Saturday, 12 August 2017


In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Miss Austen brings up the issue of “Breach of Promise Suits” as they apply to Lydia and Wickham. This exchange actually occurs after Darcy’s second proposal (chapter 60) when Elizabeth is asking Darcy when he fell in love with her:

“Because you were grave and silent, and gave me no encouragement.”
“But I was embarrassed.”
“And so was I.”
“You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”
“A man who had felt less, might.”
“How unlucky that you should have a reasonable answer to give, and that I should be so reasonable to admit it! But I wonder how long you would have gone on, if you had been left to yourself. I wonder when you would have spoken, if I had not asked you! My resolution of thanking you for your kindness to Lydia had certainly great effect. Too much, I am afraid; for what becomes of the moral, if our comfort springs from a breach of promise? for I ought not to have mentioned the subject. This will never do.”

A breach of promise suit could be pursued by both men and women during the Regency, and it may surprise some to learn, more men than women filed for compensation in the ecclesiastical courts. A “promise” to marry had long been looked upon by the church courts as a legal marriage. The promise = the marriage. By the 1600s, this practice became part of common law.

To constitute a breach a promise case in court there first had to be a valid betrothal. Among the aristocracy of the Regency era, one might find the engagement announcement in the newspapers, but not necessarily the wedding announcement. That is because the betrothal was as good as a marriage in the minds of many of the time. But why did the couple not simply go their separate ways when they decided not to marry?

A female often found herself as “damaged goods” when the nuptials were called off. Although premarital sex was deeply frowned upon by society, as a whole, often an engaged couple would consider the betrothal as good as the marriage. If the engagement was broken after sexual intimacies, the “future bride” would be ruined. She could not go to another as anything less than a virgin. Therefore, she was unlikely never to marry. Women of society depended upon a husband to take care of their financial course. If a woman did not marry, she would be a poor relation, depending on the kindness of a brother or a cousin to keep her.

A gentleman might file a suit if he had borrowed money against the dowry he was to receive when he married the lady. He was to become in control of the lady’s fortune once their vows were officially spoken. A break in the promise to marry would leave him at the whims of the moneylenders.

Neither the potential bride or the groom were permitted to enter testimony during the court proceedings. The jury was to award the compensation based upon the actual costs incurred, the loss of reputation, the length of the engagement, and the defendant’s ability to pay, but often the awards were based on “other factors,” for example the most entertaining barrister between the pair representing the plaintiff and the defendant. Jurors would likely award a woman as low as £50 and as high as several thousands, depending upon how comely her countenance might be or how badly she had suffered in the public’s eye. However, just going to court could add insult to injury. The proceedings were often posted in the newspapers.

Ginger Frost in her book Courtship, Class, and Gender in Victorian England speaks to “the myth of breach of promise” in popular literature and culture:
Suits for breach of promise of marriage were well know to the public in Victorian England. From at least the 1830s, a variety of writers recognized the inherent humor and drama of the action and began to fictionalize the cases as they were then brought. The depictions of trials during the century gave a strangely uniform representation of the people who brought such litigation and the outcome of their conflicts. This interpretation built up an idealized myth of breach of promise, one which influenced the perception of the suit far more than actual cases did. 
                                                                                   Regina Jeffers 


Introducing MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs...

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

ELIZABETH BENNET is determined that she will put a stop to her mother’s plans to marry off the eldest Bennet daughter to Mr. Collins, her father’s heir, but a man that Mr. Bennet considers an annoying dimwit. Hence, Elizabeth disguises herself as Jane and repeats her vows to the supercilious rector as if she is her sister, thereby voiding the nuptials and saving Jane from a life of drudgery. Yet, even the “best laid plans” can often go askew.

FITZWILLIAM DARCY is desperate to find a woman who will assist him in leading his sister back to Society after Georgiana’s failed elopement with Darcy’s old enemy George Wickham. He is so desperate that he agrees to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s suggestion that Darcy marry her ladyship’s “sickly” daughter Anne. Unfortunately, as he waits for his bride to join him at the altar, he realizes he has made a terrible error in judgement, but there is no means to right the wrong without ruining his cousin’s reputation. Yet, even as he weighs his options, the touch of “Anne’s” hand upon his sends an unusual “zing” of awareness shooting up Darcy’s arm. It is only when he realizes the “zing” is arrives at the hand of a stranger, who has disrupted his nuptials, that he breathes both a sigh of relief and a groan of frustration, for the question remains: Is Darcy’s marriage to the woman legal?

