Today I’m rubbing my hands together with glee as Kate Bateman stops by to share some fascinating historical details about counterfeiting in the Regency era! She’s also sharing a sneak peak of her upcoming release — coincidentally featuring forgery . . .
Historical research; Real-life counterfeiting in the Regency Era
Many of the events in my regency-era novels are based on real-life historical facts. For example, Sabine, the heroine of A Counterfeit Heart, is a Napoleonic French counterfeiter, and I unearthed some amazing real-life stories of wartime forgery during my research into the subject.
Just as in A Counterfeit Heart, Napoleon really did employ a team of forgers to print fake currency to ruin his enemies. (Letters written by him survive to prove the existence of a counterfeiting operation set up on his orders.) He used fake currency to pay his own soldiers in Russia, and sent large quantities of fake Austrian banknotes into the country to try to destabilize the Austrian economy. As I also mention in the book, Napoleon’s counterfeiting of Austrian currency put him in an awkward position a few years later when he married his second wife, the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise. He was forced to issue a public ban on printing counterfeit money against her country, but of course, by then it was rather too late!
The use of counterfeit money has been a strategy in warfare for centuries. The idea is to flood the enemy’s economy with fake money, thus devaluing the real money and causing an economic collapse, rendering the enemy unable to fund their side of the war.
During the American Revolutionary War, for example, the Continental Congress decided to create a new Continental currency to fund the fighting. Among the people enlisted to print this new currency was Paul Revere. To counter this, Great Britain enlisted teams of counterfeiters to travel throughout the American Colonies, placing their counterfeits into circulation in the hopes that it would cause an economic disaster. These counterfeiters were known as “shovers,” presumably for their ability to “shove” the fake money into everyday use. David Farnsworth and his partner John Blair were among the best-known of these counterfeiters, having been caught with over $10,000 in fake Continental dollars in their possession. They were eventually hanged for being foreign agents and loyalists.
Counterfeiting was a problem in Georgian England, too. The Bank of England – the “head of all circulation” – took counterfeiting very seriously and employed a team of lawyers at great expense to ensure prosecutions. The statistics are dramatic: the period 1783-1797 saw only four prosecutions for forgery, but 1797-1821 saw over 2000 prosecutions and over 300 executions. The Bank spent thousands of pounds to secure these executions, and in some years, such as 1819, this amounted to more than was lost through forgery. Almost one third of all executions at this time were for forgery, but the vast majority of these were concentrated in the post-Napoleonic war period, when economic depression and the demobilization of thousands of troops and sailors produced ever greater incentives for the forger. In 1818, when almost 30,000 fake banknotes were in circulation, public sympathy for the hapless plebeian forger led to numerous acquittals.
Doubts were regularly expressed about the competence of the Bank of England in recognizing a fake from the real banknote, and the topic features in many of the satirical cartoons of the time. (Richard and Sabine, the hero and heroine in A Counterfeit Heart, make use of the printing press and premises of such an engraver in the story.)
In 1814 an anonymous caricature called A Peep into the Rag Shop in Threadneedle Street highlighted the theme. The print (below) shows a poor forger pleading with Bank of England directors who are examining a bank note. As the speech bubbles make clear, behind their callous bluster is dire ineptitude:
“Upon my soul I have my doubts but at all events—we had better declare it bad.”
“Take him out Thomas !!! he has a d——d hanging look.”
“Away with the Vagabond! Do you think we sit here for nothing!”
And this cartoon, by the well-known satirical illustrator George Cruickshank, also shows forged notes, and hints at the fact that paper currency was often considered untrustworthy in comparison to solid gold coins.
In France, too, forgery was a very serious offence. Note what it says on the very top line of this French Assignat: ‘the law punishes the counterfeiter with death’. (La loi punit de mort le contrefacteur)
Here are some examples of both real and forged early 19th century banknotes:
And just to prove that ‘plus ça change,’ almost a hundred years after Napoleon’s attempts, another leader, Adolf Hitler, tried something very similar during the second World War, forcing prisoners to fake thousands of British banknotes in a plan called Operation Bernhart. The initial plan was to drop the notes by plane over Britain to bring about a collapse of the British economy. It was directed by, and named after, SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from other camps, to forge British currency.
So as you can see, history is full of extraordinary examples of counterfeiting, and for A Counterfeit Heart I employed the age-old authorial tactic of wondering ‘what if . . ?’ What if Napoleon were defeated before he could put his plans to flood Britain with counterfeits into action? What if one of his forgers was a feisty young woman named Sabine de la Tour? What would she do with a fortune in fake money? A Counterfeit Heart is my answer.
