Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Perils of Servant Life during the Regency (@BeverleyOakley #historical #giveaway #murder)

The Duchess and the Highwayman cover

By Beverley Oakley (Guest Blogger)

A servant working in a Georgian, Regency or Victorian household – the time periods in which my books are set – was very much at the mercy of her employer. These were the days before unions, Occupational Health and Safety, or income protection insurance mitigated against the ill fortune of being injured, or taken advantage of by a harsh mistress, or a young man with a roving eye.

The mistress of the household was often the arbiter of a servant’s future.
Many of my romances follow the lives of the young ladies in high society but in my latest story, The Duchess and the Highwayman, my heroine, Phoebe, pretends to be a servant after she’s wrongfully accused of murder. As a duchess, in satin and lace, with an educated voice and bearing, she’d be recognised instantly. However, in order to exist below the radar of the local magistrate whose advances she’s recently rejected, she believes her chances of survival are greater by disappearing into the great unwashed – a servant below notice.

For a long time she succeeds, but only through luck and the kindness of the ‘highwayman’ who rescues her from her vengeance-filled lover who’s just framed her for her husband’s murder.

Luck certainly had a role in the happiness of a servant’s life. For most servants, survival depended on their obedience and almost complete subjugation to the wishes of their employers in return for a roof over their heads, food and small wages.

Their ‘character’ or reputation was crucial to securing work and many a girl cast out from a secure job without a ‘character’ ended up on the streets, unable to secure more work because their previous employer refused to vouch for her.

Recently, I came upon a gem of a book discovered in a pile once belonging to my grandmother who was born in 1903. Titled The Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen, the book, published in 1908, offers a raft of letters designed to be used as templates for prospective employers, lovers writing to upbraid a flirtatious fiancée or to break off an engagement.

Below are two examples of suggested wording offered by this indispensible companion to any mistress of a household eager to ensure that her little “below stairs” dominion was augmented by a girl of good character.

Heres thecharactera servant would hope her prospective employer would receive with all her questions answered in the affirmative.

Mrs. A will feel much obliged if Mrs. B. will kindly give her the character of Mary Jones, who has applied to Mrs. A for the situation of housemaid. Mrs. A. will be glad to know if Mary Jones is honest and respectable; clean in her work and person, and likely to suit. Is she good-tempered and obliging and tidy in her work?

If Mrs. B. will kindly answer these questions and reply fully in confidence Mrs. A will feel greatly indebted to her.


But woe betide the fate of the poor, high-spirited girl referred to in the following letter:

Dear Madam,

My answer to your note as to Mary Gray must, I am sorry to have to say it, be unfavourable. I was upon the point of dismissing her when your note arrived, as I consider her quite an unfit person to be left alone in the house. She is excessively indolent and very fond of a class of company that a girl ought not to see.

Believe me, Madam.

Yours Sincerely,


The book is a real glimpse into the past and filled with gems.

I am giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate and an ebook The Mysterious Governess. to randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour. Please use the RaffleCopter below to enter. Remember you may increase your chances of winning by visiting the other tour stops. You may find those locations here.


A duchess disguised as a lady’s maid; a gentleman parading as a highwayman.
She’s on the run from a murderer, he’s in pursuit of one…

In a remote Norfolk manor, Phoebe, Lady Cavanaugh is wrongfully accused by her servants of her brutal husband’s murder.

There’s little sympathy in the district for the duchess who’s taken a lover and made clear she despised her husband. The local magistrate has also vowed revenge since Lady Cavanaugh rebuffed his advances.

When Phoebe is discovered in the forest wearing only a chemise stained with the blood of her murdered husband, she persuades the noble ‘highwayman’ who rescues her that she is Lady Cavanaugh’s maidservant.

Hugh Redding has his own reasons for hunting down the man who would have Phoebe tried and hanged for murder. He plans to turn ‘the maidservant with aspirations above her station' into the 'lady' who might testify against the very villain who would see Phoebe dead.

But despite the fierce attraction between Phoebe and the 'highwayman', Phoebe is not in a position to admit she's the 'murderous duchess' hunted across the land.

Seizing an opportunity to strike at the social and financial standing of the man who has profited by her distress, Phoebe is drawn into a dangerous intrigue.

