Jul 7 2014 1:00pm

We Are Family: Sisters in History from the Brontes, the Jeromes, and More!

Mercy by Deneane ClarkToday we're joined by author Deneane Clark, whose Mercy has just been released. Mercy is the most recent release in Deneane's historical romance series about sisters, the youngest of whom just happens to be named Mercy. Mercy wants to find love, as her sisters have, and knows just who she wants—because she's wanted him since she was thirteen years old. In basing her series on sisters, Deneane is calling upon real-life sisters from history who found success in love and marriage, and she's here to talk about those sisters today. Thanks, Deneane!

There is something oddly fascinating about sisters. All familial relationships are special and have their distinct characteristics, but the ones between sisters stand out. Your sister can be both your closest friend and your greatest rival—often at the same time.

The six sisters in my Virtue Series grow up motherless yet somehow manage to burst onto the social scene of Regency London and make a clean sweep of the very best men England has to offer. All the men are titled, good-looking, dauntingly intelligent and provokingly charming. Such is the stuff of romantic fiction, right? That would never happen in real life, would it?

Hang on … it might. There’s precedence. A great deal of it actually, and our real life sets of successful siblings often manage to bring the drama and intrigue to romance novel–heroine levels. They come from many different walks of life but all had one thing in common: They achieved notoriety, fame and sometimes even infamy.

The Wilsons

By far the most titillating, they were the daughters of a Swiss clockmaker who grew up to become highly fashionable courtesans in Regency London. Harriette was the most notorious. Her clients included the Prince of Wales, several future Prime Ministers, and most notably, the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo. Upon learning of Harriette’s intention to publish her memoirs, he threatened to sue, which prompted his headstrong former mistress to add more detail about him. Poor Wellington, underestimating his lover, reportedly told her to “publish and be damned.” She did and he became a laughingstock amongst his peers.

Harriette’s sisters Amy, Fanny, and Sophia also became courtesans, but Sophia was the only one who managed to turn an aristocratic lover into a husband. She married Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick in February 1812.

The Brontës

Another set of famous sisters from the Regency Period are, of course, the Brontë sisters, the most well-known of which are Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. These sisters brought us the novels Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey, among others, and though their early lives weren’t at all romantic, their literary legacy as a family is unparalleled.

Jane Eyre PosterAll of the siblings, five girls and one boy, died early deaths. The two eldest daughters died when they were 10 and 11 years old. Of the four remaining Brontë children, Charlotte had the longest life, dying shortly before her 39th year. Their short lives blanket their story with a layer of melancholy and tragedy that resonates in their published work.

The Jeromes

Not to be outdone by the British, we Americans have our own set of social climbing sisters in the Jeromes. Jennie, Clara, and Leonie Jerome were the daughters of a Leonard Jerome, who was both a philanderer and a philanthropist. He made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange in the second half of the nineteenth century, and though he showered his wife and daughters with anything their hearts desired, it turned out that the one thing he couldn’t give them was snobbish social standing. So off they trot to the Continent, sojourned in France for a time, and the headed to England, chased from the French court by the pesky Prussian army.

All was not lost, however, because the lovely Jennie caught the eye of one Lord Randolph Churchill and, despite some outrage by the British aristocracy over the vulgar American connections, married the guy and eventually produced Winston, who went on to become one of the most well-known and highly respected Prime Ministers in the whole history of…well, the whole of history.
Leonie, the youngest sister, married into the Irish aristocracy, and the middle sister, Clara, married a colorful character named Moreton Frewen, who was nicknamed Mortal Ruin because all of his financial schemes somehow managed to go awry.

The Gunnings

Which brings us to the Gunning sisters. The lives of Maria and Elizabeth Gunning keep hope alive for every little girl who dreams of growing up and becoming a princess. They were the daughters of an Irishman named John Gunning and his English wife Bridget, and they grew up in genteel poverty in Dublin.

As soon as they were old enough to work, they began acting in the theaters of Dublin to make extra money for the family. Despite the fact that most actresses were thought to be courtesans, the girls managed to remain respectable enough to score an invitation to a society ball. They borrowed a couple props department dresses from a theater manager, and off they went to the dance, where they were presented to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. They made such an impression on him that he bestowed a generous pension upon their mother. She promptly carted them back to England, where they were instant hits.
Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton, who passed away after six years of marriage. She then married the Marquess of Lome, who subsequently succeeded the Duke of Argyll, making Elizabeth once more a duchess.
Maria also married into the aristocracy, becoming the Countess of Coventry. She was a little less respectable than her sister, with a very caustic tongue. Her marriage is rumored to have been filled with drama, including a public clash with the famous courtesan Kitty Fisher, with whom her husband was reportedly having an affair. Not to be outdone, though, Maria herself was rumored to have cheated on her husband with the Duke of Grafton.

With these few examples, it’s no wonder we find sisters fascinating. They’ve been working together , supporting one another, and arguing with each other throughout history. The Boleyn sisters. Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. The Mitford sisters. Venus and Serena Williams. Best friends. Worst enemies. Love, laughter, drama, and tragedy. Sisters.


Learn more about or order a copy of Mercy by Deneane Clark, available now:

Buy at Amazon

Buy at B&N

Buy at iTunes



Deneane Clark is an historical romance novelist. Her published work includes the THE VIRTUE SERIES, a lighthearted romp through the ballrooms and bedrooms of Regency London. The books tell the love stories of the motherless Ackerly sisters, beginning with GRACE, continuing with the stories of FAITH and CHARITY, and concludes with the newly released MERCY. Deneane's books have been published in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, and have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, Norwegian, and Turkish.

Deneane grew up in New Orleans and misses it dreadfully. Currently, she resides near Charlotte, NC, but has also lived in the Northeast, the Midwest, and on the West Coast. She prefers mountains to beaches, cities to suburbs, and suburbs to rural areas, and would be perfectly content if she could just manage to convince the world to flip flop the working day so people slept during the day and worked at night.

A single mom, Deneane raised her now grown-up children while working full time and writing at night. Her daughter enjoys traveling, so moves in and out as the mood strikes, and her son is serving our great country in the United States Marine Corps. She enjoys sparkling beverages, music, plays trivia with an amazing bunch of friends, and travels any time she gets the chance.

Deneane loves interaction with her readers. You can friend and/or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. If you're not a fan of social media, she also writes a blog. And, although it sometimes takes a while, she makes every attempt to respond to all emails, messages and comments.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1 comment
Lynne Connolly
1. Lynne Connolly
The Gunnings were the grandchildren of a viscount, and their father owned a country house, so they were minor aristocracy. There's no proof that they actually appeared on the public stage, but may have made a few private appearances. Those stories are largely apocryphal and include details that couldn't have happened! I love the stories about the costumes, which I'd love to be real!
They had a younger sister, Catherine, who everybody forgot about because she married a country squire for love. Maria died young, from her addiction to cosmetics, as the white lead used at the time entered her system. Her husband once scrubbed the stuff off her face in public, but sadly that didn't stop her. Elizabeth was known as "The Double Duchess." A London cobbler once charged people for a sight of the shoes he was making for one of the sisters. Their brother became a noted general in the army, and earned a title of his own.
Post a comment