Port Wine, War and Eccentricity
There are few beverages more closely associated with the English upper classes of the 18th and 19th centuries than port wine. The image of gentlemen lingering over their port while the ladies retire to the drawing room is a strong one, and beloved of romance writers like me, because it offers ample opportunity for catty conversations or boozy confidences of the sort that can depict character and move the plot along. Beau Brummell, the dandy beau ideal of the Regency period, was as capricious about port as he was about many other things. While he was known to purchase it from Berry Brothers in St. James, and said “A gentleman always ports with his cheese,” this less positive remark from the Beau has also come down to us. “Port? Port? Oh, Port! The intoxicating hot liquor so largely drank by the lower orders.”
I was recently lucky enough to visit Porto, Portugal the home of port wine history and production. I had the chance to visit several port houses, learning something about the history and production of the luscious drink, and some of the less known but still colorful Georgian characters whose lives touched on this product.
Wine making in the Duero valley goes back to the Roman period and the oldest port houses were founded in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. However, the real flowering of the industry coincides with the beginning of the Georgian period when a number of the port brands we still know today were established. In 1756, the region was declared a unique region and the name was protected (the 3rd oldest such designation in the world).
Porto has several major advantages: it is near the mouth of the Duero River, with an excellent port for ships taking wind to England, and the Duero valley itself has some of the best wine growing conditions in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, along the river in Porto, there are numerous caves ideal for aging wines forming a perfect confluence.
Several of the existing port wine houses originated in the late 17th and early 18th century, and have founders and family histories marked by adventurous types. This is not surprising considering the difficulties of operating multi-national export businesses in that period.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Porto (besides the opportunity to tour various port houses and taste their products) was that it was the site of an important and interesting Peninsular War battle – The Battle of the Douro (also known as the 2nd Battle of Porto), which essentially drove the French out of Portugal.
One famous port producer, Croft, which can trace its origins back to the 1600’s, was being run by the 4th John Croft at the time of the Peninsular War. The family had a long history and deep immersion in the business; the 2nd John Croft had written a definitive treatise on port wines.
The 4th John Croft seems to have been an adventurous type, and as a wine merchant, sourcing product from around Portugal, he had every opportunity to travel extensively and meet with many local people who were largely violently opposed to the French occupation. Wellington and his staff were well known to enjoy good food, wine and large parties when the pressures of campaigning permitted. Campaign conditions in the Peninsula were notoriously harsh and access to good port was one of the few luxuries available to the officers, so it’s not surprising that John Croft became acquainted with Wellington. However, the 4th John also began gathering intelligence for him for the British. Tracking the movement of French troops in the heavy woods and mountains of Portugal would have required people with detailed knowledge of the country, and a network of trusted acquaintances, which Croft, with his long family history and business ties in the region, would have had.
|Replica wine barges on the Duero River of the type used to move the English troops at the Battle of Porto|
Wellington achieved his victory at the Battle of Porto by hiding his soldiers on the barges used to move the port across the river and surprising the French, who had destroyed the bridge and had nearly all the vessels in the area under guard.
|Watercolor of Portuguese worker delivering coal painted by John Croft|
Another intelligence officer, Colonel John Waters, was instrumental in the victory at Porto. A local barber who was apparently one of his informants told Waters of four wine barges that were hidden unguarded in a marsh along the river. Early in the morning of 11 May in 1809 and with the help of some locals they sailed them to the English side without the French seeing them. Wellington was able to move 600 soldiers across the river to an unoccupied, but partially fortified seminary. From this location, the English were able to protect other troops being brought across the river from the French, and eventually roundly defeated Marshal Soult who held the town.
Colonel Waters went on to other exploits, and in 1811 was captured by the French before the Battle of Sabugal when he was reconnoitering French positions. He refused to give his parole and was sent under guard to Salamanca. Waters had a better horse than his guards’ and when he spied a chance to escape, he clapped his spurs to its sides and raced away between two lines of French soldiers. Some of them fired on him, while others cheered him on. He managed to duck into a wooded area, where he was able to shake the guards chasing him. A few days later, Waters reappeared at Wellingtons’s headquarters where his baggage was waiting. A dispatch explained it thus; “Lord Wellington, knowing his resolute, subtle character, had caused his baggage to be brought, observing that he would not be long absent.” Waters went on to a long and distinguished career including service at Waterloo, and retired as a much decorated general.
|General John Waters|
After the French were pushed out of Portugal, Wellington called on Jack Croft to distribute relief money to the impoverished population of northern Portugal. He traveled around the country distributing money and for his efforts he was made a baronet, Sir John Croft of Cowling Hall, and later given the title of Baron of Serra da Estrela by the Portuguese crown.
