The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer – #1940Club

My final read for this week’s 1940 Club, hosted by Simon and Karen, is by an author you can nearly always count on to have had at least one book published in the relevant year! Two Georgette Heyer novels appeared in 1940 – The Corinthian, which I read a few years ago and loved – and this one, The Spanish Bride. I did try to read The Spanish Bride once before and couldn’t get into it, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to attempt it again.

The first thing to say is that this is not a typical Heyer novel at all, which I think is partly why I struggled with it the first time; being very new to Heyer then and enchanted by her witty dialogue, entertaining plots and portrayal of fashionable Regency society, I had expected more of the same and been disappointed to find that this book was so different. This time I was prepared and managed to finish it, but it certainly hasn’t become a favourite.

The Spanish Bride is set during the Peninsular War, the conflict fought on the Iberian Peninsula by the British, Spanish and Portuguese armies against the French, forming part of the Napoleonic Wars. The novel begins with the siege of Badajoz which ended in a French surrender in April 1812. With the victorious troops on the rampage, drinking, looting and raping, fourteen-year-old orphan Juana and her sister seek refuge outside the city at the camp of the 95th Rifles. It is here that Juana meets Brigade-Major Harry Smith, who falls in love with her instantly, and the two are married within days.

Refusing to be parted from her new husband, Juana remains with Harry for the rest of the campaign, riding with him from camp to camp, from battlefield to battlefield. She finds life in the Duke of Wellington’s army challenging – the terrain can be difficult, particularly under the blazing summer sun or in the depths of a freezing winter – but she’s determined not to complain and in the process she wins the hearts of not just Harry but the rest of the regiment as well.

Harry Smith and Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith were both real historical figures. Harry’s life and career is well documented, including in his own autobiography published posthumously in 1901, while Juana is commemorated in the name of Ladysmith, the city in South Africa where Harry later served as the governor of Cape Colony. However, this book doesn’t cover any of that period, concentrating mainly on the Peninsular campaign (with a brief interlude in England where Juana is sent while Harry takes part in the War of 1812 in America) and ending at Waterloo in 1815. In her Author’s Note, Heyer describes her research for the novel, which involved reading the diaries and writings of various members of the Light Division, as well as officers of other regiments and even the Duke of Wellington himself.

The age difference between the two main characters could be a problem for some readers – Harry is twenty-five when he marries Juana, who is eleven years younger – but that’s how old they were in real life and it must have been considered acceptable in nineteenth century Spain even if not today. The ‘romance’ aspect of the book is quite understated compared to the military aspect (and as they get together so early in the story, it’s more of a portrait of an unconventional marriage than a traditional romance in any case). Juana does feel very young and often immature, but at other times she displays wisdom, compassion and courage beyond her years and it’s easy to see why she was so well liked and respected.

No, Harry thought, remembering long marches under molten skies, bivouacs in streaming woods, the fording of swirling rivers, mattresses spread in filthy, flea-ridden hovels, the washing of gangrenous wounds which would have made an English miss swoon with horror: she was not like the girls at home.

This book is as well written as you would expect from Heyer and, as I’ve said, amazingly well researched; my problem with it is entirely down to personal taste and no reflection on the quality of the book itself. I’m just not very interested in military history and while I can cope with a few battle scenes and some brief discussion of tactics and strategies, there was so much of that in this book that I struggled to stay interested at times. But books like this one and An Infamous Army show that Heyer was a much more versatile author than she is often given credit for and I think anyone who has avoided her because they don’t like romantic fiction would be surprised if they tried one of these. And don’t forget she also wrote several mystery novels – although I haven’t read all of them, the three I have read were very enjoyable.

This is book 12/50 read for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer – #1954Club

This is the first of two reviews I’ll be posting this week for Simon and Karen’s 1954 Club, one of their twice-yearly events where we all read and review books published in the same year. Georgette Heyer was such a prolific author I find there’s usually a book of hers to read for any year that is chosen! The Toll-Gate is her 1954 novel and one I hadn’t read before.

Like many of Heyer’s novels, this one is set in the Regency period. Our hero, the ‘overpoweringly-large’ Captain John Staple, has just returned from the Peninsular War and is finding it difficult to settle back into the monotony of civilian life. During a particularly tedious dinner party celebrating his cousin’s engagement, John decides to escape the next day and travel north to visit an old friend. Setting off alone on horseback, he becomes lost in the dark and rain and stumbles upon an isolated toll-gate somewhere in the Peak District. A frightened ten-year-old boy is collecting the tolls in the absence of his father, who has disappeared without explanation, so John decides to stay overnight to keep the boy company in the hope that his father will be back in the morning.

