The Berkeley story is woven from wide-reaching research arising from The Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee of Privileges on the Earl of Berkeley's Pedigree - 1799 and 1811 and A Narrative of the Minutes of Evidence respecting the claim to The Berkeley Peerage, 1811.
Each book can be read as a 'standalone', the three titles forming three arcs within a greater arc.
The Berkeley Series is a tribute to a brave lady, neither victim nor villain, who fought her corner in the House of Lords in 1811 when issues were not only of gender, but of class.
#womenshistory #Georgian #biographical
'Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson (since occasionally attributed to Jessamyn West)
'There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.'
'...wonderfully done. These are my ancestors. Her research is remarkable. Excellent review of History, both family and English.'
Jean Batton (Amazon Review)
'An entertaining treat with enough history to satisfy serious-minded readers.'
And...a view of fiction I wholeheartedly share...
'...what I love is fiction that recognises the contexts of the characters. Fiction not set in a vacuum. Personally, socially or politically. Fiction with both politics and Politics. And that takes research.'
Butcher's daughter rocks and rescues English dynasty. The story of Mary Cole, 5th Countess of Berkeley, focus of a sensational cause célèbre of the Georgian era.
First Book and Second Book now available on Amazon Kindle
The Wolf and The Lamb, First Book in the Berkeley Series 1783 – 1799 Please click link to buy on Amazon Kindle. Print temporarily unavailable.
When Mary Cole, a butcher's daughter, caught the eye of Lord Berkeley, it was as flint to tinder. A libertine and a forsworn bachelor, he was taken aback that the Catholic-reared beauty refused to be his mistress. Within weeks he'd brought her family to bankruptcy. When, still, she eluded him, he devised a theatrical plot to abduct her.
It was then that he knew he could not let her go.
Aided by his corrupt chaplain, Hupsman, the Earl duped his 'shepherdess' with fake nuptials.
Tumbling to the truth, Mary became passionately committed to gaining her eldest son's birthright. With an astonishing grasp of pastoral economy, she repaired the Berkeley fortunes while a succession of children compounded her plight.
Her estranged sisters, meanwhile, were moving among the glitterati of Pitt’s England and the New America and their scandalous activities had to be curtailed at the highest level before a legal knot was eventually tied.
Upon Hupsman's death, the temptation to affirm the ‘first marriage’ proved too strong for the Earl and Countess and they conspired in a criminal act to ‘find’ the registry. The upshot was a sensational trial in the House of Lords in 1811 whose repercussions were to shake the foundations of the Berkeley dynasty for ever and put Mary’s life at risk.
Was that marriage a sham? Or was it a timeless truth?
"I have been as much sold as any lamb that goes to the shambles!"
Often she had watched them in the fickle days of spring, skipping about the lush meadows of Gloucester, exulting in the gift of life. Steadily they grew fat and independent of the placid ewes, unaware of the shadow of the butcher's blade, or that they were destined for some rich man's table.
That was long ago, when Mary was a slip of a thing and Pa kept The Swan Tavern at Barnwood and grazed livestock there. He used to send his meat into the city of Gloucester and numbered among his customers many of the great houses of the Vale. They were well-known, the Coles. Folk grumbled about their airs and graces, but William Cole was a respected tradesman who never sold anyone short. He was proud of his three lovely daughters, of whom Mary was the youngest, and had high hopes of his fourth child, his namesake, Billy, despite the shameless way the women of the household mollycoddled him. His wife, too, was a comely body who earned pin money by nursing sick and newborn infants and saw no contradiction in this humble occupation and that state to which she aspired. "For," observed she, "high birth or lowly, tis nought but an accident. Nobility of character is what signifies." Mary possessed a natural reserve and took this dictum to heart, but her sisters were wanton and Cole was relieved when his eldest, Ann, took up with Will Farren, a likely fellow in the same trade as himself, and went to live in Butchers' Row, Westgate, in wedded safekeeping.
Life was simple then. The sun always seemed to be shining. Mary delighted in picking nosegays of sweet peas and lavender from her father's garden and went capering off to school with them, adding poppies and buttercups and Queen Anne's lace along the bridle way.
But in the year 1783, when Farmer George was King and Mary was full-grown, the recent death of old Cole marked a dramatic change in the family's fortune....
The Sheep and The Goats, Second Book in the Berkeley Series 1799 – 1811 Please click to buy on Amazon Kindle. Print temporarily unavailable.
