It would hardly be unusual in any era for an American woman to marry a British man, but during the late Victorian era, transcontinental marriages between American heiresses and British noblemen became something of a phenomenon. During the last quarter of the century, more than one hundred such matches took place, and it was largely due to the perfect storm created by the industrial revolution.
As industry spread through the United States, thousands of millionaires were created—millionaires eager to take their place among the upper crust of American society. Sadly, they would be snubbed for at least another generation as “new money.”
Across the Atlantic, noble British families who depended on agriculture to fund their lavish lifestyles found themselves experiencing an agricultural depression as England industrialized. British aristocrats were strapped for cash, making the lively, carefree, American heiresses all the more attractive.
It began with a trickle in the mid-1870s, when Jenny Jerome married Lord Randolph Churchill, followed shortly by the marriage of Consuelo Yznaga and Viscount Mandeville, the future Duke and Duchess of Manchester. By the 1880s, the floodgates opened, and arranging transcontinental marriages became a cottage industry. After all, how did an heiress go about finding a single, titled aristocrat? Was there a Victorian version of online dating?
There was, and it was called The Titled American, a quarterly publication that listed the successful matches of the day. It was also a guide to the available peers of the realm. Though the profiles didn’t indicate whether a gentleman was tall, dark, or handsome, they did note title, holdings, and age. If one is shopping for social status, those are the pertinent points.
However, once she had zeroed in on her quarry, a girl (and her mother) couldn’t just show up in London during the Season and expect to be invited everywhere. She needed a sponsor, and who better than a former American heiress? Consuelo Yznaga was the perfect sponsor. She was fun-loving and charismatic. The Prince of Wales loved her. London society loved her. If she took a girl under her wing, success was as good as guaranteed. If the girl was paying attention, though, the duchess might also serve as a cautionary tale. Hers was a disappointing marriage. Her husband never changed his bachelor or spendthrift ways. In short, Consuelo needed the money she earned as a sponsor and was making the best of a bad situation.
These marriages are what led me to writing the Countess of Harleigh series, where one such bride, ten years down the road, deals with her disappointment and works toward a happier ending. And, in the case of my heiress, she finds out she has a knack for solving crimes.
How far will some go to safeguard a secret? In the latest novel in Dianne Freeman’s witty and delightful historical mystery series, the adventurous Countess Harleigh finds out …
Though American by birth, Frances Wynn, the now-widowed Countess of Harleigh, has adapted admirably to the quirks and traditions of the British aristocracy. On August twelfth each year, otherwise known as the Glorious Twelfth, most members of the upper class retire to their country estates for grouse-shooting season. Frances has little interest in hunting—for birds or a second husband—and is expecting to spend a quiet few months in London with her almost-engaged sister, Lily, until the throng returns.
Instead, she’s immersed in a shocking mystery when a friend, Mary Archer, is found murdered. Frances had hoped Mary might make a suitable bride for her cousin, Charles, but their courtship recently fizzled out. Unfortunately, this puts Charles in the spotlight—along with dozens of others. It seems Mary had countless notes hidden in her home detailing the private indiscretions of society’s elite. Frances can hardly believe that the genteel and genial Mary was a blackmailer, yet why else would she horde such juicy tidbits?
Aided by her gallant friend and neighbor, George Hazelton, Frances begins assisting the police in this highly sensitive case, learning more about her peers than she ever wished to know. Too many suspects may be worse than none at all—but even more worrying is that the number of victims is increasing, too. And unless Frances takes care, she’ll soon find herself among them.
About the Author
Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. The first book, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and the Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel, and was nominated for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award from Mystery Writers of America. Dianne spent thirty years working in corporate accounting and finance and now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband now split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at DiFreeman.com or on the social media platforms below.