When the gatekeeper fails to return the next day, John finds himself helping to man the toll-gate for much longer than he’d expected, encountering highwaymen, thieves and Bow Street Runners. This is so much more exciting than one of cousin Saltash’s boring parties and John soon discovers that he’s in no hurry to leave, particularly when he meets Nell Stornaway, attractive, intelligent and, most importantly, tall – nearly as tall as John himself! Nell lives with her dying grandfather at nearby Kellands Manor and the old man’s heir has recently arrived, accompanied by a disreputable friend. But is it just the inheritance that has drawn them to Kellands or could they be mixed up in the disappearance of the gatekeeper?

Like The Quiet Gentleman, this is a Heyer novel where the focus is on the mystery rather than the romance. The romance is still there, but in a more understated way than usual. However, even though it’s love at first sight, it’s a romance I could believe in, because the hero and heroine seemed perfect for each other. I liked both of them – they are two of Heyer’s more sensible and mature characters, despite John’s love of adventure. And he certainly finds plenty of adventure when he chooses to spend the night at the toll-gate! The opening chapter set at Lord Saltash’s engagement party really doesn’t fit with the rest of the novel at all – it feels as though Heyer is setting up an Austen-style comedy of manners in that chapter, but once John sets out on his journey that aspect of the novel is abandoned and none of the characters we’ve met appear again. I was interested to learn that Heyer wrote the first chapter before deciding on the rest of the plot and had originally intended John’s family background to play a bigger part than it eventually did.

The dialogue is peppered with Heyer’s usual Regency slang, as well as the thieves’ cant used by characters such as Chirk the highwayman, and this adds colour and authenticity to the story. However, although I did enjoy this novel, it hasn’t become a favourite by Heyer; it seemed to lack her usual humour and I do tend to prefer her funnier books! Still, it was an entertaining read and a good choice for me for 1954 Club.


Other books from 1954 previously reviewed on my blog:

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse
Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell
Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier


This is also book 17/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is almost always a delight to read and I found this 1956 novel, Sprig Muslin, particularly enjoyable and entertaining. Set in the Regency period she recreated so convincingly, it has all the humour, adventure and romance I expect from her work and although the plot is similar in many ways to the later Charity Girl, the two books are different enough that there’s no risk of confusing them with each other.

It’s been seven years since Sir Gareth Ludlow lost his beloved fiancée in a tragic carriage accident but he is still sure that he will never feel for another woman what he once felt for Clarissa. At the age of thirty-five, he knows he can’t put off marrying any longer so, having given up hope of falling in love again, he makes the decision to propose to his old friend, Lady Hester Theale. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however…

Stopping at an inn on the way to Hester’s estate, Sir Gareth encounters Amanda, who is ‘very nearly seventeen’ and is running away from home as part of a plot to force her grandfather into allowing her to marry the young army officer she loves. Aware of all the dangers that could befall a young lady travelling alone, Sir Gareth insists on taking Amanda with him to Brancaster Park where Hester can take care of her until he is able to discover her full name and return her safely to her family. Furious at what she calls her ‘abduction’ and determined to continue with her plans, Amanda soon escapes from Sir Gareth’s clutches and our hero sets off in pursuit. The rest of the novel follows their escapades as Amanda does her best to stay one step ahead of Gareth, often with hilarious results!

I think the Heyer novels that take place on the road, like this one and The Corinthian, are particularly fun to read. There’s never a dull moment during Amanda and Gareth’s journey and they meet a selection of colourful characters along the way, including Hester’s lecherous uncle, Fabian Theale, the aspiring poet Hildebrande Ross and farmer’s boy Joe Ninfield. As for the main characters, I really liked Sir Gareth who, although he’s not one of my personal favourites, is everything you could want in a Heyer hero, and I also loved the contrast between the book’s two heroines. Amanda is a bit silly, admittedly, but she kept me amused with her imaginative stories and inventions and the way she stumbles from one scrape to another, while I warmed to Hester more and more as the novel progressed and an inner strength was revealed beneath her quiet, gentle exterior.

Now I’m looking forward to my next Heyer; I just need to decide which it will be!

Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer

“All Spain seems to seek me, señor,” answered the stranger merrily. “But who shall slay Nick Beauvallet? Will you try?”

Having read and loved many of Georgette Heyer’s Regency and Georgian romances, I’ve been interested in trying one of her historical novels set in earlier periods – and at the same time, I’ve been a bit wary because they don’t seem as popular or well-liked as the Regencies. I needn’t have worried, though, because I made a good choice with her 1929 novel Beauvallet, set in sixteenth century Spain and England; I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to all Heyer readers, but it was definitely my sort of book!