Now moving freely in aristocratic society, Mary must distinguish between enemy and ally! Even under her own roof, appearances can be deceptive and the husband about whom she has no illusions further falls from grace when certain matters come to light. The young Fitz’s philandering reputation is proving every bit as robust as his father’s and it's not long before he is caught up in amorous and political intrigue. When Hupsman's dying confession surfaces, the situation worsens and the dramatic death of Lord Berkeley brings the succession crisis to a head. Who will support the Countess’ story before the peers of the realm? And who will speak against her in revenge?
For, heaven be thanked, we live in such an age, when no man dies for love but on the stage.
Was Dryden’s wisdom to be trusted?
The Arundel ball had drooped to a close, its sprightly airs skimming the shadows of the mind. Dawn was breaking.
Frederick Augustus, 5th Earl of Berkeley, wondered grimly if it would be his last. He entered Rewell Wood with a bravura gait, taunted by flashbacks of a life that was more random patchwork than silk tapestry depicting a parable. He would be leaving behind a heap of disordered affairs.
A swell of pigeons let fly at his approach. The air was moss-damp and tainted with mould. No sign of his royal antagonist. Cumberland’s second had been instructed to resist any form of negotiation. The vengeful blade was as surly as he was suave, although Berkeley himself had thrown down the gauntlet upon catching his virtuous spouse in the Duke’s clutches. What was a fellow to do? Honour demanded that he defend her, King’s spawn or not. In the light of recent debate over the legitimacy of their eldest sons, it behoved him to take the Duke to task in the most decided terms. Besides, Berkeley loved Mary with a yearning he shied from admitting. It had flourished through stress and misfortune against all expectation. Back in the eighties, he had purchased her from butcher’s stock for the sum of one hundred guineas and little imagined how his solipsist world would be overturned. The Cole family had done very well out of him since then, and he who reckoned he was nobody’s fool had become the Jester of the deck.
The sun’s hemisphere began to smelt the edges of the horizon and send darting beams through the trees. A pheasant waddled across the misty track ahead as if daring him to pursue, a ridiculous creature without streamlined motion. Actaeon, he thought. (It was forty years since his academic days.) The hunter become the hunted.
His musings were interrupted by a heavy crackle in the brushwood. A patch of hide resolved itself into the finest heraldic beast he had ever seen, with antlers like blasted oaks, its proud head surrounded by the radiance of the morning. The stag gazed at him, imperially aloof, as if awaiting homage. Berkeley stood stock still. It was the start of the rutting season and he was not so foolish as to ignore that. Yet it was not fear that inspired him, it was a deliquescence of muscle and bone, stronger than for a covetable woman, at beholding such a creature in its perfect element. It listened, pawed the turf, then flexed its neck and vanished between the nankeen boughs.
Berkeley started, as out of a dream. Human voices announced the gruesome business of the day. Three figures were approaching. His adversary engaged his eye with cold reserve.
So this was it. The ritual of preparation. The careful pacing of distance. The cocking of pistols and taking aim. The fixing upon the white kerchief. Or was it a flag of surrender? His temples throbbed; his heart was in his fingertips. He was captive to the moment. Behind and beyond were meaningless.
A double salvo sent a raucous confusion of birds into the ether. Berkeley discharged upwards. Hot metal travelling at the speed of light whined past his ear. The power of it stung his skin. The smell of sulphur and singed hair filled his nostrils. Scalding blood surged back into his veins. He was alive! The sun in all its Indian summer glory was coming up! He was being given a second chance!
But Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, single-sighted as he was, had not intended it so.
The Peeress and The Playboy, Third Book in the Berkeley Series 1811 - 1844 (WIP) Please note: Schedule suspended until 2023. Due for publication Spring 2025.
Posts on this theme:
Jane Austen meets Bleak House in an engaging historical novel about the demands of marriage in late 18th-century England.
The first installment in a proposed trilogy, the book centers on Mary Cole, a Gloucester butcher’s daughter whose chief virtue is an unalterable sense of goodness, a quality hard to maintain as the youngest sister of two unapologetic harlots. Barely 16 years old, Mary catches the eye of notorious lothario Frederick Augustus, the 5th Earl of Berkeley, who has always sworn to avoid the prison of marriage. Frederick senses that a beautiful saint like Mary can save him from his immoral ways and stops at nothing to seduce her. When she refuses his advances, he manipulates her family’s dire economic state and tricks her into unwedded communion. Despite Mary’s true love for James Perry, an aspiring young lawyer with only the purest of intentions, she gives up her happiness to save her family. Answering demands that they marry, Frederick sets up a fraudulent marriage contract, one that he convinces Mary can never be revealed because of her low social status and the indecent reputation of her sisters. During the next 15 years, she bears a half-dozen children and potential heirs but finds that claiming a birthright for her seemingly illegitimate sons will become the fight of her life. Through the narrative thread concerning Frederick’s aversion to marriage, Cole explores the marital adventures of Frederick’s close friend the Prince of Wales, whose desire for the twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert runs afoul of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772–it prohibits the prince from marrying without the consent of his father King George III, who disapproves of the widow’s Catholic faith. The novel moves along like a runaway carriage and features many delectable trappings–chance encounters at the opera, duplicitous servants, church officials taken to drink and hidden agendas–found in the very best Victorian novels.
