I’m so pleased to welcome Alissa Baxter this week. She’s visiting with her latest release, A Marchioness Below Stairs, and sharing some fascinating discoveries she made while researching. If you love traditional Regency romances, you’ve found your next indulgence!
Plus she’s having a giveaway!
While researching my upcoming release, A Marchioness Below Stairs, I came across some interesting information about the winter of 1813/14, which inspired some of the events of the novel, particularly the Frost Fair on the Thames in 1814.
Between 1600 and 1814, the River Thames could sometimes freeze over for up to two months at time. There were two main reasons for this; the first was that Britain (and the entire of the Northern Hemisphere) was experiencing what is now known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. The other catalyst was the medieval London Bridge and its piers, and specifically how closely spaced together they were. During winter, pieces of ice would get lodged between the piers and effectively dam up the river, meaning it was easier for it to freeze.
Although these harsh winters often brought with them famine and death, the local Londoners decided to make the most of iced-over Thames and set up the Thames Frost Fairs. Between 1607 and 1814 there were a total of seven major fairs, as well as a number of smaller ones.
Shops made out of sail cloths, blankets and oars were set up on the river, along with pubs and ice skating rinks… everything that you would expect in the crowded streets of London – but it was on ice.
The 1814 Frost Fair began in London on 1st February, and lasted four days. An elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge. George Davis, a printer, published a 124-page book called Frostiana; or a History of the River Thames in a Frozen State. The entire book was type-set and printed in Davis’s printing stall, which had been set up on the frozen Thames. This was the last of the famous Frost Fairs which took place during the Little Ice Age, roughly between 1350 -1850.
As the climate grew milder, the replacement of the old London Bridge in 1831 with a new bridge with wider arches, allowed the tide to flow more freely, and the embanking of stages of the river in the 19th century prevented the river from freezing over again as it did in 1814.
Escaping from Bath and the news that her former love is about to marry another, Isabel, the young widowed Marchioness of Axbridge, accepts an invitation to her cousin’s house party. Yet, instead of finding respite, she stumbles into a domestic crisis of majestic proportions: The kitchen servants have succumbed to the influenza.
If that weren’t bad enough, her former sweetheart arrives with his fiancée, seeking shelter from the increasingly hazardous snow storm. Trapped inside Chernock Hall with a volatile mix of house guests, including abolitionists and slave owners, Isabel wishes she could hide below stairs for the duration. But, alas, she cannot. While helping in the kitchen, Isabel is cornered by her cousin’s disreputable friend, Marcus Bateman, who challenges and provokes her at every turn.
At last, the storm subsides. However, the avalanche of repercussions cannot be undone. Caught in the grip of the terrible winter of 1813, will Isabel’s greatest threat come from the weather, her abolitionist views, or from falling in love again?
They entered the drawing room, and Lady Kildaren beckoned her imperiously. “Would you care to play the pianoforte, Lady Axbridge? Your mama informs me that you play very well.”
“I’m sadly out of practice, your ladyship.”
“Come, my dear. It will be delightful to listen to some music.”
Isabel smiled and nodded, and sat down at the pianoforte. She spread her fingers over the keys, and started to play from memory, pieces ranging from Mozart to Beethoven to various Scottish and Irish airs. She had just begun a song for the popular stage composed by Dibdin, when the door opened and the gentlemen entered.
She glanced up, then swiftly focused her attention back on the music. She would play for the rest of the evening. It was an excellent way to avoid facing Mr Wetherby, or conversing with Lord Fenmore and Mr Bateman.
She looked at her fingers as she played, but even so, she could see Mr Bateman out of the corner of her eye. He sat beside Miss Wetherby, seemingly absorbed in conversation with her. The young woman giggled. Isabel hit a false note, and grimaced. He had said Miss Wetherby was not in his style at all and yet there he was, gazing at her and looking for all the world as if he found her company enthralling.
And when Captain Wetherby and his son walked over to them a short while later, he laughed and conversed with them, perfectly at ease in their company. Drat the man! How had she ever felt any sympathy for him?
Some Bach was in order. She started hammering out his Military Quintet No. 3 in B flat major, until she sensed someone standing at her shoulder.
“Bach’s Military Quintet?” Mr Bateman asked in a low voice, startling her.
“You were playing such a cheerful ditty when we entered the room.”
“My mood changed.”
“I prefer not to play with someone standing behind me. It throws me off.”
“Well, something has certainly thrown you off.”
She dragged in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Fortunately, she knew the piece by heart, so she gave it very little attention, while she contemplated a scathing set-down.
“Scoundrel, reprobate, traitor… will one of those do?”
Isabel’s shoulders stiffened. “Sir, I am unable to converse with you while I am playing the pianoforte.”
“Unable or unwilling?”
He chuckled. “Remind me to talk to your back in future, my lady. It appears to loosen your tongue.”
“There will be very few future conversations between us. Monsieur Martin is all but recovered and the thaw is about to set in.”
“I am living in hope of the thaw setting in.” He moved to stand beside her.
Something in his voice made her look at him, and the warmth of his gaze took her breath away. She returned her focus to the pianoforte, and shook her head. “We will be going our separate ways soon. I think that is, on the whole, a good thing.”
“There may be a few surprises in store for you in that regard. Good evening, my dear.”
He strolled to the other end of the room and engaged her mother in conversation.
Isabel tried to concentrate on her playing, but her mind was far away. What did he mean? Her life was ordered, peaceful and predictable. Surprises did not fit well into that paradigm. His relaxed air of assurance was especially irritating, as he did not appear at all abashed regarding his abominable behaviour – kissing her in the cow shed one evening, and flirting with another lady the next; purporting to care about the abolition of slavery, yet unashamedly socialising with the owners of slaves. He was a riddle of a man, a riddle that would have to remain unsolved, because if she were foolish enough to try to figure him out she could end up with a solution that was only the start of another problem.
With a defiant toss of her head, she played the opening notes of the folk song Lord Bateman. Across the room, her nemesis stiffened. Then his laughing eyes met hers. “Why, your ladyship, I must sing along – this song is my namesake, after all.”
He returned to her side and Isabel blushed at the wicked gleam in his eyes. She had well and truly thrown down the gauntlet now. When would she learn to leave well enough alone?
Grab your copy of A Marchioness Below Stairs today!
Alissa Baxter wrote her first Regency romance, The Dashing Debutante, during her long university holidays. After travelling the world, she settled down to write her second Regency romance, Lord Fenmore’s Wager, which was inspired by her time living on a country estate in England. Also the author of two contemporary romances, Send and Receive and The Blog Affair, Alissa currently lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two sons.
Connect with Alissa at her
Alissa would like to give away two ebooks to a lucky commenter: Lord Fenmore’s Wager (the prequel to A Marchioness Below Stairs) and A Marchioness Below Stairs. Just answer the following question… please tell Alissa about your favourite kind of hero in a Regency novel… Do you prefer the dark, brooding tortured type, or a more light-hearted kind of hero with a witty sense of humour?
The contest will close at 11:59pm Central Standard Time on Sunday, November 19th. The winner will be drawn by random and contacted via email.
Good luck, and remember to always