While my new release, “Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy” does not take place in Spain or Portugal, my heroine’s character and life is heavily influenced by her experiences following the drum during the Peninsular War. Visiting these sites as well as reading the history has given me more insight into the conditions and her possible motivations. The following excerpt is an example of those motivations.
Valerie fell silent, looking down at her hands, and Sir Tarquin, finding himself appreciating the sight of her blonde curls, fine figure, and aura of calm, didn’t need to stretch his imagination far to imagine the son of the Forney household had been unable to resist the temptation of the pretty governess.
“It makes me angry to think of you being preyed upon,” he said abruptly, much to his own surprise.
“It is a common enough problem, and far worse has befallen others. He did not force me and, while Mrs. Forney was unkind, I left of my own volition,” said Valerie uncomfortably. “My friends have helped me before and will help me now. I would rather spend my time with children, but perhaps I will have to seek employment as a companion to an older lady instead.”
“You do not deserve a life as a drudge to children or as the companion of elderly harridan, who will doubtless have a horrid grandson who will treat you as Mr. Forney did,” Sir Tarquin exclaimed. “You are young, and have given far too much.”
“Whatever do you mean?” she asked.
“You sacrificed a husband and a family to your country, did you not?”
“I suppose you could say so, although it has been three long years since then.” A wistful look came over her face. “It seems so far away. Thinking of it now, Robert and I were both practically children; it is almost as though it happened to someone else, or was a story someone told to me.”
“Yet you are still all but penniless and without protection as a result, are you not? That is not much of an ending to the story.”
She gazed at him thoughtfully. “It was my decision, though I was far too young to understand the possible consequences. In some ways it was worth it all the same; I loved Robert as much as an eighteen-year-old can love anyone, and perhaps even more, I loved following the drum.”
Sir Tarquin looked startled. “Did you really? Surely it was a very hard life for a gently bred and sheltered young lady?”
Valerie laughed. “Indeed it was! I had no notion that such hardships were ahead of me. Yet the sense of purpose, of being needed and useful was inspiring . I was always rather bookish, and never truly enjoyed the rounds of parties and balls, to my stepmother’s despair.” She hesitated and continued, “My father you know, is very concerned about matters of manners and breeding, and my lack of interest in making a grand marriage upset him.”
Summoning up a vision of the ill-tempered Lord Upleadon, whose snobbery was legendary even among the ton, Sir Tarquin could easily imagine that he had made the Season a misery for his daughter. “I can easily imagine he was inexcusably harsh in expressing his disappointment,” he replied.
“I see you know my father, so I won’t try to deny it,” she replied with a ghost of a smile. “But I can’t regret any of the difficulties, for I did discover the powerful joy of knowing that my life had meaning and purpose, and that overcame all else.
“Even in the tail of the Army with all the camp followers, and rabble you felt so?” Sir Tarquin asked curiously.
“Oh, I rode with the column, Sir Tarquin,” she exclaimed proudly. “I had no children to care for and I was handy with horses even before I went on campaign, for my father’s stables are renowned and I spent a great deal of time in them as a child. I soon learned to kill and stew a chicken, and make sure that there was always something to eat at our billet, so it was not long before many of the other officers were to be found at our table.”
About the Author
Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.
About the Book
Mrs. Valerie Carlton is the widow of a soldier who died in the Peninsular Wars. Disowned by her family for “marrying down,” she survives working as a governess. When the elder son of the family makes unwelcome advances, Valerie leaves, seeking refuge with a close friend until she can find another position.
Sir Tarquin Arlingby, a wealthy, handsome bachelor on his way home, is staying at the same inn as Valerie and witnesses her being robbed before she can board the coach. He goes to Valerie’s aid and is instantly attracted to her. As her friend’s home is near his estate, he offers to drive her there.
An unfortunate accident forces the pair to spend a night in a village inn. Over dinner, Valerie talks about her experiences during the Spanish campaign against Napoleon and the sense of mission that she felt following the drum, which she misses in her current life. Sir Tarquin, who is secretly spying for the Crown by masquerading as a smuggler to pass information in and out of France, is intrigued by her bravery and his attraction increases. Valerie is also drawn to the handsome baronet.
Tarquin needs a French-speaking woman to pose as a smuggler during a mission to the “City of Smugglers” in Gravelines. When he discovers that Valerie speaks French like a native, he successfully recruits her for the job.
Will the pair survive their dangerous mission? Will they finally acknowledge the depth of their feelings for each other?
Find out in Lady, Lover, Smuggler, Spy, a Regency romance with intrigue, humor and just the right amount of moderately explicit sex for those readers who enjoy sensuality with their romances.
Written content of this post copyright © Alicia Quigley, 2016.