What if Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met under different circumstances than those we know from Jane Austen’s classic tale: Circumstances that did not include the voices of vanity and pride and prejudice and doubt that we find in the original story? Their road to happily ever after may not, even then, be an easy one, but with the expectations of others removed from their relationship, can they learn to trust each other long enough to carve out a path to true happiness?


 Read an excerpt

In this EXCERPT from Chapter 18 of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs, we hear Darcy’s take on his aunt’s insistence that he marry his cousin Anne De Bourgh, although Anne left him waiting at the altar the first time they were to speak their vows.

“So this is the welcome I am to receive,” her ladyship harrumphed. “Your mother would be ashamed of you, Darcy.” She sat heavily in an armed chair.
Darcy remained standing beside his desk. He spoke in clipped tones. “I was considering something similar as to Lady Anne’s reaction to your poor manners, Aunt. I can guarantee that George Darcy would never have tolerated your ordering his servants about, and neither will I. This is Pemberley, madam, not Rosings Park. I am the master here.”
His aunt snarled, “I see your insolence continues.”
“And I see you still think that the world will bend to your whims,” he countered.
Rather than to fuel their standoff with more inflammatory accusations, Lady Catherine switched tactics, a devise he had observed her employ previously. Darcy had always thought her doing so was an intelligent means for a woman to earn agreement over business matters in a man’s world, but her diversion would not work on him. “Is that girl in this house?” she demanded.
Darcy propped a hip on the corner of his desk and attempted to appear casual when he responded, “I fear Georgiana is not at home at this time. My sister will be sorry to have missed your call.”
Lady Catherine’s chin rose in stubbornness. “So that is the way you wish to discuss this matter. Very well. Then I shall be more direct. Did you bring Miss Elizabeth Bennet to Pemberley when you left Matthew Allard’s estate in Scotland?”
Darcy schooled his features. Someone would pay dearly for sharing his business with Lady Catherine. “I am not in the habit of discussing my personal life with anyone, and you of all people should realize I am more Darcy than Fitzwilliam. Your line of questions will not win you my favor.”
“I see you mean to protect this upstart! Are you so enthralled with the woman’s arts and allurements that you cannot see reason? If you fancy her, Darcy, then make her your mistress. Anne will ignore your indiscretions. I will instruct my daughter in the ways of men. Anne can be your wife while this strumpet can suffer your lust.”
His aunt’s description of aristocratic life sickened Darcy. “I have no intention of marrying Anne. You may beg. You may threaten. You may cajole. You may bargain. But I will never change my mind. I permitted you to use the memory of my dear mother to coerce me into agreeing to marry Anne, but Fate had other ideas. Anne was late, and I spoke my vows to another.”
“We both know those vows are not legal,” she drawled in warning tones.
Darcy had heard from his solicitor regarding those first vows exchanged with Elizabeth, and as expected, his first marriage to the woman had proved void. Mr. Jaffray had filed the papers to have the ceremony declared null. “Such knowledge does not change my resolve. I will not marry Anne.”
“Would you prefer that I instruct Anne in suing Miss Bennet for criminal conversation?” she challenged.
“Although neither Anne or I could officially testify in such a suit, the truth would win out. A skilled barrister can make certain all the facts are relayed to the judge. The lady in question could not have claimed my affections away from your daughter, for beyond a fondness between cousins, I never loved Anne.” He would not say that Elizabeth Bennet held his heart in her delicate hands. “Moreover, as I did not hold the lady’s acquaintance until several hours after that morning at St. George, it would be impossible for her to draw me away with her arts and allurements. All such a suit would do would be to bring ruin upon Anne’s head and mar my family name. You would have your vengeance and little else to keep you warm in the winter. No man would ever claim Anne after such a public display, but I suppose that is what you wish. You wish Anne forever to remain under your control.”
“Anne’s dowry of thirty thousand pounds can cover any flaw you name,” Lady Catherine argued.
