Sam, did you hear the Earl of Sutton was attacked earlier today? Footpads, they said. About twenty minutes later, a carter lost control of his horses just as his dray was passing Sutton’s children on a schoolroom outing. And you know assailants have had a go at both of Sutton’s sons in the past few days, too.
As an aside, Sutton beat his assailants to a pulp. He’s as tough as his sons, it seems. And the one still in the schoolroom whipped his schoolmates out of the way of the dray. He’ll be another formidable warrior when he grows up.
But that’s not the point, Sam.
I’ve found out who paid for all the attacks, and you’re never going to believe it. I was told in confidence, mind, and if we want the servants inside of Haverford House to keep slipping us bits of news we can’t use it. It’ll be a start to our own investigation, though.
That’s right. Haverford House, and yes, it was the Duke. The Merry Marquis is furious. He’s threatening to have his father locked up. Can he do that, Sam?
Welcome to Jude Knight’s new series.
In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.
This series begins with a prequel novella telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad (Paradise Regained), then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.
To Wed a Proper Lady, the first novel, is on preorder and will be released on 15 April.
Follow the links for more details and for buy links.
Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt about the assaults from the point of view of the Duchess of Haverford. It appears in Paradise Lost, a novella about the duchess that I’m giving away free with my next newsletter in a couple of days. It tells of how Eleanor Creydon became Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford, a lynchpin character in my Regency and Victorian stories, and also backgrounds the series.
Haverford House, London, July 1812
The Duchess of Haverford took tea in her rooms this quiet Monday afternoon. She was alone for once; even the maid who brought the tray sent off back to the servants’ hall. Her life was such a bustle, and for the most part, that was how she liked it, but just for once, it was nice to have an afternoon to herself. No meetings. No entertainments to attend or offer. Not even any family members—her current companion had gone to visit her mother for her afternoon off, Aldridge was about his own business, her youngest ward was at lessons, and the two older girls had been invited on an outing with a friend.
As to Haverford, who knew where he was? But he would not disturb her here.
The thought had barely crossed her mind when a knock sounded; not the discreet tap of a servant, but a firm rap. Not the duke. He wouldn’t knock. “Enter,” she called.
Aldridge let himself into the room. He greeted her with his usual aplomb, asked after her day, but she could tell immediately that he was agitated. “What is wrong, my son?”
“I have no easy way to say this, Mama.” He knelt before her and took her hands. “Sutton has been assaulted in the street, and his schoolroom party was also attacked. A runaway brewer’s dray that was not a runaway at all.” He squeezed her hands, pulling her back from her sudden dizziness. “Sutton gave his assailants a drubbing, and the children and their attendants are unhurt, thanks to swift action on the part of their escort.”
Eleanor let out the air she was holding. “Thank goodness! And thank you, my dear, for letting me know before gossip made it so much worse.”
Aldridge frowned slightly. “There is more. I heard of the assault on Sutton before it happened, and arrived with help just after. Mama, my secretary was asked to be the paymaster for the assailants. And guess who gave him the command.”
She knew before her son said it. Breathed the words with him. “His Grace? Surely not. After the assassin at the duel, why would he do something like this again?”
“His Grace.” Aldridge confirmed. He leapt to his feet and paced the room, not able to keep still for a moment, his body expressing the agitation his face refused to display. “He is getting worse, Mama. Whether it would have happened anyway, or whether the arrival of Sutton lit the flame, he lives on the point of explosion.”
“I know, my dear.” She knew better than Aldridge, in fact. Despite the long estrangement between her and her husband, they nonetheless lived in the same house, attended some of the same social gatherings, worked side-by-side for the same political causes. Aldridge kept largely to his own wing when he was under the same roof as his parents, which was increasingly rare. He managed all the vast business of the duchy, but Haverford had long since let go those reins to the extent that his only association with Aldridge tended to be through the bills and notes of hand that arrived regularly to be paid.
Aldridge thumped the mantlepiece. “This latest start… if word gets out that Haverford was behind the attack on Sutton and his family, it will be a disaster. Sutton would be well within his rights to demand Haverford’s trial for attempted murder. This family is no stranger to scandal, Mama, and there’s no doubt in my mind His Grace deserves to be hanged, silken noose or not, but…”
Eleanor’s distress was such she found herself chewing her lip. “Thank God no one was seriously hurt.”
“Thank Sutton and his sons for their warrior-craft, and my secretary for telling me in time to lead a rescue.” Aldridge heaved a deep sigh and took another fast turn around the carpet. “He intended murder, Mama, and when I confronted him with it, he laughed and said he did it for England. He has gone too far, Mama. If he is found out, he puts us all at risk. What if the Regent decides to regard a murder attempt on another peer as treason?”
Eleanor had not considered that possibility. The title could be attained, the lineage considered corrupt. Aldridge had worked for years to rebuild the wealth of the duchy after his father’s mismanagement. He could lose it all, including the title, and the Prince would be delighted to benefit.
Haverford had become more and more erratic as the year progressed. He insulted and alarmed other people at every event he attended, completely ignoring social conventions and saying whatever he thought, often using the foulest of language. Thankfully, he was showing less and less inclination to go into Polite Society. Even so, the duchess frequently needed to use all her considerable tact and diplomacy to soothe ruffled feathers and quiet the gossip that claimed the duke was going mad.
“He is going mad,” she acknowledged to her son, the one person in the world who could be trusted with the knowledge. “It is the French Disease, I am sure. It is rotting his brain.”
“We cannot bring in doctors to examine him, Mama. Who knows what would come of that; what he would say and who they would tell? He cannot be allowed to continue, however.”
Eleanor frowned. It was a conundrum. Who could prevent a duke from doing whatever he pleased?
Aldridge, apparently. “I have made arrangements. He has been persuaded to travel to Haverford Castle. When he arrives, trusted servants know to keep him there. He will be comfortable, Mama. I have arranged for him to be entertained, and have nurses on hand in case he needs them. The disease will kill him in the next year or two, probably, and he is likely to be bedridden long before the end.”
He was brave, her son. He was breaking the laws of God and man in showing such disobedience to his father and a peer of the realm. She was sure God would understand, but the Courts might not. She would not ask about the entertainment Aldridge had provided. Knowing Haverford as she did, she did not want to know details. “He must never be set free,” she concluded. Should anyone find out he was insane, the scandal would be enormous. Worse still for Aldridge.
“I understand that such spells may come and go, so we need to be prepared for him to return to sanity, at least for a time,” Aldridge cautioned. “But if that does not happen, my instructions are to keep him from understanding he is imprisoned for as long as possible. With luck, the confusion in his mind will prevent him from ever working it out. I needed you to know, Mama, for two reasons. First, we need a story for the ton. Second, if he does not recover and if anything happens to me, it will be for you to keep him confined until Jon returns to be heir in my place.”
“I hope dear Jonathan comes home soon, Aldridge. I miss my son. But do not speak of your demise, my dear. I could not bear it.”
Aldridge stopped beside her and bent to kiss her forehead. “You are the strongest woman I know, dearest. Fret not. I am careful, and I intend to live to grow old.”
Eleanor hoped so. She certainly hoped so.