Friday 4 November 2016

The Romance of Reform

It's a delight to welcome Julia Justiss to the salon, to peer into the romance of reform!


Several years ago, I wrote FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN’S WIFE, set during a time of loom-breaking and Luddite riots, as those in the English countryside reacted to cheap factory cloth that was destroying the home-weaving industry and the sharp rise in bread prices caused by the French wars.  When the heroine was threatened by the villain, a young farmer’s orphan helped the hero rescue her, earning Sir Edward Greaves’s gratitude and sponsorship.  The character of the orphaned Davie captured me too; I knew he would grow up to be a politician who would help democratize the government of England, and that one day I would write his story.

So Davie became the nucleus of the group of four friends, dubbed “Hadley’s Hellions” after their leader, Giles Hadley, Viscount Lyndlington.  All in some way outsiders from aristocratic British Society, they band together at Oxford with the goal of reforming Parliament, go on to the Commons, and work to craft the Great Reform Bill of 1832.

Of course, overriding the politics are love stories, as each Hellion finds the right lady to reform him and make his life complete.  In Davie’s case, it is Faith Wellingford, the vivacious young beauty he falls in love with when he’s serving as Ned’s secretary. Sister of a marquess, she’s far beyond his touch, becoming even more so when she marries a duke.  But Davie never stops loving her, and when she’s widowed ten years later, a chance meeting brings them back together, leading to STOLEN ENCOUNTERS WITH THE DUCHESS.

The political landscape of England certainly needed reform.  Parliamentary districts and voting qualifications had been established under Henry IV in 1430-32, and changed little over the centuries.  One of the most egregious inequities, and the first to be successfully addressed by Reform legislation, were “rotten boroughs.” 

As one might expect, by the 1800’s there had considerable shifting of population.  Some of the boroughs which had robust populations in the 1400’s had dwindled to mere hamlets, while the rapid growth spurred by the Industrial Revolution had created cities like Manchester and Liverpool in what had been woods and fields.  These great cities had no representation in Parliament at all, while places like Dunwich (32 voters) Camelford (25) and Gatton (7) still sent a representative to Parliament.  

Naturally, with so few voters and with the procedure of casting votes in public, it became easy for the most powerful landowner in the vicinity to “persuade” the voters to select the candidate he favored, or for the candidate to support the policies of the great local patron, less he risk not being returned to Parliament in the next election.  Some of the great estates had several towns or boroughs near them, to the effect that, by the 1800’s, the Duke of Norfolk controlled eleven constituencies, the Earl of Lonsdale nine.  Out of 514 members representing England, 370 were selected by 180 patrons.  

Efforts to reform these obvious inequities began in the latter 1700’s, but were derailed for half a century, not by English political differences, but by the French.  Quite a few English politicians admired the principles upon which the French Revolution was based, but the horrors of the Terror, and then the belligerent expansion of the French Empire under Napoleon, so traumatized an English government worried about violent revolution at home that attempts at reform in Parliament were squelched and unrest in the countryside brutally put down.

Finally, by the end of the 1820’s, with the Napoleonic Wars won and the butchery of the Terror a fading memory, British politicians began to make progress toward real reform.  After a new king succeeded “Prinny” (King George IV) in 1830, reform because the great issue of the ensuing parliamentary election.  For the next two years, Parliament would swing between the two parties, Lord Wellington, the voice of Tory opposition, being voted in and out, with Lord Grey, the Whig leader, succeeding him in attempts to craft legislation that could pass both the Commons and the Lords.

In March of 1831, a reform committee of junior ministers (prototypes for my Hellions) drew up a bill for Lord Russell on behalf of government.  It proposed to disfranchise 60 of the smallest boroughs and reduce representation of 47 others, abolishing some seats outright and transferring others to the London suburbs, large cities, counties, Scotland or Ireland. The bill also standardized and expanded borough franchise, increasing the size of the electorate. Although the bill passed its first reading in March, opponents created so many delays and diversions in committee that the government decided to dissolve Parliament and take the issue to the people in a new election.

A new, overwhelmingly reform-minded Parliament convened in June, and by the end of September, the Commons had passed the bill with a majority of more than 100.  But one of the reforms envisioned was reducing or eliminating seats of the upper clergy in the House of Lords; under this threat, although many of the temporal lords reluctantly agreed to reform, the Lords Spiritual were able to muster enough of their members to defeat the bill on 7 October.

