Although it was illegal, secret, and against the express commands of his famously mad father, King George IV of England married twice--once for duty and once for love. While Caroline of Brunswick eventually became his lawful queen, it was the beautiful Maria Fitzherbert, recognized as his wife by the Catholic Church but not by the laws of England, who claimed his heart. In the hands of author Diane Haeger, their relationship becomes a mesmerizing love story, filled with intrigue and passion. The characters and drawing rooms of 18th Century England come alive to create a portrait of the age that is colorful and resonant with historical detail.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Diane Haeger is the author of The Courtesan, published by Pocket, and a number of contemporary romances for HarperCollins. Diane lives in Newport Beach, California.
Diane Haeger is the author of The Secret Wife of King George IV, as well as Courtesan and a number of contemporary romances. She lives in Newport Beach, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Secret Wife of King George IV
By Diane Haeger
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Diane Haeger
All rights reserved.
The lacquered red phaeton clicked over the smooth pavement down from Piccadilly, across toward Pall Mall, as Maria Fitzherbert languidly waved a painted Chinese fan before the soft features of her face. She was trying her best not to look so disinterested. Still, her dark, cocoa eyes fluttered half closed against the sooty London sky as Isabella Sefton tossed her a look of reproach.
After an interminable pause, Isabella then began happily to chatter again. "Now. As I was saying. Tonight we shall go to Almack's. Of course simply everyone who is anyone shall be there. Then tomorrow at four, we are receiving the Duchess of Gordon and Lady Cowper. At eight, as soon as we manage to be rid of everyone, we shall go on to the King's Theater, where you know of course that your uncle and I are among the privileged few who have a box ..."
Maria shifted impatiently on the opposite blue-silk cushion as their carriage crossed St. James's Street. She could not help herself. It was an incessant jabbing, that voice, sharp like a razor, and her perfume, the scent of jasmine daubed too liberally into the decolletage of a tastefully styled pistachio silk gown.
"Perhaps it is too soon for me to go to a place like Almack's."
"Oh, rubbish!" Isabella huffed. "The Assembly rooms are just the place for you. Thomas has been dead nearly a year already and you simply must begin again. Beauty doesn't last forever, you know!"
"But to enter it all so boldly—"
"Darling, is there really any other way?" Isabella asked, laughed an incisive little laugh, then tossed back her dark hair with coltish aplomb.
The driver slowed, vying for room on the crowded street, which narrowed steadily among a tangle of elegant phaetons, tandems, and post chaises filled with the "smart set" out for the afternoon ritual. It was an endless procession of horses' hooves and large iron coach wheels. See and be seen.
None of the fashionable ever did much of anything before the hour of four. Now, as the bells of Christopher Wren's Church of St. James's struck five, the streets and shops along St. James's Street and Bond Street were choked with the most elegantly dressed, the most notable of London society.
"Now then," Isabella began again, her shrill voice slicing the stale air. "Have you a proper new gown for tonight? And not that uninspired apricot atrocity you last wore to Vauxhall. I have heard gossip that none other than the Duchess of Devonshire herself shall be among us, and they say that the woman is an absolute slave to fashion."
As they turned onto the Mall, Maria gazed beyond the glass window. Low-slung branches whispered shades of pale green, white, and pale pink in the afternoon breeze. Bright rhododendron, like puffs of pink snow dotted with green, tipped their stalks toward the crowded street.
Again their carriage slowed to a stop as Isabella chattered on.
At first she did not notice the two riders galloping wildly across the green directly toward them. Two men in tight white breeches that set off long, muscled legs, their hair blown back by the wind. Both rode stallions. One was black and sleek, the other white and magnificent.
"Saints above!" Isabella cried. "They are positively out of their minds, racing with one another, here, in the city!"
Wild. Untamed. They were laughing, heads back, faces flushed. When they were but a breath from Isabella's carriage, the riders both pulled the bridles tightly and the horses halted. As Maria watched the two riders, her breath caught.
Both men were young and impeccably dressed, but it was the devilishly handsome face of the man with the high white cravat, red cutaway jacket, and windblown chestnut hair that took her breath away. A slash of sweat glistened on his forehead, and he had been laughing. Until he saw her.
