Today, romance author, Andrea K. Stein, enlightens us on what may be Georgette Heyer’s most obscure historical novel, The Great Roxhythe. It is unlikely that many reading this article have ever read this book, for reasons which Andrea will explain. It has been included in Beau Monde’s Regency Turns 80 celebration of Heyer’s work, though sorely it stretches the definition of a romance, as Andrea also explains. Nevertheless, it is one of Heyer’s historical novels, and in the interest of completeness, it deserves our attention.
Whether or not you have read this novel, you are welcome to post your comments to this article.
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Throughout Georgette Heyer’s The Great Roxhythe, a lavish tale of intrigue in the time of the Restoration, I kept wondering when the romance would appear. I’ve enjoyed a number of Heyer novels, but had never encountered this one. Turns out she crafted an elaborate triangle of loyalty, love, and infatuation among returning king Charles II; the enigmatic Marquis of Roxhythe; and Roxhythe’s naïve young secretary, Christopher Dart.
Heyer later suppressed this book from publication. She was only 19 when she completed the novel in 1922. In The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge describes The Great Roxhythe as "probably the worst book Georgette Heyer ever wrote."
At a critical turning point Roxhythe sends Dart on a dangerous spy mission without the young man’s knowledge. This cold-blooded decision forces his secretary to conclude he cannot tolerate the choices his master makes, in spite of the considerable infatuation he feels for the man.
While Roxhythe abuses his secretary’s admiration, his own loyalty and affection belong only to Charles II. He has been at his master’s side as a soldier since the turbulent days of the king’s return to the throne. Back in England, Roxhythe toils endlessly at Whitehall in his service.
Heyer’s ambitious fictionalized version of this tumultuous period details how Charles II’s flamboyant lifestyle put him at odds with the sober, Protestant leaning members of Parliament. The king’s constant need for funds led him to unwise secret agreements with his cousin, French King Louis XIV.
Some scholars say Ms. Heyer based the character of Roxhythe on George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham. His father, a favorite of Charles I, was assassinated at Portsmouth by the renegade officer John Felton. George was only seven months old and subsequently was brought up in the royal household of Charles I, together with his younger brother Francis and the King’s own children, the future Charles II and James II.
When the Second English Civil War broke out, he and his brother joined Royalist forces in Surrey, in July 1648. Buckingham served as General of the Horse for the 1st Earl of Holland. Buckingham’s brother Francis was killed in a minor engagement near Kingston upon Thames. Buckingham escaped after a heroic stand against six Roundhead opponents, his back against an oak tree, which became the stuff of Cavalier legend.
Like Roxhythe, Villiers also went into exile with Charles II and returned to England to serve the monarch when he was restored to the throne.
Author Andrea K. Stein is a retired newspaper editor and sea captain living at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. She draws on her experiences delivering yachts up and down the Caribbean for the settings of her high seas historical romances. Fortune’s Horizon and Secret Harbor can be found on Amazon.