In The Duke when young, vibrant Lady Amarantha Vale sets sail for Jamaica, she carries with her a yearning for passionate adventure and a heart full of sincere love, but also a head woefully ignorant of the world she’s chosen to enter–especially the man she is betrothed to marry. It’s not long before she comes to understand her terrible error (and fortunately a young naval officer is conveniently there to help her come to see another, nobler reality!).
My inspirations for novels like The Duke — my novels that span continents and include myriad historical details — are always many. Here’s one historical source that suited young Captain Gabriel Hume’s itinerary ideally.
In a letter written by the twenty-three year old soon-to-be Duke of Clarence (later King William IV of England) to a friend on September 25, 1788, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later published in Gentleman’s Magazine, the young naval commander noted:
“this is the last season I spend in America; and, after cruising the winter about Jamaica, I am next June to return to England, from whence I am again to proceed to the Mediterranean”
The girl with her parents at the Royal Academy in Chapter 31, who is admiring Ziyaeddin’s painting of Libby, is meant to be Louisa Dunnell. Years later Louisa became the mother of Elizabeth Garrett. In 1873, Garrett was the first woman in Britain to win the battle to qualify as a physician and surgeon — as a woman. Garrett went on to become the first dean of a British medical school, among other notable firsts.
Louisa’s attendance at the exhibition is purely my invention. But extraordinary women often learn to fight for their rights from other extraordinary women — mothers, sisters, friends, strangers — and I couldn’t resist.
The quote on the watch that Ziyaeddin gives Libby is from an epic poem Shahnama, translated as “Book of Kings.” Written in the late tenth or eleventh century by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in the land that is today Iran, the poem is a national epic, a mingling of Persian history, legend and myth, and it was regularly recited everywhere for entertainment. Over centuries it was also gorgeously re-illustrated by the greatest artists of the ages and presented to Iranian rulers. As art historian Kishwar Rizvi describes regarding one illustrated version of the poem, the epic positively effervesces with “drama, romance and morality.” Rizvi adds that the poetry and the illustrations “emphasize the importance of humility in the person of the shah.” This notion — that of a great king as a man of humility — suited Ziyaeddin’s character so well that I drew from the poem other qualities for my hero: his intellect, spirit, strength, and honorability, even his “lustrous” eyes.
I discovered the poem through Professor Rizvi’s article “The Suggestive Portrait of Shah ‘Abbas: Prayer and Likeness in a Safavid Shanama,” Art Bulletin, Vol. XCIV, No. 2 (June 2012). The complete verse is:
“Now do as princes do
When prudent, pious, and beneficent—
Serve God and him alone in good times and bad.”
A beautiful recently illustrated edition of the poem is Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings, illustrated by Hamid Rahmanian, translated and adapted by Ahmad Sadri, and edited by Melissa Hibbard (Liveright Publishing, 2017).