The eyes that settled on Maria were the most startlingly blue eyes she had ever seen. He was as handsome as a god.
"Do you know who that is?" Isabella squealed with delight and pulled her from the curiosity of the moment with her rapacious hounding. "It is the Prince of Wales!"
Maria gave him a fleeting, elusive glance. She saw the Royal Crest, the gold lion and the unicorn around a golden crown, emblazoned on his saddle. Without knowing what else to do, she looked away.
Isabella was right. It was he.
As their coach remained at a standstill for a collection of well-dressed strollers to cross up toward the Mall, his gaze continued unflinching upon her. His full lips were turned up in a little half smile. And those eyes! Sky blue, as if they had no beginning and no end. His portraits did not begin to do them justice. They drilled and rooted her now so that she could not quite tell if he was flirting with her or mocking her.
When he nodded to her, still smiling, Maria could feel warm blood rush up from her neck and blossom like one of Isabella's prized camellias on her pale, un-rouged face. There was something dangerous, almost malevolent, in his expression, but Maria could no longer will herself to look away.
The carriage still did not move. Neither did the riders.
The two horses whinnied and pawed at the pavement. Maria felt her dry throat constrict. She could not swallow. She had heard the rumors like everyone else, that the king's eldest son was brash and impulsive—more like a rebel warrior than a prince.
Maria did her best to bite back a smile.
Then suddenly, the coach lurched and pulled them away from the moment, and on down the crowded Mall.
"Can you imagine it?" Isabella was saying, her eyes glittering like black currants as the carriage lurched forward and the steady clop of hooves began again. "The Prince of Wales was flirting brazenly with you! Ooh, is that not delicious!"
Maria opened her fan again and began to move the warm spring air, hoping that her uncle's wife would not see her trembling. "I wouldn't make too much of it, Isabella," she said with as much disinterest as she could gather. "I hear that the Prince of Wales flirts with positively everyone."
Lady Sefton looked away, her smooth face paled with concession, remembering from personal experience that on that score her husband's beautiful niece could not have been more correct.
"Pity," she muttered as she opened her fan.
THIS WAS NOT GOING TO be easy.
In fact, tonight, it seemed like the most difficult thing in the world. To face all of this again. Society. The amorous glances of interested men who did not interest her. The games everyone played. For position. For power. For the thrill of the chase.
Maria sat at her dressing table in a her underpetticoat of pale blue and white striped satin, gazing into the mirror and yet looking past her own image. It was nearly dusk, the sky beyond the long draperied windows was a bonfire of color, but she did not notice that either.
The tall ebony clock beside her dressing table chimed. Her heart sank. It was nearly time to dress.
She was forcing herself to attend the charade this evening for one reason and one reason alone. Isabella, wife of the ninth Viscount and first Earl of Sefton, knew positively "everyone who was anyone" in London. Her uncle's well-meaning wife was also the Smythe family's entree into non-Catholic society, the more important majority in London, and in a manner all of her own, she missed no attempt to remind Maria of her influence.
But that, above all else, mattered to her ambitious brother, and so far this season, she had done her best to oblige him.
Now that Maria was widowed, Isabella had taken it upon herself, in an exhaustive round of parties and balls, to introduce her into the more exclusive society.
It truly was the only way, she harangued, to make a really important match. But marriage, a third for Maria, was not a priority. It was the first time in her life that she had felt the curious sensation of freedom. And she had begun to like it.
As the widow of Thomas Fitzherbert, Maria had a comfortable stipend, a house in London, and one in the country at Twickenham. At twenty-nine, she also had a newly kindled desire to do as she pleased.
She had decided before setting a solitary foot back in London, that if she did marry again this time she would do it differently. This time if—and only if—she consented to become another man's wife, it was not going to be for social position. It was going to be for the one experience that had always eluded her. Love.
Her unpainted lips turned up in a gentle smile. Now that really was a fantasy! In this society of nobility and dandies, and men like that ridiculous Prince of Wales, who only toyed with women ... Ah, love. A needle in the proverbial haystack!
