Romance author Amalie Howard shares why Victorian Women don’t play

The Duke in Question by Amalie Howard. Image courtesy Sourcebooks Casablanca
The Duke in Question by Amalie Howard. Image courtesy Sourcebooks Casablanca /

If there is one author who is changing the game for historical romances, it’s Amalie Howard. In particular, her recent release of The Duke In Question does even more.

If you didn’t know, Amalie Howard is a historical romance author who has written over 20 books and she doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. Her most recent release is The Duke In Question which is part of her Daring Dukes series.

Unlike other historical romance series, the Daring Dukes books are action-packed and feature adventurous heroines along with delightful romances. All in all, the series is tons of fun and is perfect if you’re looking for something to read during these chilly winter months.

If you haven’t read anything by Amalie Howard, then I’d highly recommend starting with The Daring Dukes series. You’ll quickly become enthralled by the plot and obsessed with the heroines and the romance. Additionally, the audiobooks are incredible as I listened to The Princess Stakes and Rules for Heiresses. If you’re a fan of Amalie Howard and haven’t read this series before, then there’s no better time than the present.

In honor of The Duke In Question being released on November 8th, 2022, Amalie Howard decided to write up a guest post and gave us some insight into the book along with Victorian society, especially for women.

Amalie Howard shares insights into marriage, divorce, and female agency in the Victorian era.

"If you thought that divorce wasn’t a common occurrence in the 1800s, you would be correct. However, that doesn’t imply that it did not exist. Marriage brought with it strict expectations and rigid rules, and a woman essentially became the property of her husband. The power imbalance between husband and wife, supported by an inflexible patriarchy and written into law, was painfully real. In the first half of the eighteenth century, divorce was rare. Moreover, only men were allowed to petition or sue for divorce, only for adultery, and it was an expensive, tedious process that had to go through a Private Act in Parliament before any dissolution was allowed. So basically only wealthy men could afford it. Men from lower classes weren’t suitable because they did not have lands to pass on to heirs. Between 1700 and 1857, there were 314 Private Acts passed, most initiated by men.In 1853, there was a huge push for the reform of divorce law and a Royal Commission advocated for divorce to be handled by a special court to hear cases instead of Parliament. This led to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. Adultery was still the only cause for dissolution of a marriage. However, women had to prove adultery, desertion, and excessive life-threatening cruelty to win their cases. Ironically, adultery on its own wasn’t enough because fidelity wasn’t viewed as an issue for a man, but for a woman it was considered a failure of duty as a wife. It also wasn’t widely available to the lower classes. A reason for this was the fear that if divorce was easy, it would lead to mass immorality. Not for men, however. Just women…because female desire was insipidly dangerous. This double standard, given the times, was not surprising.I chose the title of the piece specifically because despite that, Victorian women, indeed didn’t play, and were fierce advocates of basic rights in an era when they historically had none. Female activist, Caroline Norton was instrumental in advocating for the Infant Custody Act of 1839. A victim of a violent husband who prevented Caroline from seeing her three children in 1836, she shared her story publicly through pamphlets. When her husband, George Norton sued for divorce citing adultery (she had an affair with the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne), he did not let his wife to see her children. Norton worked tirelessly for the passage of the Infant Custody Act, which would allow mothers to petition for custody of children under seven and for access up to age sixteen. This was a critical step for wives and mothers in setting up a cornerstone for women’s rights, beyond the sphere of their husbands.Barbara Leigh Smith was another intrepid activist who advocated for marriage law reform. In 1854, she anonymously penned a pamphlet called A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon that covered injustices faced by women as well as points on women’s legal rights with respect to status and property. Second and third editions were published respectively in 1856 and 1869. After the popularity of her study, she headed the Married Women’s Property Committee that campaigned for marriage law changes that led to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882. She is considered one of the early leaders of the women’s movement.In my latest novel, The Duke In Question, the hero is divorced. However, this was based on a very specific set of circumstances. The first was his title of earl was granted by the sovereign for his service to the crown as a spymaster. In modern times, those kinds of titles are usually called life peerages, but back then, the monarch could do whatever she wanted, and insome cases, those granted titles were hereditary (could pass to heirs). The queen could bestow titles and she could remove them. In fact, at Queen Victoria’s coronation, I read that she and Lord Melbourne, her Prime Minister, remarked that there was a dearth of viscounts. She made it her business to bolster those numbers during her reign. Viceroys who returned from the British colonies were frequently named marquesses, and others, including retiring Prime Ministers, received earldoms.As part of the back story in The Duke In Question, my hero Valentine Medford, received an earldom as a commendation and became the Earl of Waterstone. He married another British spy since a married couple could slip under the radar more readily, and his wife became the Countess of Waterstone. When Valentine retired, he and his countess petitioned for divorce. Keep in mind that this was not a “real” marriage, despite it being quite legal, and some creative liberty was taken given the rules of “divorce only by adultery” above. However, given these very specific circumstances (and used as a plot device), it could have been dissolved by Parliament by special order of the crown.As far as the Countess of Waterstone continuing to use her title after divorce, I actually went off a real case in the late 1800s and was inspired by that. Most of my readers know I love research, so I always like to have grains of truth scattered in my work. I read that for the most part in England, after divorce, peeresses continued to use their former husband’s styles, even though it might not have been recognized by law. In Scotland, after divorce, there was a law that stated a wife could legally take up the same rights as if she were a widow. If the ex-husband remarried, some former wives would put their given names before their title (like Violet Countess Cowley) so as not to be confused with current spouses.Speaking of Lady Cowley, when she and her husband, the third Earl Cowley, were divorced in the late nineteenth century, he sought to legally stop her from using her title of Countess. According to the case records, her lawyers argued that her life estate in the peerage was acquired in her husband’s dignity, and the name of Countess Cowley was not dependent on the earl’s death but would only end upon marriage to a commoner. Therefore she was entitled the use of her name as a peeress. Another case (Fendall vs Goldsmid) in 1876 solidified this narrative when the judge in question stated, “I am of opinion that marriage confers a name upon a woman, which becomes her actual name, and that she can only obtain another by reputation.”A third example of this was in 1887 when the Marchioness of Queensberry who was married to the 9th Marquess of Queensberry (yes, the very man responsible for the “Queensberry rules” in modern boxing) sued for divorce, citing cruelty and adultery. She won the case without much effort. During the coronation of King Edward VII, she expected to be summoned as a peeress and was not. She sought counsel from the Court of Lord Lyon and was sent to the Law Officers for Scotland. According to my research, she was eventually issued a special invitation as a peeress. Good for her!One thing I’ve discovered in my journey as a historical romance author is that what we know of history might not always be the full and uncontested truth. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule. While people in historical times were limited by actual laws (yes, those were very real) and shifting social customs, that did not mean they did not occasionally buck these rules and conventions. Women, especially, per my examples above. While authors do have creative liberty, it’s always great to have inspiration from real events, people, and actions."

As you can tell by the post, Amalie shared with us, she did a lot of research and if you’ve read the book, then you’ll see how dedicated she truly is. It’s especially evident in the author’s note at the end of the book. All in all, I’m so happy and grateful that Amalie took time out of her schedule to write this post up for us. She’s such a talented writer and she deserves all the success she’s getting and more.

Overall, I feel like The Duke In Question is such a delightful historical romance. I’d like to thank the publisher for reaching out to me and sending me a finished copy of this book to read along with Amalie Howard for generally being an awesome human being.

Next. The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is a superb fall read. dark

The Duke In Question by Amalie Howard is out now wherever books are sold. 

Do you plan on picking up The Duke In Question and do you have a favorite book by Amalie Howard? Let us know in the comments.