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November 1, 2018

Tasha Alexander on Shifting Time Periods in Her Lady Emily Series

Posted by tom

After writing 12 novels set in the Victorian Era, Tasha Alexander shifts to the Edwardian Age in the latest installment of her Lady Emily mystery series, UNEASY LIES THE CROWN. Here, Lady Emily and her husband Colin must stop a serial killer whose sights may be set on the new king, Edward VII. In her blog post, Tasha talks about changing time periods and the challenges it posed; as she says, “[A]fter spending most of my adult life researching Victorian England, the period is as comfortable to me as a much-loved cashmere sweater: cozy, familiar and reassuring.” She also sheds some light on Edward VII’s reign and explains some of the key differences between the Victorians and Edwardians.


Queen Victoria, who ruled Britain for 63 years, is one of the most recognizable figures in history. She set the standard for social mores during her lifetime, dominated the better part of a century, and is rightly called the Grandmother of Europe. When she died, her 59-year-old son, known as Bertie to his friends and Edward VII to his subjects, ascended to the throne, signaling the end of an era.

But eras don’t go gently into that good night.

When I started writing my first Lady Emily novel, it was inconceivable to me that I would ever get to the end of Victoria’s reign. I imagine that Bertie had similar thoughts of his own. For the most part, the books in my series take place one per calendar year, and after spending most of my adult life researching Victorian England, the period is as comfortable to me as a much-loved cashmere sweater: cozy, familiar and reassuring.

Victoria --- rightly so --- was the most Victorian of Victorians. She embodied many of the stereotypes of the era. At least in public. Her diaries tell us that she was not so prudish as one might guess. And although she was vocally opposed to the suffragette movement, she thought it perfectly correct that she, a woman, would rule the British Empire.

Her son could not have been more different.

Perhaps his dedication to debauchery and his string of mistresses stemmed partly from his mother’s steadfast refusal to allow him to participate in state business. He was left with no occupation and, rather than seeking out a useful one, lived a life of pleasure. He was most at home in Paris, where his reputation as a bon viveur was appreciated rather than disdained. The cycle was always the same: he would be embroiled in some scandal, and his mother would take it as proof that he could not assist her in her role.

But it couldn’t go on forever. After his mother’s death, Bertie was king. Now Britain would be ruled by someone without Victoria’s stuffy morals. Did mores change overnight?

Of course not.

If we take a broader look at the Victorian Era, we see that a gradual shift in morals started long before Bertie came on the scene. The Industrial Revolution, political unrest in Europe, and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor had a far more significant impact on Britain than the queen’s personal beliefs. Monarchs can have an enormous cultural influence on their subjects, but no one, not even Victoria, could have stopped the change engulfing the world by the turn of the century.

And what of Edward VII? He was not the disaster his mother feared he might be. Affable, loyal and much more liberal than Victoria, he was respected throughout the Empire, particularly in India, where his steadfast refusal to tolerate racism was welcomed. On the whole, most people thought him charming but woefully ignorant. Was this last a fair charge?

After his death in 1910, Frederick Ponsonby, 1st Baron Sysonby, wrote:

It was all façade, the most engaging, decorative but quite misleading façade… His wonderful social tact could not always be a sufficient screen for his official ignorance. When he died, the chorus of exaggerated praise engineered by those who had been deluded by his friendly charm, turned criticism for a while against the Queen for not having enlisted his services more. But in her day Queen Victoria knew better.

Bertie, like his mother before, gave his name to an era. The Edwardians ushered in a new century and new sensibilities as Victorian mores faded into the past. They seem to us more free, more fun, than their predecessors. Perhaps part of the reason we view them this way is our awareness of what comes next: World War I, which would destroy their way of life. They marched blithely along, driving automobiles, hosting spectacular country house parties, and believed nothing could change their world. The sun would never set on the British Empire.

But it did, and another era ended, as eras always do. Not even the indomitable Victoria could stop that.