“Yes, I suppose her dowry and the promise of Rosings Park can conceal all but one of my cousin’s failings: that of possessing an overbearing and controlling mother. Only the most desperate of men would consider aligning his name with Sir Lewis’s daughter. You would turn over Anne’s future to a man of no principles. That fact should surprise me, but it does not,” he said in sad tones. “Such a man would run through every penny of Anne’s inheritance, leaving you and your daughter as Matlock’s poor relations. I suppose that much be my justice.”
“You think me so cold-hearted?” his aunt demanded. “Everything I do, I do for Anne.”
“You may tell yourself these lies,” Darcy cautioned, “but your family and soon society will recognize you as a bitter, vindictive woman.” He sighed heavily. “If you persist in this madness, I will sue Anne for breach of promise. Her fortune will be greatly reduced, for I will win my suit. There were at least two dozen witnesses that can swear to the fact that she left me at the altar. If not for the false exchange of vows, I would have been long gone from the church by the time Anne arrived. You, too, would have been gone, likely looking for your wayward daughter to strangle her, as you attempted to do when she did arrive. Are you willing to tarnish your daughter’s name twice in the court of public notice? Poor Anne who has never had a Season. Who has never been permitted the freedom to form a friendship. Who is poorly educated beyond what her governess provided her. That Anne will be irretrievably ruined.” His tone held the warning of winter’s embrace. “I do not wish to see Anne suffer, but I will not permit you to injure an innocent just to puff up your consequence.”
“An innocent?” his aunt accused in her most implacable voice. “The woman traveled with you to Scotland where she passed herself off as Mrs. Darcy. You see, Mr. and Mrs. Allard were quite pleased to tell my man of your indiscretions. Allard was most displeased that you withdrew your financial support of his latest venture.”
Allard’s financial future would be nonexistent when Darcy finished with the man. He would permit no one to bandy about Elizabeth’s name in a vile manner. “We could debate this matter all afternoon,” he announced as he stood. “I believe somewhere within your hard resolve you want what is best for Anne, and I am flattered that you think me a suitable match for my cousin, but I wish to marry in affection, and my feelings for Anne are more brotherly than those of a potential husband.” A profound sadness crept into his tone when Darcy spoke of his cousin’s situation. He should have done more to assist Anne before things had reached this turning point. Like most in the family, he had thought all would change when Anne inherited Sir Lewis’s properties and fortune. He had never considered the fact that Lady Catherine would do all she could to shove Anne out Rosings Park’s door in order to maintain control of all of Sir Lewis’s holdings. “Do you not wish something more for your daughter and your dearest sister’s only son that a marriage of convenience?”
“I wish to see Anne well settled,” she declared in undisguised contempt.
Darcy hesitated briefly before accepting the gauntlet. His aunt would force him to be ruthless. “Then you leave me no choice, madam. If you force me into marrying Anne, I will leave you with little more than a humble cottage and a pair of servants to tend you for the remainder of your days. Anne will be five and twenty in two months. I will postpone the wedding until your daughter inherits Rosings Park per Sir Lewis’s will. All of it will belong to her, and as the estate and the fortune are entailed upon the female line, when we marry, as Anne’s husband, I will have control of it all. I have no intention of bringing Anne to child, so all your manipulations will be for naught. As you say, I will take my lust elsewhere. At Anne’s death, I will sell Rosings Park and all it holds piece-by piece, until nothing remains of Sir Lewis De Bourgh’s legacy. All you hold most dear will be scattered among the households of those with the funds to purchase it. I will destroy everything you have ever loved: Rosings Park and Anne. And each day of your miserable life you will know that I did these things in retribution for your foolish sense of consequence.” Needing to be away from his aunt, Darcy started for the door. “Good day, your ladyship. I will have Mr. Nathan see you out.” With that, he was gone, never looking back to view the look of astonishment upon his aunt’s features.


GIVEAWAY! Win one of the two ebook copies granted by Regina Jeffers to My Jane Austen Book Club readers. Take your chances to win in the rafflecopter form below. The contest is open internationally and ends on August the 16th.
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MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs will be released on Monday, August 14. 
It is on preorder until then on Amazon. 