Upon news of the defeat, riots broke out in Bristol, Derby, Nottingham, Dorset, Leicestershire and Somerset.  Mobs attacked the jail in Bristol and freed prisoners, destroyed the palace of the Bishop of Bristol, the mansion of the Lord Mayor, and several private homes.  The country manors of the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Middleton were also attacked (such an attack is described in STOLEN ENCOUNTERS.)
Lord Grey by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Lord Grey by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Since the bill could not be re-introduced in the same session, the ministry advised the King to prorogue Parliament.  A new Parliament convened in December, and by March 1832 the new Reform Bill passed the Commons with even larger majorities.  When the Lords sought to delay the disenfranchisement of the rotten boroughs, Lord Grey urged the King to create enough new Lords to pass the bill.  When he refused, Grey resigned and the King asked Wellington to return and form a new government.

The result was the “Days of May,” political agitation so great, there was real fear of a revolution.  Protestors advocated non-payment of taxes; there was a run on banks that saw l.8 million pounds withdrawn out of 7 million assets, and petitions were sent to the Commons demanding that it cut off funding to the government until the Lords acquiesced.  There were even calls for the abolition of the aristocracy and the monarchy itself.  Wellington was unable to form a government, and the King was forced to recall Grey.

The King reluctantly agreed to Grey’s demand that he appoint new peers to fill the House of Lords; however, before he did so, the King sent a private letter to all the members asking that they pass the bill so he would not have to do so.  Enough opposing Lords abstained on the ensuing ballot that the bill finally passed, receiving royal approval on June 7, 1832.

The great task of modern reform had begun.  Later modifications would see the abolition of slavery in 1833, further expansion of the electorate, and eventually, votes for women.  But in the heady first years of the 1830’s, statesmen like my Hellions were able to push through the first significant reforms to the parliamentary system of government in four hundred years.

As an interesting side note, our Lord Grey of the Reform movement was also the fiery young Mr. Charles Grey who fell in love with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, became her lover, and urged her to leave the duke.  Under threat from the Duke of losing access to her other children forever, Georgiana broke off with Grey.  But she secretly bore him a daughter, Eliza Courtney, who was turned over to Grey’s parents to raise.  He’s also the “Lord Grey” who devised the famous tea blend that still bears his name.


Faith Wellingford Evers, Duchess of Ashedon, is tired of society’s endless gossiping about her failings and her late husband’s infidelities.  Seeking escape one night, she’s attacked by ruffians, but is saved by an unlikely figure from her past.

Having risen from penniless orphan to Member of Parliament, David Tanner Smith is no longer the quiet boy Faith once knew.  With the first spine-tingling kiss, their old friendship is transformed.  And in its place is an explosive mix of illicit encounters and forbidden desire…

About the Author

Award-winning historical romance author Julia Justiss has written more than twenty-five novels and novellas set in the English Regency.  Her awards include the Golden Heart for Regency from Romance Writers of America, The Golden Quill, and finals in Romantic Times Magazine’s Best First Historical, the National Readers Choice, the Daphne du Maurier and All About Romance’s Favorite Book of the Year.

A voracious reader who began jotting down plot ideas for Nancy Drew novels in her third grade spiral, Julia has published poetry and worked as a business journalist.  An avid fan of Georgette Heyer, while unable to work a regular job when her husband was posted at the U.S Embassy in Tunisia, she decided to write her own Regency novel.  And never looked back.

She and her husband live in East Texas, where she continues to craft the stories she loves. Check her website for her latest releases.

Written content of this post copyright © Julia Justiss, 2016.


Demetrius said...

Interestingly across the fields from Stratfield Saye, Wellington's estate, was an Elizabeth Nesbitt at Highfield Park, Heckfield. She was connected to the Grey's. Their mutual connections and doubtless conversations will be lost to history and perhaps could have told us more. She was the widow of Major-General Colebrooke Nesbitt, natural son of Arnold Nesbitt and husband of Susannah Thrale.

Julia Justiss said...

I loved my visit to Stratfield Saye and didn't realize there were such interesting neighbors in the vicinity. Thanks for letting me know!