Illegitimacy in the Regency

by Grace Burrowes, guest blogger and author of The Soldier

This topic is of sufficient depth that several PhD’s could spend several thoroughly enjoyable lifetimes researching it, and still have plenty of areas for fascinating debate. That said, I am not a PhD, so disclaimers are in order: I’ve done research, but my efforts are by no means exhaustive nor meant to do anything other than tangentially inform works of fiction intended to entertain.

For starters, when I began to meet characters from “the wrong side of the blankets” and to research the Regency period, I realized I had preconceived notions that probably sprang not from the Regency era itself, but from the Victorian and subsequent impressions of the Regency mores. I expected a “stigma” associated with illegitimacy and I expected the occasion of illegitimacy to be rare and quietly deplored.

Except… human nature being what it is, contraception being the faulty to nonexistent thing it was 200 years ago, my preconceived notions were swiftly debunked. For purposes of my novels, I’ve tended to focus on upper class illegitimacy, and found examples of titles passing through sons who were only nominally of the title holder’s line (that is “legitimate bastards”), and households of very peculiar configuration indeed.

Some readers will be familiar with the Fifth Duke of Devonshire’s situation. His Grace’s household included his duchess Georgiana, who raised His Grace’s ante-marital daughter by a mistress; two daughters and a son born to Their Graces; a son and daughter born to His Grace and his mistress (the married Lady Bess Foster who was portrayed in the movie as Georgiana’s best friend and who married William upon Georgiana’s death); and for the first months of the child’s life, Georgiana’s daughter with Charles, Lord Grey, a future prime minister of England.

Going into the Regency period, this was one of the first families of the kingdom.

To ensure that anyone in line for the throne was of sufficiently patrician bloodlines, George III saw The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 passed, which required, essentially, either royal or parliamentary approval of any marriages contracted by George’s children (this is a gross oversimplification). As young men, the Royal dukes were not inclined to ask “Father, may I,” and several contracted void marriages—most would say Prinny among them.

When Princess Charlotte died in 1817, several of the Royal dukes finally accepted the bonds of legal unions, though between them they’d already sired something close to twenty illegitimate children. The Duke of Clarence (Prinny’s successor to the throne) had lived for twenty years with the actress Mrs. Jordan, producing at least ten offspring styled “Fitzclarences,” all of whom were illegitimate. Some respected historians claim that Prinny’s sister, Princess Sophia, also gave birth to a child out of wedlock.

With the royal family comporting itself thus, it’s safe to say illegitimacy, no matter how it might have been deplored privately or decried among the humble folk, was not regarded as a nasty little secret among the highest echelons of society.

And yet… When it came time for me to write a hero whose parents were not married at the time of his birth, I could not assume he’d be oblivious to the nature of his own antecedents. Devlin St. Just, the hero of The Soldier, might have been accepted everywhere on the strength of his ducal paternity, but as a man, as a human, he was still plagued with a sense of inadequacy, a need to find his own way, and a heart for any other creature cast in the role of stray or outsider.


Even in the quiet countryside he can find no peace…

His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor…

Until his beautiful neighbor ignites his imagination…

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Deviln’s most urgent mission.

Buy: The Soldier


Grace Burrowes is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of The Heir, also a 2010 Publishers Weekly Book of the Year. She is a practicing attorney specializing in family law and lives in rural Maryland, where she is working on the next books chronicling the loves stories of the Windham family. Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish will be in stores in October 2011, and The Virtuoso will be in stores in November 2011, with more to come in 2012!  For more information, please visit

GIVEAWAY: I have 2 copies of The Soldier. Open to US and Canadian readers only. Enter by leaving a comment. One entry per relevant comment; multiple entries allowed. Last day to enter: June 17, 2011.

Author: Guest Blogger

Guest Bloggers featured at Love Romance Passion are romance authors, various industry personnel, and readers just like you!

13 thoughts on “Illegitimacy in the Regency”

  1. I recently bought ‘The Heir’ and loved it..another new-to-me author…I’d love to win your new one!!!

  2. I love Grace’s debut and look forward to “The Soldier.” Can’t wait to learn more about Devlin’s past.

  3. The information about illegitimacy in the Regency was very interesting. I’d always wondered but hadn’t acutally done any research about it.

    Both The Heir and The Soldier are now on my must read list…..thank you!

  4. Another new to me author!! Love finding them. I love reading books set in this time period. Please enter me.

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

  5. I’ve read The Heir and am looking forward to reading The Soldier. I’ve always loved Regencies that feature class differences or that are focused on “commoners”. I’ve found that stories about characters that are illegitimate usually fall into this trope also so that’s a bonus for me. Best wishes on the book.

  6. Your blog on Illegitimacy in the Regency was really interesting. I enjoyed reading The Heir and would love to read The Soldier. 🙂

  7. Grace is a new author to me, but her book sounds wonderful. I look forward to reading some of her books. Please enter me. Thanks!


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