Pressing back a smile, she pursed her lips, picked up a silver scent flask, and daubed just the barest hint of rose water at her neck and wrists. Then finally she looked up. Her bare, unpainted face gazed back: Wide brown eyes, fair skin over a heart-shaped face, and a nose that was just a shade too imperfect to be called Greek.
Well, John did always say she had more elegance than true beauty, which perhaps was fortunate, since elegance was timeless. Beauty was not.
But there was something else. It was in her eyes and in the way she held her head. Their mother's stubborn pride, she thought.
Their father's temper, John said.
Come to think of it—she smiled again—there probably was not a man in all of London willing to do battle with that particularly heady combination!
By eight o'clock, the string of carriages that waited outside of Almack's club stretched down King Street and onto St. James's Street, almost to Piccadilly.
Maria and Isabella waited in their sweet-smelling party gowns while the white-gloved footman attended Maria's brother, John. He stepped from the carriage, dressed in an ash-gray tailcoat, knee breeches, and silk stockings, and gave instructions to the driver. Ahead of them was a steady stream of meticulously costumed beau monde who, like themselves, had spent all of the morning at the details of their toilette.
The flow of partygoers now inched up the eight steps of white-veined marble, then through the neat Corinthian portico like a slowly moving snake.
When John had joined them once again, the trio moved into the crowded assembly rooms, already warm from the press of bodies. But that was Almack's; miserably warm, decoratively plain, and always overcrowded.
There were throngs of people chattering, bowing, and rustling about; the space around them dimmed white by a mist of scented hair powder. Maria and Isabella stood beneath a huge crystal chandelier that smoked and dripped candle wax onto the polished parquet floors as the air curled with a carefree Handel sonata.
Like everyone else, Maria and her companions conformed to the dictates of well-heeled society. Their hair was properly powdered, their faces painted and accentuated by the still very fashionable well-placed patch or two. John wore one beside his left eye in an attempt to draw attention to his most desirable feature. His eyes, like Maria's, were deep as melting chocolate and had long dark lashes.
Isabella and Maria each wore a single patch beneath the cheekbone. But it was Maria who had inspired the evening's one element of surprise. When the current mode was pastel, she had startled Isabella Sefton almost into silence by wearing a smashing gown of diaphanous indigo silk. A white lace fichu began low, was tied between her breasts, and framed her ivory shoulders. She wore her pale gold hair softly curled into ringlets and had ornamented it with tiny pink rosebuds.
"The first dance?" Maria's brother asked.
He extended his hand to his sister in an elegant gesture. All around the room men were choosing partners. She glanced at him, tall and naturally athletic looking with a slim waist, long legs, and broad shoulders. His hair was the same golden-blond shade as hers.
"Oh, do be a dear and ask me first since my Charles is not here," Isabella whined. She looked back from the dance floor and took John's hand before he had a moment to object. "It is so awkward not to be asked for the first dance. Besides, I am not above bribery. If you dance with me first, I shall see that you are introduced to the Duchess of Devonshire directly afterward."
Maria smiled and nodded her approval, knowing that an introduction like that would mean as much to him as a moment's peace would mean to her.
She watched them glide away into a whirl of other dancers before she felt free to take a breath of relief. She had been with Isabella the entire day. They had even dressed together at Sefton House.
At least for a few merciful moments, the chatter would cease.
Maria watched them dance together, she small and graceful like a bird; he tall, lithe, and handsome—and she tried her level best not to look so bored by all of it as she felt.
Like hunting hounds drawn to the scent of blood, a collection of young men sensed Maria's disinterest and were attracted by it. They circled cautiously around her in their high collars and tight knee breeches, their tailcoats and their brilliantly embroidered waistcoasts shimmering beneath.
Like everyone else, these men had powdered their hair and faces. Their patches had been strategically applied. But the competing fragrances of civet, ambergris, and musk, as they neared her, were noxious in the closed hall.
Maria ignored their collective movements forward. She leaned alone against a gilt column, her fan extended, watching her brother and Isabella dance.
