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Last Updated:

November 2012

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Countess of Scandal

 

I grew up in a family of Irish descent, with uber-Irish grandparents (you know the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with the giant Greek flag on the garage door?  Sorta like that!).  St. Patrick’s Day was better than Christmas at their house!  So I’ve long wanted to write a book with an Irish setting, full of all the drama, romance, and beauty of the country and its history.  But I knew it would have to be exactly the right story, with just the right characters.  It took a while for me to meet Eliza Blacknall and Will Denton, but as soon as they came to me and told me their tale, I could see the perfect backdrop for their romance—the Rebellion of 1798.

 

1798 was a pivotal year in Irish history, a burst of idealism and hope that flamed into violence and brutal repression, leading to the controversial Union with England in 1801 (the end of the Dublin Parliament).  A few years ago I read Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 (and I watched the Masterpiece Theater adaptation), and was hooked on the complex story of these four extraordinary sisters.  They were the beautiful, wealthy, intelligent (and temperamental!) daughters of the Duke of Richmond, and two of them, Emily and Louisa, spent most of their adult lives in Ireland, marrying respectively the Duke of Leinster and Thomas Connolly (the richest man in Ireland).  Their legacy can still be seen in the great country houses of Carton and Castletown, and the vast Dublin townhouse of Leinster House (now the Parliament building).  They left their mark on 1798, as well.  One of Emily’s 22 children was Edward Fitzgerald, the United Irish leader.

 

In my own story, Eliza Blacknall and William Denton were childhood sweethearts, growing up on neighboring estates in County Kildare, children of great Ascendancy families.  But after years of separation, adulthood finds them on opposite sides of a monumental, violent struggle for a country’s soul.  Eliza, now a wealthy widowed countess, believes strongly in the cause of Irish independence, and writes pamphlets for the United Irish.  Will is now Major William Denton of the British Army, sworn to uphold British rule.  Their love and passion for each other burns hotter than ever—but how can it survive the uprising?

 

A bit of background on the Rebellion: by 1798, Ireland had been ruled for centuries by the English, with this rule tightening after 1691 and the end of the Jacobite wars.  The country was largely controlled by the Protestant “Ascendancy,” a minority that held control by the Penal Laws forbidding Catholics any political or financial control.  By 1793, the Irish Patriot Party, led by Henry Grattan, had managed to press for greater enfranchisement, and Catholics who held property were finally allowed to vote (though not to hold political office).  Liberal elements in the country, inspired by the American and French revolutions, wanted even more.

 

The Society of United Irishmen was formed in 1791 in Belfast, an organization that crossed the deep religious divide of Ireland by accepting members of any persuasion—Catholics, Presbyterians, and even liberal-thinking members of the Protestant Ascendancy.  The Society advanced their ideas of democratic reforms and Catholic emancipation, political and financial freedom for Ireland (ideas which did no much appeal to the Irish Parliament, and even less to Westminster!).  The outbreak of war with France forced the United Irish to go underground, but it managed to gather at least 100,000 members by 1797.  Its power grew when it allied itself with Catholic agrarian resistance groups known as the Defenders.  They decided to seek help from France, sending Theobald Wolfe Tone to negotiate with the new French leaders.

 

In 1796, this alliance came to fruition with the ambitious “Expedition d’Irlande,” a force of 15,000 French troops under the command of General Hoche, who arrived at Bantry Bay in December 1796.  Unfortunately for them, storms and poor decision-making drove them back.  Wolfe remarked “England has had its luckiest escape since the Armada.”  The French fleet went home, and the English rulers at Dublin Castle grew even more afraid—and reactionary.  Martial law was declared from March 1797, and in certain areas things got wildly out of control with house burnings, searches, and torture (including the infamous “pitchcapping”).  The Orange Order, founded in 1795, to play on fears of the Catholic Defenders, grew in strength.

 

In March 1798, things were coming to a boil.  Much of the United Irish leadership was captured in raids, on information from Castle informants and counter-spies.  Martial law spread over more of the country, the brutality of which put the remaining United Irish under pressure to act immediately.  The date was set for May 23, even after the violent arrest and subsequent death of Edward Fitzgerald.

 

The initial plan was to take Dublin first, with the surrounding counties then to rise and cut off reinforcements, with the signal being the stopping of the outward bound mail coaches fro Dublin.  Informants, however, also put paid to this plan, and rebel assembly points at Smithfield and Haymarket were cut off.  But even as the center of the plan collapsed, the other counties rose, with rebels marching on Counties Wicklow, Meath, and Kildare.  The first clashes took place just after dawn on may 24, with fighting quickly spreading through Leinster and Kildare, with epicenter at Wexford.

 

The close nature of the conflict meant that it took on the characteristics of a civil war.  Not only were there great battles at New Ross, Arklow, and Bunclody, but smaller skirmishes took place around the countryside and in villages, with homes burned and civilians killed and driven to flee, leading to a widespread climate of fear and panic.

 

By October, the rebellion was completely put down, and the Act of Union was passed in August 1800.

 

I’ve loved doing the research for these stories!  For Dublin, I’ve used some sites that can still be seen today (like Dublin Castle, with its great state apartments, and St. Stephen’s Green, and some that have vanished, like the Smock Alley theater).  Great houses like Powerscourt and Castletown, inspired the Blacknall estate of Killinan Castle.  And the landscape itself, green, beautiful, and wild, seemed the perfect setting for Eliza and Will!  They have to go on a dangerous voyage through the countryside to save their families, and prove that their love can withstand even the greatest danger.

 

Stay tuned for the tales of Eliza’s sisters, the beautiful, headstrong Anna Maria and the scholarly Caroline, as they find love—and themselves—in a turbulent land…

 

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Coming in 2012--escape to Victorian London with a new series! 

Book 2:

Two Sinful Secrets

(December 2012)

 

and

 

Book 1: 

One Naughty Night(June 2012)

 

Praise for
Countess of Scandal

“Laurel McKee’s prose is lyrical, her pacing is flawless, and her talent for evoking a rich, sweeping historical atmosphere is second to none” –USA Today Bestseller Julianne MacLean

 “An exciting, suspenseful and very passionate story.  Loved it and very much look forward to the next in this series.  Interesting history lesson and a good backdrop for a first-class love story”—Romance Reviews Magazine

 “Ms. McKee’s style of writing is stellar, streaming with lovely prose, vivid descriptions, breathtaking love scenes, and action-packed tension.  Every word sings with unyielding intensity” –Romance Junkies

“McKee sets the stage for a romantic adventure that captures the spirit of Ireland and a pair of star-crossed lovers to perfection” –RT Book Reviews - 4 Stars

 “Countess of Scandal combines a passionate romance with a nail-biting plot.  The author’s research shines through to make the era come alive, as well as her characters.  An exciting tale out of the common mold” –Romance Reviews Today

 “This book has rarely used and well-drawn setting, good characters, and so much more working in its favor.  I absolutely loved reading this one!” –All About Romance

 “McKee’s intriguingly nuanced characters and deliciously subtle sense of humor provide the ideal counterpoint to the perfectly executed historical setting that gives Countess of Scandal its refreshingly different literary flavor” –Booklist

 

Want to know more about Georgian Ireland and the events surrounding Laurel's Daughters of Ireland trilogy? Check out Behind the Book and Resources.

 

NEW
Picture of Laurel at RWA '09!

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