Sir Nicholas Beauvallet is a notorious English pirate whose name is spoken of in the same breath as Sir Francis Drake’s and at the beginning of the novel his ship, the Venture, is engaged in conflict with the Spanish galleon Santa Maria. The Spanish vessel is captured and the people aboard taken captive, among them the beautiful Doña Dominica de Rada y Sylva and her father, Don Manuel. After a futile attempt to fight off Beauvallet with his own dagger, Dominica knows the situation is hopeless – and so she is very surprised when Beauvallet offers to take them safely home to Spain, swearing to return at a later date to make her his wife. This seems like a ridiculous plan – no Englishman in his right mind would attempt to enter Spain while the two countries are at war – but our hero is not known as ‘Mad Nicholas’ for nothing…

The plot is over the top and not to be taken too seriously, but the book is great fun to read – the perfect way to escape from the pressures of modern day life for a while and retreat into a good old-fashioned adventure story complete with swordfights, sea battles, abductions, imprisonments and daring escapes! Heyer’s attention to period detail is as evident in this novel as in her others, and being set in an earlier century means she has adjusted the language and the dialogue accordingly. While I thought Dominica was quite thinly drawn and not as memorable as many of Heyer’s other heroines, Nick Beauvallet is a wonderful character. He reminded me very much of some of Rafael Sabatini’s irrepressible swashbuckling heroes, particularly Peter Blood – and of course, Captain Blood, another pirate novel, was published just a few years before Beauvallet. As a Sabatini fan, it was probably inevitable that I would enjoy this book!

As a romance, the book is quite predictable; right from their first encounter, where Dominica shouts “I hate you! I despise you, and I hate you!”, it’s easy to guess that her hatred will not last long, especially as Nick is not the sort of man to accept defeat, in love or in anything else. But sometimes predictability is not a bad thing, and there were plenty of other twists and turns along the way to make this an exciting and entertaining read. I would like to read the earlier Simon the Coldheart, about one of Beauvallet’s ancestors, but first I will be heading back to the Regency period as the next Heyer novel I have lined up to read is Sprig Muslin.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer’s 1937 novel, An Infamous Army, is one I was particularly interested in reading because it sounded a bit different from most of her others, being as much a story of the Battle of Waterloo as a Regency romance. It can be read as a standalone novel but it also features characters (or descendants of characters) who appeared in her previous novels These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck.

Several years have passed since Regency Buck ended and the Earl of Worth is in Brussels with his wife, Judith, and their young son. As the threat of Napoleon draws closer, Brussels has become the centre of fashionable society – a place to entertain oneself with dances, picnics and concerts while the outcome of the Vienna Congress and the arrival of the Duke of Wellington are awaited. Judith is hoping to bring about a match between Worth’s brother Charles Audley and her friend Lucy, but she hasn’t counted on Charles falling passionately in love with Lady Barbara Childe, a beautiful but notorious young widow with a reputation for wildness. Although Barbara – or Bab, as she is known – claims to love Charles too, she shows no sign of changing her ways and Judith is sure her brother-in-law is going to be hurt.

The relationship between Charles and Bab develops throughout the first half of the novel, so that by the time the Battle of Waterloo arrives, we are already emotionally invested in the lives of some of the characters who are going to be affected by the battle in one way or another. Heyer is one of those authors you can always count on to have done her research, but everything in this book feels particularly authentic (she famously claimed that every word she attributes to her fictional Duke of Wellington was either spoken or written by him in real life).

Each stage of the battle is described in an incredible amount of detail, not just the tactics and the military manoeuvres, but also the human cost as lives are lost, men are injured and those on the sidelines wait for news of their loved ones. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not usually a fan of lengthy battle scenes, however well written they are, so although I certainly appreciated the accuracy of Heyer’s account of Waterloo and the quality of her writing, I can’t really say that this has become a favourite Heyer novel. This is just a matter of personal taste though, and I’m sure other people will love this book precisely because it does include long battle scenes (by long, I mean they take up most of the second half of the novel).

As for the Charles and Bab storyline, I enjoyed following the course of their relationship, especially as I thought it was difficult to tell at first how Bab really felt about Charles. She comes across at the beginning as self-centred, reckless and fun-loving, the sort of person who causes a scandal wherever she goes (not that it takes much to cause a scandal in 1815 – painting your toenails gold, for example). It took me a while to warm to her, but when I did I found that she was also kind hearted, compassionate and courageous. Even so, she is not one of my favourite Heyer heroines – although, again, I can see why other readers might love her.

Reading An Infamous Army has inspired me to finally try one of Heyer’s six historical novels (i.e. not the ones that are Regency or Georgian romances). I am currently a few chapters into Beauvallet and enjoying it so far; you can expect to hear more about it soon!

Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

I am continuing to work, very slowly, through Georgette Heyer’s novels, though not in any particular order – just reading them as I come across them. As I discovered in the comments section of my Historical Musings post on Heyer last month, I seem to have read very few of the books most people name as favourites – books like Cotillion, The Grand Sophy and These Old Shades. I will get to them eventually, but for now I’m posting my thoughts on my latest Heyer read, Faro’s Daughter.

Published in 1941, Faro’s Daughter is one of Heyer’s Georgian novels, set slightly earlier than the Regency period for which she is best known. Our heroine is Deborah Grantham, a young woman who has lived with her aunt, Lady Bellingham, since being orphaned several years earlier. Finding herself struggling financially, Lady Bellingham, who has always enjoyed hosting card parties, has decided to open a gaming house in order to make ends meet. The intelligent and quick-witted Deb presides over the gaming tables and naturally attracts a lot of attention from the men who come to gamble. One of these is Adrian, Lord Mablethorpe, who is five years younger than Deb and convinced that he is in love with her.

Adrian is heir to a fortune and Lady Mablethorpe is horrified at the thought of her son marrying a woman from a gaming house. Luckily, there are still a few months until he comes of age and receives his inheritance, so she enlists the help of her nephew, Max Ravenscar, to ensure that the marriage is prevented. Visiting Lady Bellingham’s establishment to see Deb for himself, Max is surprised to find that she is not at all the common, vulgar woman he had been led to believe. He keeps his promise to his aunt, however, and offers Deb a bribe to stay away from Adrian, but Deb is so offended by this insult that she decides not to inform Max that she never had any intention of marrying Adrian in the first place – it will be much more satisfying to make him suffer for a while!

Like most of Heyer’s novels, this is an entertaining read with a lively plot involving card games, a curricle race, visits to Vauxhall Gardens, and even several kidnappings. It hasn’t become a favourite, though, and that’s because I just never quite managed to like either Max or Deb. Max annoyed me with his constant name-calling and failure to see through any of Deb’s schemes, and while I could appreciate Deb as a clever and resourceful heroine, I couldn’t warm to her either.

Heyer’s romances seem to be divided into a few general types and the ones like this or Regency Buck, to give another example, where the hero and heroine are engaged in a war of words and battle of wits, appear to be the ones I like least. I usually prefer the books where the romance develops from friendship and mutual liking or with a newly married couple learning to love each other. This isn’t necessarily the case when I read books by other authors, but it seems to be true of my experience with Heyer!

This book was a slight disappointment for me, then, although I did still find things to enjoy. Maybe it was just the wrong choice of Heyer at the wrong time, as I couldn’t help comparing it to my last one, The Corinthian, which I found a complete delight to read. I can’t love them all, though, and at least I still have many more unread Heyer novels to look forward to.

Historical Musings #41: Reading Georgette Heyer

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction!

The author I have chosen to feature this month is one who, I’m sure, has the widest appeal of any I have written about so far in this series of posts. I know there are plenty of readers who don’t usually read other types of historical fiction but love her Regency and Georgian romances, which are so distinctive they belong in a sub-genre of their own. She is, of course, Georgette Heyer.

Heyer was born in London in 1902 and died in 1974, having published over fifty novels, including the romances I’ve already mentioned, six straight historical novels, four contemporary novels and twelve detective stories. I only started reading Heyer relatively recently (in 2010) so I haven’t read all of her books, or even most of them; I know there will be people reading this post who have read – and re-read – a lot more of them than I have, so I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on her work. However, I have read enough to be able to say that, whichever Heyer novel you pick up (of the Regency/Georgian ones, anyway), you can expect historical accuracy, witty, sparkling dialogue, engaging characters and an entertaining plot.

Here are the Heyer books I have read so far, with links to my reviews:


The Black Moth
Powder and Patch
The Masqueraders
The Convenient Marriage
Regency Buck
The Talisman Ring
The Corinthian
Friday’s Child
The Quiet Gentleman
April Lady
Snowdrift and Other Stories
Black Sheep
Cousin Kate
Charity Girl
Faro’s Daughter – review coming soon


Footsteps in the Dark
Envious Casca
Duplicate Death

If you’ve never read Heyer before, you may be wondering which of her books would be a good one to start with. Well, the first one I read was The Talisman Ring, and although I’ve read others since that I enjoyed more, it was obviously a very successful starting point for me! I also loved The Quiet Gentleman for the sense of mystery, The Masqueraders and The Corinthian for the adventure, The Convenient Marriage for the humour and Black Sheep for the hero and heroine! Really, I would recommend any that I’ve read, apart from maybe Powder and Patch.

You can find out more about Heyer and her work at

I will be looking at more historical fiction authors in future posts, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on Georgette Heyer.

Have you read any of her books? Which are your favourites – and which would you recommend to readers who are new to her work?