A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman ~ Medium Heat Level ~ Historical Regency Romance
A feisty counterfeiter and a cocky British agent clash in this sultry Secrets and Spies novel by K. C. Bateman, whose witty, intelligent, and sexy historical romances have become her signature.
As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France—or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy—and into his arms.
Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.
Bois de Vincennes, Paris, March 1816
It didn’t take long to burn a fortune.
“Don’t throw it on like that! Fan the paper out. You need to let the air get to it.”
Sabine de la Tour sent her best friend Anton Carnaud an exasperated glance and tossed another bundle of banknotes onto the fire. It smoldered then caught with a bright flare, curling and charring to nothing in an instant. “That’s all the francs. Pass me some rubles.”
Another fat wad joined the conflagration. Little spurts of green and blue jumped up as the flames consumed the ink. The intensity of the fire heated her cheeks so she stepped back and tilted her head to watch the glowing embers float up into the night sky. It was a fitting end, really. Almost like a funeral pyre, the most damning evidence of Philippe Lacorte, notorious French counterfeiter, going up in smoke. Sabine quelled the faintest twinge of regret and glanced over at Anton. “It feels strange, don’t you think? Doing the right thing for once.”
He shook his head. “It feels wrong.” He poked a pile of Austrian gulden into the fire with a stick. “Who in their right mind burns money? It’s like taking a penknife to a Rembrandt.”
Sabine nudged his shoulder, well used to his grumbling. “You know I’m right. If we spend it, we’ll be no better than Napoleon. This is our chance to turn over a new leaf.”
Anton added another sheaf of banknotes to the blaze with a pained expression. “I happen to like being a criminal,” he grumbled. “Besides, we made all this money. Seems only fair we should get to spend it. No one would know. Your fakes are so good nobody can tell the difference. What’s a few million francs in the grand scheme of things?”
“We’d know,” Sabine frowned at him. “‘Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.’”
Anton rolled his eyes. “Don’t start quoting dead Greeks at me.”
“That’s a dead Englishman,” she smiled wryly. “Geoffrey Chaucer.”
Anton sniffed, unimpressed by anything that came from the opposite—and therefore wrong—side of the channel. He sprinkled a handful of assignats onto the flames. “You appreciate the irony of trying to be an honest forger, don’t you?”
It was Sabine’s turn to roll her eyes.
Anton shot her a teasing, pitying glance. “It’s because you’re half-Anglais. Everyone knows the English are mad. The French half of you knows what fun we could have. Think of it, chérie—ballgowns, diamonds, banquets!” His eyes took on a dreamy, faraway glow. “Women, wine, song!” He gave a magnificent Gallic shrug. “Mais, non. You listen to the English half. The half that is boring and dull and—”
“—law-abiding?” Sabine suggested tartly. “Sensible? The half that wants to keep my neck firmly attached to my shoulders instead of in a basket in front of the guillotine?”
She bit her lip as a wave of guilt assailed her. Anton was only in danger of losing his head because of her. For years he’d protected her identity by acting as Philippe Lacorte’s public representative. He’d dealt with all the unsavory characters who’d wanted her forger’s skills while she’d remained blissfully anonymous. Even the man who’d overseen the Emperor’s own counterfeiting operation, General Jean Malet, hadn’t known the real name of the elusive forger he’d employed. He’d never seen Sabine as anything more than an attractive assistant at the print shop in Rue Pélican.
Now, with Napoleon exiled on St Helena and Savary, head of the Secret Police, also banished, General Malet was the only one who knew about the existence of the fake fortune the Emperor had amassed to fill his coffers.
The fortune Sabine had just liberated.
Anton frowned into the flames. The pink glow highlighted his chiseled features and Sabine studied him dispassionately. She knew him too well to harbor any romantic feelings about him, but there was no doubt he had a very handsome profile. Unfortunately, it was a profile that General Malet could recognize all too easily.
As if reading her mind he said, “Speaking of guillotines, Malet would gladly see me in a tumbril. He’s out for blood. And I’m his prime suspect.”
“Which is why we’re getting you out of here,” Sabine said briskly. “The boat to England leaves at dawn. We have enough money to get us as far as London.”
Anton gave a frustrated huff and pointed at the fire. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a pile of money right—”
She shot him a warning scowl. “No. We are not using the fakes. Its high time we started doing things legally. This English lord’s been trying to engage Lacorte’s services for months. One job for him and we’ll be able to pay for your passage to Boston. You’ll be safe from Malet forever.”
“It could be a trap,” Anton murmured darkly. “This Lovell says he wants to employ Lacorte, but we’ve been on opposite sides of the war for the past ten years. The English can’t be trusted.”
Sabine let out a faint, frustrated sigh. It was a risk, to deliver herself into the arms of the enemy, to seek out the one man she’d spent months avoiding. Her heart beat in her throat at the thought of him. Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell. She’d only seen him once, weeks ago, but the memory was seared upon her brain.