Regina Jeffers said...

Thanks for hosting me, Maria.

Maria Grazia said...

As usual, you're most welcome, Regina!

Jo's Daughter said...

I did not know that the engagement was considderd enough reason to assume te marriage to take place. A persons word/promise must have mattered a great deal!

Laurie May Allen said...

As a 21st century lady, this breach of promise thing really scares me. Actually a lot of how it was back then does, but that's another story. It just feels so constricting, for the woman mostly. But does lend itself well to drama! I think this'll be a deliciously suspenseful read haha

Deborah Ann said...

I loved the information about the breach of promise. I found it quite interesting. Thank you for the lovely give away, but since I have already preordered the ebook I am not entering the give away.

Vesper Meikle said...

I just feel sorry for poor Anne, always the pawn

darcybennett said...

I really enjoyed the excerpt and how Darcy would not allow Lady Catherine to bully him. I almost felt sorry for her when he said how he would destroy all she held dear. Sounds like a great read, thanks for sharing!

Regina Jeffers said...

Hello, Jo's Daughter. Thanks for joining me today. The common people married by banns. The gentry and the aristocracy married by an ordinary license or, in unique situations, by special license.
Gentlemen practiced "honor," and if he gave his word, so it would be.

Regina Jeffers said...

Good day, Laurie May. Breach of promise and criminal conversation are quite daunting, especially as it was practiced during the early 1800s.

Regina Jeffers said...

Thank you for preordering the book, Deborah. I am blessed by your patronage.

Regina Jeffers said...

Anne is no longer a pawn, but such happens later in the book, Vesper.

Regina Jeffers said...

If one is not adamant when speaking to Lady Catherine, the great lady does not accept the reality of the situation, DarcyBennett.

dstoutholcomb said...

love the history of the marriage contact breach of promise pursuit.

loved the excerpt and the twist, plus the way Darcy commands...


Regina Jeffers said...

Thanks for joining me today, Denise. I do like to stir up things for Darcy and Elizabeth.

Glynis said...

I am loving this Darcy! That told Lady Catherine! I'm not sure how he married Elizabeth instead of Anne and I can't wait to find out. Another wonderful story it seems Regina!

Regina Jeffers said...

You know me, Glynis. I love to mix up the circumstances while placing the plot purely in the history of the time. I can't resist being a research junkie! LOL

Ginna said...

I love the possibilities available with the pretendings going on. I think I will really enjoy reading this book.

Regina Jeffers said...

You know, Ginna. I love the twists and turns in the story line. Elizabeth tells Darcy that are times when she despises him, but she helps him settle a business deal, nevertheless. Gotta love it!

Amanda Frank said...

I love that final paragraph. Darcy wins this one for sure with that.

Ceri T said...

What a great excerpt. I love it when Lady C is bested.

Regina Jeffers said...

Obviously, Amanda, Lady Catherine's singularity has driven Darcy to the point of ruthlessness. I do not imagine Darcy loses his temper easily. After all, as the Master of Pemberley, his word holds great weight, but when those he affects are the targets of naysayers, he can be very forceful.

Regina Jeffers said...

Ceri, Lady Catherine is accustomed to having her way, but she rarely has seen Darcy so adamant about anything, especially "an obstinate, headstrong girl."

Leslie Waters said...

I love different takes on Pride and Prejudice and the what ifs. In the end you always still fall for Darcy .

Regina Jeffers said...

I can honestly say the gentleman never leaves my mind, Leslie.

Lúthien84 said...

I never knew that Jane Austen included "breach of promise" in P&P. Very observant for you to spot it, Regina. You must have read P&P many times to be able to come up with stories based on it.

The premise of Mr. Darcy's Brides is fascinating. The excerpt left me stunned on what Darcy really intended to do. Can't wait to read the book.

Regina Jeffers said...

I have read P&P more times than I care to admit, but with each reading, I notice something not viewed previously, Sylvia.
I think you will enjoy how I place Darcy and Elizabeth in the most "extreme" situation, and how they manage to come together in accord.