It's not too much to say that I've received more mail--and more of it outraged--in response to Jane and the Ghosts of Netley than the rest of the series combined. This has to do, of course, with the ending--which, if you haven't yet read the novel, I won't spoil for you. I will only say that Lord Harold Trowbridge himself dictated it to me, and I had no choice but to write down what he said.
This is a phenomenon most readers can't believe: that the characters we create live their own lives, well beyond our control, and are anything but subject to our authorial impulses. The Gentleman Rogue has always gone his own way--and I was never one to bridle him.
The book is set in the autumn of 1808, in a ruined abbey that still sits across the Solent from Jane Austen's home in Southampton. Netley Abbey was of Cistercian founding, long since destroyed; and we know from Jane's letters that she was in the habit of visiting it. In this book, she discovers a nest of spies operating from the ruined abbey's height, which afforded an excellent view of the waterway.
But of greater interest to me, perhaps, is the secondary tale that runs through the novel--of Maria Fitzherbert, the cast-off Catholic "wife" (as she certainly believed herself to be) of the Prince of Wales. The twice-widowed Maria, prevented by her religion and commoner status from a sanctified marriage with the Prince, consented to marry him morganatically in 1786--ten years before he married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, at his father George III's instigation. Discarded in favor of other paramours as she aged, Maria Fitzherbert nonethless remained a friend of the Prince of Wales--and in all probability, the mother of his illegitimate offspring. The notion of an heir to the throne, the product of an illegal Catholic marriage, was so socially explosive--and so politically volatile--that any such child would only survive in secrecy. It is that story I explore in Ghosts of Netley.
If this novel stirs your interest in the history of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his descendants, by all means pick up a copy of Sisters of Fortune, by Jehane Wake. The story of the four beautiful Caton sisters--Charles Carroll's granddaughters--took Europe by storm in Jane Austen's day: painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, beloved of Wellington, and the epitome of convention-shattering American women. If they knew Maria Fitzherbert's secret, they never breathed a word.