An entertaining treat with enough history to satisfy serious-minded readers.
HISTORICAL NOVELS REVIEW (August - November quarter 2008)
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB: First Book of the Berkeley Series
Rosy Cole, New Eve Publishing, 2008, 2013 £13.95, pb, 304pp, 9780955687716
Mary Cole, a butcher’s daughter from Gloucester, is ignorant of the ways of the world. In a time when men of the aristocracy had “official” mistresses, the unscrupulous wandered the country abducting women without penalty. Mary is soon spotted by the Earl of Berkeley, a blackguard and womanizer, who decides that he must possess her. Through tricks and corrupt dealings, including the betrayal of Mary by her sisters, he abducts her, and she becomes his mistress.
Mary’s distress and Berkeley’s weakness for her leads them to marry in secret, but he forces the priest to burn the marriage record; thus hidden, Mary could not take the name of Berkeley. After many years and many children, Mary convinces the Earl to marry her publicly, but the children born before this marriage would not inherit the family title. It becomes their mission to prove the earlier marriage and restore their sons’ rights. Society is against them, and their battle has just begun in this, the first volume of the Berkeley Trilogy.
Mary’s plight is told with compassion and the shameful history of England’s “great” families is retold with skill and evident research. Beyond Mary, there is too little character development, a difficult task when the author includes the multitudes connected to the Berkeleys during that period. Cole’s talent shines brightest in the scenes between Mary and her mother, revealing the pain of Mary’s shame and her mother’s inability to understand Mary’s determination to remain in the Berkeley household. Equally impressive is Cole’s attempt to unravel the tangled web of the families and loyalties of the peers.
This novel will be enjoyed by anyone interested in the position of women and political turbulence in England at the end of the eighteenth century.
The varied opinions below encapsulate some of the reasons I chose the novel form for the Berkeley Series.
There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of the truth.
Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.
Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.
Like many rich men, he thought in anecdotes; like many simple women, she thought in terms of biography.
Biography lends to death a new terror.
Discretion is not the better part of biography.
Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.
One good anecdote is worth a volume of biography.
William Ellery Channing
People think that because a novel's invented, it isn't true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. Anthony Powell
There is properly no history, only biography.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Biography is the only true history.
I can find my biography in every fable that I read.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.
SHAPING THE PAST
The power of historical fiction for bad and for good can be immense in shaping consciousness of the past.
When THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, First Book in the Berkeley Series, was a work in progress, it was described as a biographical novel, a recognised genre. Several months after publication, the tag was changed to 'novelised biography'. This doesn't fit any ready-made heading, but more accurately describes the process. It seems to spark greater curiosity and arouse a more focused interest. Who? When? Where? How? Why?
Why not write a biography? It might have been easier! An historical novelist, whilst using imagination to reconstruct events and decide what hinges upon what, shouldn’t meddle with a timeline and should never discuss or overtly suggest. Fiction, however, is free to present itself as a considered view, even a fairly objective view, yet one calculated to engage with and carry its theme to a satisfying resolution. A distinct chronology is demanded because the story is about real people and it deserves to be as faithful as can be understood. For the writer, this presents a significant challenge because fiction must conform to its own principles and laws of architecture. The problem exercised me for a long time, until one day, out walking my dog, it struck me that the story had to be in three volumes if it were to be told whole!
The novel form was truly seductive because this woman's experience begged to live in literary 3-D. It needed to be a product of the social, cultural, economic, religious and political conflict of the times. The late Georgian era was one of dynamic change to landscape and livelihood and the beginning of a revolution that is ongoing. Then there was Bonaparte, the Corsican Monster, on the doorstep. I wanted to make a psychological journey into Mary Cole's life and try to discover how it was for her, how she forced the locks of the oubliette that was her universe, whilst striving to cling to the brand of reputation lost to her ambitious sisters. There is no doubt that she identified with many of Mary Wollstonecraft's beliefs, but never resorted to assertive feminism. It would have been unbecoming. And, I dare say, she would have had to do battle with her pride and would have considered it a weakness. ‘Show, don’t tell’ was a maxim that could definitely be applied to her.