But when disaster strikes, she fears Hugh will lack the sympathy or understanding of her unusual predicament to even want to save her a second time.

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Hugh stared after her and when he’d regained his senses he found he was unconsciously touching his mouth with the fingertips of his right hand.

Damn, but she’d taken him by surprise with that kiss of hers. Even still his lips were burning.

At the window he gripped the sill and stared down the modest drive that led from the cottage to the road.

She’d asked him what he’d hoped to achieve by accosting Wentworth at pistol point. Honour for his sister. Yes, it had been rash but he’d been in his cups when he’d come up with the plan to prove to Ada that not all men were smooth-talking confidence tricksters who led vulnerable women down the road to ruin.

There was also the small chance of exacting some retribution from the man. A marriage proposal had been his ultimate aim though when he’d confidently told Ada he’d ensure Wentworth did the honourable thing she’d burst into tears and said she’d not marry him if he were the last man on God’s earth.

Well, Hugh didn’t much fancy Wentworth for a brother-in-law either but he did love his sister exceedingly and surely marriage was better than ruin or the convent, as Ada had at one stage desired.

And contrary to what Phoebe believed, Ada and he had grown up without a mother and Hugh had had a more than usual guiding influence on his young sibling which was why’d felt Ada’s failure was somehow his.

He fingered the scar on his wrist, sustained during a childhood show of chivalry on behalf of his sister’s honour. Phoebe’s talk of just now had unleashed a veritable storm of emotions. Surprisingly, her talk about exacting retribution in the form of depriving Wentworth of what he most wanted kept replaying itself in his head.

She’d sounded so confident but what could a maidservant know about exacting retribution from a man like Wentworth? Who was she really? A village child born in some humble hovel? Her beauty had no doubt opened a number of doors. Could she have had a noble protector who’d left her to slide back into servitude? Is that where she’d learned to speak and act like a lady?

He touched his finger to his lips once more. Ha, that precious innocence of hers for which she’d not barter a dress was a tall tale. Only a woman experienced in the ways of men would have been so bold as to plant a kiss like the one she’d given him. A woman used to being paraded and feted by a gentleman.

Perhaps, as she claimed, she could be useful to him.

But she’d need a little coaching. He couldn’t afford for her to embarrass them both by proving her low birth during an unguarded moment.

He smoothed back his hair and regulated his breathing. Yes, he would take Phoebe in hand and teach her how to be a lady.

Then he’d make her his mistress and she could have all the gowns she chose, within reason.

About the Author

Beverley Oakley was seventeen when she bundled up her first her 500+ page romance and sent it to a publisher. Unfortunately drowning her heroine on the last page was apparently not in line with the expectations of romance readers so Beverley became a journalist.

Twenty-six years later Beverley was delighted to receive her first publishing contract from Robert Hale (UK) for a romance in which she ensured her heroine was saved from drowning in the icy North Sea.

Since 2009 Beverley has written more than thirteen historical romances, mostly set in England during the early nineteenth century. Mystery, intrigue and adventure spill from their pages and if she can pull off a thrilling race to save someone’s honour – or a worthy damsel from the noose – it’s time to celebrate with a good single malt Scotch.

Beverley lives with her husband, two daughters and a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy the size of a pony opposite a picturesque nineteenth century lunatic asylum. She also writes Africa-set adventure-filled romances starring handsome bush pilot heroes, and historical romances with less steam and more sexual tension, as Beverley Eikli.

You can get in contact with Beverley at:


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Beverley,

A warm welcome to Beyond Romance! This sounds like a clever premise - a duchess masquerading as a servant, and a hero who's trying to groom the so-called servant to be a lady!

Good luck with the book.

orelukjp0 said...

Thank you for the wonderful excerpt. I'm so happy to be introduced to a new author. I've never read a Beverley Oakley book but have now added The Dutchess and The Highwayman to my want to buy list.
Thank you so much for the great contest.

joye said...

This book sounds like the kind I enjoy reading. Thanks for the info about it.
I have added it to my TBR list.

Crystal Benedict said...

What a great Guest Post! Thank you so much for sharing The Duchess and the Highwayman :)

Beverley Eikli aka Beverley Oakley said...

Thank you so much, Lisabet, orelukjp0 and Joye, for taking the time to comment that you enjoyed the excerpt and premise. :)

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