Apr 12 2011 5:30pm

Making Matches That Start Real Fires: Marriages of Convenience in Historicals

Forbidden Magic by Jo BeverleyI love Marriage of Convenience plotlines. Unlike Lisa Hughey, who discussed them in her excellent post I Was Told To Like You: Marriage of Convenience Plots, I enjoy them more in historicals than in contemporaries. To me, it's much more believable that a woman could be forced into marriage or that crazy will stipulations existed or that arranged dynastic marriages were commonplace in an historical setting than in present day. But while the MOC usually treads a well-worn path, I appreciate it when an author introduces some novelty to the process.

In Jo Beverley's Forbidden Magic, magic is what brings about the wedding. Meg Gillingham, eldest of five siblings, is at her wit's end. Left penniless by the sudden death of their parents, the family is down to their last, few coins, when their landlord offers to take care of the family if Meg's 15-year-old sister becomes his mistress. Desperate, Meg uses the Sheelagh-ma-gig, an ancient wishing stone statue handed down through the women in her family. A week later, she receives a marriage proposal from the earl of Saxonhurst. She marries him and the family is saved, but Meg suffers from tremendous guilt over having tricked Sax—a thoroughly delightful man—into marriage. Sax collects unwanted strays and so is quite contented with his bargain, finding his new wife and family enchanting. I think Meg should just shut up and enjoy her supremely yummy husband, but she's a romance heroine, and so has to fret...

The Bargain by Mary Jo PutneyBut The Bargain, by Mary Jo Putney (recently reissued), may be my favorite twist on the old Marriage of Convenience plot. Many MOCs are contracted for a short-term gain, but Lady Jocelyn and Major David Lancaster are looking for a short-term duration. Lady Jocelyn is saddled with one of those “you must marry by 25 or lose the bulk of your inheritance” will stipulations. She finds David through a mutual friend and thinks he is the answer to her problem. David was horribly wounded at Waterloo and not expected to live more than a few days. They make a bargain to marry, enabling Jocelyn to gain her inheritance, a portion of which she will use to give David's governess sister an annuity so that she may live in comfort the rest of her life. The deed is done, but then David doesn't die. Now what?

Putney deals with the uncertainty of the moment, and the slow realization of what it means, beautifully, and out of that uncertainty and shared predicament, there develops camaraderie and deep friendship.

As with all MOC stories, we all know how these stories will end, but, as always, it is the journey that makes the trip worthwhile. What are your favorite historical MOC romances? Do any of them have unusual or different reasons for the MOC?


Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com

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Louise Partain
1. Louise321
Loved both the books you mentioned; in fact they are on my Keeper shelf. Probably the most realistically done book is the Georgette Heyer book, A Convenient Marriage, which chronicles the marriage of a viscount to a merchant's daughter despite his long time love for a neighbor's daughter in order to save his family from insolvency after the neighbor refuses to allow his daughter to marry an impoverished noble and suggests the merchant's daughter as an alternative. The situation and the honor with which the viscount treats his unwanted wife and the secret love she feels for him but cannot show openly but displays in a 1000 comforts make this a worthwhile read. Any HEAs are worked for diligently by the H&H and are very satisfying to the reader as a result.
Janet W
2. Janet W
I love that Heyer too ... but I think it's A Civil Contract to which you refer. I adore MOCs ... just try to keep me away from them. I have quite a collection and I've certainly read and enjoyed the ones Cheryl choose.

Sax, wow, did Meg ever capture the Brass Ring. What a book!
Rachel Hyland
3. RachelHyland
@ Cheryl Sneed

Wonderful post! I, too, mostly only love the MOC plot line in Historicals, but one exception to this is my much beloved Catherine Coulter novel The Aristocrat, which sees a star American quarterback inherit an ancient English title. He soon marries his many-times-distant cousin to save her from penury... and then they, if you will believe it, fall in love! Originally a Silhouette Special Edition, The Aristocrat has been reissued a few times, and I highly recommend tracking it down, if you haven't encountered it yet.

@1. Louise 321

Yes, A Civil Contract is the one with the Viscount and the merchant's daughter (Jenny, I believe her name is?), while The Convenient Marriage is about Lord Rule and the adorably stammering Horatia, who asks him to marry her in lieu of her beautiful sister so as not to interfere with a Love Match. Heyer also visited MOCs in April Lady, The Reluctant Widow and Friday's Child. Also, I guess we can count Sprig Muslin, in that Sir Gareth decided to marry his plain but well-born friend Hester on convenience grounds and then falls in love with her. There are definitely other Heyer-ish examples, but Friday's Child is my favorite.

Although, do Betrothals of Convenience count? If so, then my favorite becomes a toss up between Cotillion and Charity Girl.

@ 2. Janet W

Absolutely! I love that book, and Sax is my favorite, favorite Beverley hero. In fact, I may need to go and read it again right now...
Janet W
4. Daniela C.
"As with all MOC stories, we all know how these stories will end, but, as always, it is the journey that makes the trip worthwhile."

This comment to completely true for ALL romances! That is why we read...the JOURNEY!
Cheryl Sneed
5. CherylSneed
@JanetW - You're not kidding about Sax being the brass ring - was ever a plain, fretting spinster so lucky? I think not. I love that opening scene with Sax oh, so casually breaking ugly bric-a-brac in his room, while the servants look on rooting for their piece to broken. Hysterical.
Janet W
6. Janet W
You're going to make me look Cheryl ... was Sax actually in dishabille while he was wreaking havoc on the bric-a-brac?

I can feel the cold while Meg's rooting about in the garden -- while Sax and his lovely secretary (why can't he have a book?) look on.
Cheryl Sneed
7. CherylSneed
Ooh, without looking, I'm thinking, yes, he was wearing a lovely banyan-type robe. Delicious man.
Shyral Hyatt
9. shyhyatt
I don't read alot of historical romances really I don't. Over 300 in my pile of books and most are my mother's historicals romances she has given me to read. And the list of historical romance books keeps growing because of all the wonderful sounding books y'all keep mentioning. Adding Forbidden Magic to the list. Breaking bric brac, servants, nearly naked earl. Hope the bookstore has it.

Oh, and I absolutely love love Coulter's Aristocrat. That would be my favorite MOC .
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