Think how it must have been for her, abducted, cut off from family and life in the bustling port of Gloucester, to be hidden in a series of properties in London and then spirited away to a dour medieval pile for the next twelve years, where Edward II had been murdered. She dealt with mystified servants who turned mutinous at the wifely 'status' accorded her when the Berkeley ménage was clearly irregular. In London, the devastating truth had dawned upon her that the secret nuptials she had gone through in Berkeley church, conducted by a corrupt cleric, had no legal basis! (The couple's bid to legitimate their eldest son and repair his prospects, which landed Mary in a House of Lord's trial as a widow, is a saga in itself.) Lord Berkeley had forbidden her to consort with her relatives and no lady of social standing would come calling except for a compassionate sister of Dr Jenner's. Often, Mary dined with his lordship's male friends and proved an intelligent hostess who conducted herself with propriety, but there was only one inference to be drawn from a lone woman in the company of gentlemen.
By this time, there were two children to consider and another on the way. Mary decided to take fate into her own hands! She was skilful at housekeeping and husbandry. She not only made improvements to the castle’s routines with all despatch and the way Lord Berkeley’s life was ordered, but to the lives of many of his disaffected tenants. He was neglectful of his responsibilities, fickle, a chancer and a dilettante, more than twice her age, not uncongenial, and content with his new-found domestic life, but firm in his long-held resolve not to marry. As it turned out, some of his reasoning proved sound. Mary knew little of the lives of her siblings. She had no idea of the size of her middle sister’s depravity who played fast and loose with the law. Susan was bent on fostering her interests any which way she could, meanwhile taking great delight in playing the aristocracy at their own game.
Mary was safe for as long as it lasted. She worried incessantly about what would happen to her and the children if her captor turned them out. She did not trust his Lordship's disposition to remain a bachelor, or even to provide for her if the novelty waned. Her position fretted at her conscience and her self-esteem. What if Berkeley should decide to marry an heiress in order to provide for the succession, as seemed likely at one point? This was only natural. His was a family of great consequence in the life of the nation.
The second reason for choosing to write fiction is bound up with the first. It’s because I can tell you what appears to be true, but it may not convey the truth about how astonishingly brave, humble yet tenacious Mary Cole was. Yes, mine is a personal reconstruction and it's possible there are places I've joined up the dots wrongly. But from ranging wide and delving deep into research documents, trawling through thousands and thousands of records, checking and cross-referencing, this is at least the basis on which I believe the events played out. What has fascinated me most about researching Mary Cole’s life is the uncanny and illuminating way that many of the characters on the fringes of the story come to the fore again and again in other scenarios, often in the same groups. This has served to highlight a mechanism of personal vested interests impacting the course of events.
As a young writer, I rifled through less well-known figures of history in a bid to find a subject that snagged attention but hadn't been addressed. On an arts course based in Bath, a visit to Berkeley Castle brought the quest to an end. There, in the drawing-room, flanking one side of the fireplace wall, was the Hoppner painting above. (It now has pride of place above the mantelpiece.) It brought a tingle to the nape. I knew that woman. In spite of her Jane Austen gown, Mary Cole struck me as modern, a woman whose strength of character shone through her beauty. There is in her a wistfulness, a touch of injury and a resolve not to be defeated by circumstance. She had plenty of confidence, instilled by a mother who saw status as an accident of birth, and a father who strove to provide an education for his daughters, albeit modest, in a local academy. She also possessed quick intelligence and a grasp of how the world worked.
The three sisters were all women of destiny.
Ann and Susan eventually married to material advantage, emigrating to the New World where they daily performed their roles among prosperous merchant bankers and the founders of the American Constitution. Mary, the youngest, was demure, and from the moment the feckless Lord Berkeley spotted her sitting in a bow window in Gloucester with her needlework, he hounded her from every hiding-place, eventually resorting to a convoluted plot, in league with her sister, Susan, to kidnap her.
George, Prince of Wales, later Regent and George IV
As one half of a couple, and as a widow, she consorted with royalty and the movers and shakers of the day. Her life was intricately meshed with theirs, so that it is impossible to tell her story merely against an historical background. Some of these figures were antagonistic towards her, but there were others who genuinely loved her.
Her story has been with me for forty years (although not the writing!) I do hope readers enjoy it, but whatever they make of it, this is my magnum opus. In Book Three, there are more sparkling dots to join up which cast a trenchant light upon the earlier decades and present a whole new tier of consequences. One thing is certain, old enemies die hard and scandal has a life of its own!
It’s been a fascinating journey which has enriched my life beyond telling.
First Book and Second Book now available on Amazon Kindle. Members of Kindle Unlimited read for FREE.