"What great fortune, madam, that you as yet have no partner," said a tall, graceful young man as he bowed before her.
"My brother has requested that I dance only with him this evening, sir," she lied coolly, and looked back at the dancers.
"Jack Smythe is your brother?" he asked with smooth-voiced surprise, having seen them enter Almack's together. The honey-rich tone of his voice, along with his question, caused her to turn around.
"He is, sir."
The young man's expression broadened. "Then you are Mrs. Fitzherbert."
Maria nodded and smiled just enough to be civil, but not enough to be encouraging. Two other young men moved in behind him, and all at once she found herself encircled by a young and attractive assemblage of gentlemen all leaning toward her in apparent fascination.
"Surely old Jack shall make an exception in my case. Please allow me the honor of introducing myself. I am Francis Russell, Duke of Bedford," he said with another polite bow, his hands clasped behind his back.
Maria looked more closely past the rapt expression, at a face that was thin and angular and softened by a wealth of pale blond hair. But overall, his face was plain and his eyes were flecked with just enough muddy brown to make them dull.
"Your brother and I are old friends," he said with a soft smile. "We knew one another at Trinity College, in Cambridge." Maria felt her own pinched expression begin to fade. Her brother had indeed gone to school in Cambridge. This was not simply a petty attempt at flirtation.
"It is a pleasure," she conceded as an unconsciously beguiling smile turned the corners of her rosy lips.
"May I get you a glass of lemonade or perhaps some tea, Mrs. Fitzherbert?" asked another of the anxious young men whom she recognized as the eldest son of the Earl of Coventry.
She nodded. "Lemonade would be lovely."
Then, just when she had begun to feel the first hint of ease in Isabella's absence, the music ended. The dancers poured off the dance floor toward the wall of mirrors beneath the bandbox behind her.
"There she is!" Maria heard one of the young men near her whisper to another.
Like sunflowers in a June breeze, all of her aspiring suitors turned toward the refreshment table and a dramatic, bold-faced beauty in a heavily corseted lilac silk gown. Others stood on chairs and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of her.
Since her brother and Isabella had gone to her side directly from the dance floor, Maria knew that it was the infamous Duchess of Devonshire. The woman was not only confidante to the famous Whig leader Charles James Fox, but more scandalously, her name had been repeatedly linked to the wild Prince of Wales himself.
Excerpted from The Secret Wife of King George IV by Diane Haeger. Copyright © 2000 Diane Haeger. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1784 London, the Prince of Wales is attracted to the newly arrived widow, Maria Fitzherbert. Though he declares his undying love for Maria, she refuses to believe the notorious philanderer. Additionally, Maria knows that as a Catholic, she is unacceptable by the Anglican Church as a wife of the next king. George vows his love and secretly marries Maria. However, duty to the sate comes first for the regent and he openly weds Princess Caroline. Though Maria remains his only love, George worries he might lose her due to her unhappiness over hiding their relationship, which the Catholic Church would recognize as the binding one. THE SECRET WIFE OF KING GEORGE IV is an excellent historical fiction that provides an in depth account of the loving but clandestine relationship between Maria and George IV. The story line is filled with intrigue and real personage that make the late eighteenth century seem vividly alive, a feat few writers can do well. George's conflict between love of country and love for a woman is well written and turns the Regent into a flesh and blood person, not the caricature typically seen in his cameo appearances in Regency novels. With her wealth of detail cleverly interwoven into a fabulous plot, Diane Haeger has written a triumphant tale that will provide much delight to fans of historical fiction and Regency romance. Harriet Klausner
Thiis book reads a bit too much like a romance novel for my taste. I expected straight history as I'm not a big fan of historical fiction. Still quite an entertaining read.
Let me just start out by saying that I hate romance novels. With that in mind, I thought that this book would just provide me some insight as to an affair thought of as scandlous. However, Haeger does a brilliant job of not only crafting a descriptive novel that entices the reader but she also captures the love between Goerge IV and Maria. Their love was denied and created grand amounts of gossip but Haeger masterfully makes sure their true love didn't just die with them.