Set in Regency Italy and England in the years from 1819, it is a story about a mother and daughter, Sarah and Emilia. Sarah is on the run from her past in England, and from her violent husband, but Emilia has known no other life than her life with Sarah, which has been one of constantly moving from place to place in their work as itinerant dressmakers.
Now Emilia is tired of never being able to put down roots, and when they find a plum job in the wealthy Italian household of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Emilia is determined that this time they will stay. Of course the handsome Alessandro, friend of the exiled Princess Caroline, might have something to do with it! A violent incident causing Sarah’s death means Emilia and Alessandro are destined to part, and Emilia needs to leave for England to find her family and unravel her past.
As well as a romance, this is a fascinating look at Princess Caroline, estranged wife of the then Prince Regent – she is a character who comes across as generous-spirited though unconventional. Because of this she both earns the adulation of the populace, and their disgust, and finally their pity. It is an insightful look at the shifting and unstable mob mentality of the era, the chauvinist politics of the British monarchy, and it was also something I knew little about. You cannot help but feel Queen Caroline was a woman ahead of her time, but unsuited for the stringent proprieties of the 19th century royal household. The descriptions of the riots caused by her appearance in England, and the sad furore over her funeral procession are particularly interesting.
Charlotte Betts provides historical notes afterwards to give more context, but seeing Princess Caroline leap off the page in this novel was a treat. Emilia too is a courageous heroine, who has to battle with the discovery of who she is, and the fact her new family may turn out to be both a dream and a nightmare.
The Dressmaker’s Secret is an exciting read, that will keep you turning the pages, but also has more than enough real history about an earlier Princess of Wales to educate as well as entertain.
Caroline of Brunswick was Queen of the United Kingdom by marriage to King George IV from 29 January 1820 until her death in 1821. She was the Princess of Wales from 1795 to 1820
Charlotte Betts’ website is at http://www.charlottebetts.com/