He, of anyone, had come closest to unmasking her. He’d followed Lacorte’s trail right to her doorstep, like a bloodhound after a fox. She’d barely had time to hide behind the back-room door and press her eye to a gap in the wood before the bell above the entrance had tinkled and he’d entered the print shop.
It had been dark outside; the flickering street lamps had cast long shadows along Rue Pélican. Sabine had squinted, trying to make out his features, but all she could see was that he was tall; he ducked to enter the low doorway. She raised her eyebrows. So this was the relentless Lord Lovell.
Not for the first time she cursed her short-sightedness. Too many hours of close-work meant that anything over ten feet was frustratingly blurry. He moved closer, further into the shop—and into knee-weakening, stomach-flipping focus.
Sabine caught her breath. All the information she’d gleaned about her foe from Anton’s vague, typically male attempts at description had in no way prepared her for the heart-stopping, visceral reality.
Technically, Anton had been correct. Richard Hampden was over six feet tall with mid-brown hair. But those basic facts failed to convey the sheer magnetic presence of his lean, broad-shouldered frame. There was no spare fat around his lean hips, no unhealthy pallor to his skin. He moved like water, with a liquid grace that suggested quietly restrained power, an animal at the very peak of fitness.
Anton had guessed his age as between twenty-eight and thirty-five. Certainly, Hampden was no young puppy; his face held the hard lines and sharp angles of experience rather than the rounded look of boyhood.
Sabine studied the elegant severity of his dark blue coat, the pale knee breeches outlining long, muscular legs. There was nothing remarkable in the clothes themselves to make him stand out in a crowd, and yet there was something about him that commanded attention. That drew the eye, and held it.
Her life often hinged on the ability to correctly identify dangerous men. Every sense she possessed told her that the man talking with Anton was very dangerous indeed.
Sabine pressed her forehead to the rough planks and swore softly. The Englishman turned, almost as if he sensed her lurking behind the door, and everything inside her stilled. Something—an instant of awareness, almost of recognition—shot through her as she saw his face in full. Of all the things she’d been prepared for, she hadn’t envisaged this: Viscount Lovell was magnificent.
And then he’d turned his attention back to Anton, and she’d let out a shaky breath of relief.
She’d dreamed of him ever since. Disturbing, jumbled dreams in which she was always running, he pursuing. She’d wake the very instant she was caught, her heart pounding in a curious mix of panic and knotted desire.
Sabine shook her head at her own foolishness. It was just her luck to conceive an instant attraction to the least suitable man in Europe. The thought of facing him again made her shiver with equal parts anticipation and dread, but he was the obvious answer to her current dilemma. He had money; she needed funds. Voilà tout.
At least now she was prepared. One of the basic tenets of warfare was ‘know thine enemy,’ after all. Sabine drew her cloak more securely around her shoulders and watched Anton feed the rest of the money to the flames. The embers fluttered upwards like a cloud of glowing butterflies.
When this was all over she would be like a phoenix. Philippe Lacorte would disappear and Sabine de la Tour would emerge from the ashes to reclaim the identity she’d abandoned eight years ago. She would live a normal life. But not yet. There was still too much to do.
Sabine brushed off her skirts and picked up the bag she’d packed for traveling. There was something rather pathetic in the fact that her whole life fit into one single valise, but she squared her shoulders and glanced over at Anton. “Come on, let’s go. Before someone sees the smoke and decides to investigate.”
They couldn’t go home, to the print shop on Rue Pélican. Malet had already ripped the place apart looking for ‘his’ money. Her stomach had given a sickening lurch as she’d taken in the carnage. Books pulled from the shelves, paintings ripped from the walls, canvases torn. Old maps shredded, drawers pulled out and upended. Their home, her sanctuary for the past eight years, had been utterly ransacked.
But there had been triumph amid the loss. Malet had found neither Anton nor the money. And if Sabine had anything to do with it, he never would.
Anton hefted the two bags of English banknotes that had been spared the flames as Sabine turned her back on Paris. For the first time in eight long years she was free. It was time to track down Lord Lovell.
Kate Bateman (writing as K. C. Bateman) wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong with a historical set in the Italian Renaissance. Now writing for Random House Loveswept, her latest ‘Secrets & Spies’ Regency-era series features her trademark feisty, intelligent heroines, wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to alternately strangle and kiss—all mixed up in the intrigue and turmoil of the Napoleonic wars.
When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and a husband who has flatly refused to read any of her books ‘unless she hits the NY Times Bestseller list.’ It is—naturally—her fervent desire to force the semi-illiterate, number-loving cynic to do so. He still owes her that dollar.