to increase the capacity in the port such that twelve hundred of Boney’s invasion barges can find a safe berth there.’

‘Twelve hundred … so many.’ Elizabeth had to suppress a squeak as Nelson’s hand inched lower. She was presented with something of a conundrum. Any other man paying her such attention would be sent packing with a flea in his ear but this was no ordinary man. This was Nelson, hero of the hour.

I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from
I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from

‘Indeed, which is why Boney needs three days to execute his invasion,’ Nelson went on, his hand now only inches away from beginning its exploration of Elizabeth’s derrière. Elizabeth wondered what would have been her fate if Nelson had two hands with which to conduct his survey of her nether regions. ‘Only two hundred vessels can clear the harbor in a single tide therefore it will need six tides to get the whole fleet out to sea and en route for England. He will also need the most clement weather which is why I am convinced he will come at us in the summer.’

‘Yes,’ answered Elizabeth. ‘I am advised that coming at anything in the winter invariably leads to disaster.’

Nelson didn’t appear to understand the message Elizabeth was trying to send. ‘A summer onslaught is also necessary because the barges, brigs, pinnaces  and gunboats the Frogs will be using to transport their army must be keel-less to allow them to make land on our beaches. This, in turn, will result in them having lubberly handling, none capable of sailing close-hauled. They must run before the wind and such a wind is only certain in July and August.’

Elizabeth stood away from the telescope. ‘But the Royal Navy …?’

‘If at hand, then we will most assuredly board them and blast them, you may have no fear of that, Mrs Darcy.’

‘Ah yes. I am told that officers in the Royal Navy are very skilled at boarding.’

Nelson gave a leering smile. ‘That we are, Mrs Darcy, but as with all talents some captains are more skilled than others, especially when the vessel they are intent on taking is a handsome craft, well-rigged and possessed of sleek lines.’

‘Then it is a pity, Sir, that I will not have an opportunity of seeing you in action. This is one vessel which refuses to be boarded by anyone other than her own captain.’


In a previous post I reviewed the books I’d referenced in building up a general picture of the Georgian lifestyle. In this one I’ll feature those books which cover more specific areas, namely dancing, dressing, dining, travelling and celebrating Christmas.

“A Dance With Jane Austen” by Susannah Tullerton

DSCF9016AAnyone writing a Regency-era story is almost obliged to include a ballroom scene, and as these were enormously complex social occasions the chance of the writer making a historical faux pas is high. A close study of Ms Tullerton’s book will ensure that such gaffs are minimalized. The book leads the reader from the beginnings (‘Learning to Dance’ and ‘Getting to and from a Ball’), through the various types of ball (‘Assembly Balls’ and ‘Private Balls’) and describes what people did when they attended them (‘Etiquette of the Ballroom’, ‘Dancing and Music’ and ‘Conversation and Courtship’), all this done in a very readable manner with excellent illustrations. A must for anyone interested in Georgian society.

An aside … having read ‘A Dance With Jane Austen’ I have now come to the firm opinion that the depiction of the Netherfield Assembly Ball (which marked the first meeting of Darcy and Elizabeth) seen in Joe Wrights’s version of “Pride and Prejudice” (the one starring Keira Knightley) is the most accurate of all the film/TV adaptations: a rumbustious, confused affair … no wonder Darcy was so disobliging!

Nelli Rating (the book): 9/10

“Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen” by Sarah Jane Downing

DSCF9021AThe year 1802 was an interesting year for fashion: with the Peace of Amiens concluded the beau monde descended on Paris to replenish both their wardrobes and their wine cellars. The impact of this is wonderfully described and illustrated in Ms Downing’s book. She also makes a number of interesting social points: that women’s fashions became undeniable sexy – all delicate muslins and sleek Grecian lines – was probably driven by the deprivations of the Napoleonic war on British menfolk (during which proportionately more British servicemen died than in the First World War). The competition for husbands can never have been so fierce. In sum, the book is an excellent and lavishly illustrated guide to fashions in the later Georgian period.

Nelli Rating: 9/10

DSCF9018A“Dining With the Georgians: a Delicious History” by Emma Kay

Not a bad book, but one which left me a little disappointed. I found it a little ponderous. I suppose I was hoping for something which majored on the dining experience while the book was happiest talking about the food itself. All kitchen and no dining room.

Nelli Rating: 5/10

DSCF9017A“Stage and Mail Coaches” by David Mountfield

A very slim volume which I bought when planning to write a scene taking place in a mail coach (a scene which never saw the light of day). Well written, well-illustrated but only confirmed Regency-ophiles need apply.

Nelli Rating: 7/10


As I needed to have a chapter in “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” set during Christmas 1802, I decided to invest in two books on the subject of the Georgian Christmas.

DSCF9019A“Jane Austen’s Christmas compiled by Maria Hubert”

Ms Hubert has pulled together a pot pourri of letters and extracts from Jane Austen, Fanny Austen, the poet, Robert Southey, the diarist, William Holland and a variety of other. The result – for me – is unsatisfactory: I would rather the original material were précised and then used to highlight a text on the subject. A disappointment.

Nelli Rating: 5/10

DSCF9020A“Jane Austen Christmas” by Maria Grace

Quite a slim volume but worthwhile for all that: I learned a great deal from its study. For instance, December 21st was St Thomas Day when well-to-do ladies went ‘thomasing’ distributing wheat – an expensive commodity ‒ to the needful of their estate. The section describing Morris Teams and Sword Dancers inspired me to develop Pemberley’s own Christmas tradition, which I christened ‘Plough Sunday’. A useful little book.

Nelli Rating: 8/10