A sweeping tale of ambition, treachery, and passion…
For generations, Lady Diana de Vere’s family loyally served England’s crown. But after King Charles II’s untimely death, her father firmly opposes James II’s tyranny. Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans—the late king’s bastard son by actress Nell Gwyn—also rebels against his newly crowned uncle’s manipulation. Secretly pledging to wed Diana, he departs for the Continent to become a soldier.
Political and religious turmoil bring about revolution and yet another coronation before Charles returns to claim his promised bride. As companion to Queen Mary II, Diana has followed her de Vere forbears into royal service. She expects Charles to abandon his military career after marriage, but he proves unwilling to join the ranks of the courtiers he despises and mistrusts.
In palace corridors and within their own household, the young duke and duchess confront betrayals, scandals, and tragedies that threaten to divide them. And neither the privileges of birth nor proximity to the throne can ensure their security, their advancement—or their happiness.
Serendipity, the Author’s Friend
by Margaret Porter
From the outset of my career I aspired to write a historical biographical fiction, but back then I didn’t realize it would be this particular book, A Pledge of Better Times. Along the road to publication, serendipity became my greatest friend, enabling me to gaze into the faces of my characters, to read words they penned, and to follow their footsteps.
As a student and later a historian of the 17th century, I knew England’s King Charles II had a son by actress Nell Gwyn. On discovering that my family line connected with Charles Beauclerk and with Lady Diana de Vere, my interest was sparked. At the time I was completing a multi-book contract, so I tucked the couple into my “someday I need to discover more” file. When I happened to meet one of their direct descendants, whose family still holds the title bestowed by Charles II, I actually told him, “One day I’ll write a historical novel about the first duke and duchess.”
Researching their story in earnest, I benefited from various instances of good fortune, with surprising results. I was able to access the family archives in London. I often visited Diana’s portrait by Godfrey Kneller, which hangs at Hampton Court Palace. When featured in a special exhibition about 17th century women, “Beauty, Sex, and Power,” it was transferred from its usual location to a more intimate gallery, so I could examine it at very close range. A portion of it graces the cover of A Pledge of Better Times—because luckily the Queen permitted the use of the image!
The duke’s portrait is on public view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And I have admired the silver spirits flask that probably accompanied him on his military campaigns, because it’s displayed in the vast silver collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
London’s National Portrait Gallery owns a 1694 engraving of a later Diana portrait. When another copy—incredibly rare, set in an antique frame—surfaced at a car boot sale in southern England, of course I purchased it. Years passed before I could solve the mystery of what happened to the original portrait. Centuries ago it was mistakenly identified as a French noblewoman, and therefore mislabeled.
In plotting the book, I occasionally I discovered that my protagonists’ presence at an important event actually occurred. Charles was a military officer, and by tracing his battles and his later role in diplomacy, I could strengthen his internal and external conflicts. I was equally fortunate when the historic record was murky. For instance, my searches failed to turn up the exact location of his marriage, meaning I could use my imagination to create the wedding day.
As the book went to copyediting, I had an urge to view—with my very own eyes—a portrait of Charles, hanging in the private family apartments of a Gloucestershire castle. I was graciously granted access. To my astonishment, I also found a companion portrait of Diana hanging right beside it—one that was previously unknown to me or to their descendants. A wonderful way to close my long journey of discovery, a final flash of the serendipity that made creating this novel such a great adventure!
A Pledge of Better Times is on a blog tour!
About the Author
Margaret Porter is an award-winning, bestselling novelist whose lifelong study of British history inspires her fiction and her travels. A former stage actress, she has also worked in film, television, and radio.
For more information please visit Margaret Porter’s website. You can also find her on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter.