By Royal Appointment
The love affair that almost destroyed the monarchy
By Royal Appointment is the latest novel from bestselling Irish author A. O’ Connor and is a slight departure for him, as it is his first fictionalised account of real events.
In 1861 nineteen-year-old Bertie, Prince of Wales, began an affair with the Irish actress Nellie Cliffden.
‘A. O’ Connor’s dazzling new novel brings to life the true, and until now, little known story of a relationship that rocked the establishment and caused a decade long bitter feud within the royal family.’
Just published with Poolbeg Press, By Royal Appointment is a treat for all who love historical fiction. It’s fascinating and it’s scandalous….
Here are my thoughts…
In the years following the Great Famine of the 1840’s, Queen Victoria has become deeply unpopular in Ireland. In 1861, as an official visit from the monarch is planned to win over her Irish subjects, her son Bertie is dispatched to County Kildare for military training as part of the charm offensive.
Bertie has undergone a life of duty, protocol and a harsh educational regime. As a frantic search is under way to find him a suitable princess to marry, he relishes the prospect of freedom from court life in Ireland. There, he is quickly introduced to a life of decadence and soon presented to the notorious actress Nellie Cliffden.
Nellie is as famous for her shocking behaviour as her beauty. A famine orphan who has climbed the ladder of society by any means she could, even she is shocked to find herself in the company of the Prince of Wales.
When Bertie and Nellie fall in love, the royal family is engulfed in a scandal threatening the future of the monarchy and Nellie becomes a pawn in a dangerous world of power, politics and blackmail.
Have you ever heard of Nellie Cliffden? Well neither did I…until now!
Nellie Cliffden was an enigmatic Irish actress who caused quite a stir in 1861.
After the horrors of the Irish Famine there was a restlessness among the Irish. With a dramatically reduced population, through death and emigration, the Irish were understandably angry and frustrated with the lack of support they felt they received from England. Queen Victoria was very aware that she was in a very precarious situation and made a decision that a visit to Ireland was required, in the hope of re-establishing her popularity there.
While this visit to Ireland was being organised, Bertie, her son the Prince of Wales, set in motion his own plans. It is well documented that Bertie had a very strained relationship with his parents. Growing up, he never was quite what Queen Victoria, and her husband Albert, were hoping for. On so many levels he disappointed them, with Bertie very much aware of their feelings. Any child growing up seeks the approval and love of their parents and Bertie was no different. He hoped that a spell in military training would meet with their favour, so he embarked on a trip to The Curragh barracks in Co. Kildare. With his parents planning a visit to The Curragh for an inspection during his time there, Bertie was hopeful that he could excel at the military exercises and would finally achieve their longed for approval . But, as history has shown, this was not how things turned out.
Bertie arrived in The Curragh with a spring in his step, looking forward to swapping his royal duties for military ones. His fellow officers were initially very wary of having a member of the monarchy on site and were not too impressed by having to alter their ‘night-time’ activities to accommodate the Prince of Wales. Bertie struggled with the training and it was clear to all that his career in the military would be short-lived. During his stay a few fellow officers decided that Bertie needed to be introduced to a rather different experience while in Ireland.
Before Bertie left England it was made quite clear to him that the search was on for a suitable bride, a match that would benefit the monarchy. It was time for Bertie to settle down..but Bertie had very different ideas. He was nineteen and had no notion of marrying anyone, no matter their lineage or their beauty. Yet again Bertie disappointed his parents, this time rebelling in rather a dramatic manner.
Bertie was to make the acquaintance of a number of ladies while in Ireland, but it was the Irish actress Nellie Cliffden who stole his heart. Nellie was a famine orphan, perhaps one of the Curragh Wrens, who made a name for herself both on and off the stage of the Music Halls. Nellie was a high-class prostitute with the ability to steal the heart of many a man. When Bertie and Nellie met, their feelings were quite mutual. Bertie disregarded the possible scandal it would cause as he got caught up in this very passionate and daring love affair. He became quite infatuated with Nellie and, with the assistance of his officer friends, he arranged to meet Nellie on a number of occasions, always, and very naively, in the belief that it would remain a secret. But as was destined to happen, news of the affair leaked and word reached the ear of the court, and ultimately Queen Victoria.
Bertie and Nellie Cliffden’s affair was an embarrassment to the court. With the American Civil War creating problems for England, Queen Victoria and Albert were understandably distressed by Bertie’s behaviour. His reputation would make him untouchable as a suitable husband, therefore causing the Royal Family a serious headache, as Bertie was heir to the throne.
A. O’ Connor has written an engrossing novel about a fascinating subject that will appeal to all. I have since researched Nellie Cliffden and found it impossible to find an image of her, making her even more mysterious and her story more appealing. Nellie’s character is one of confusion in many ways. She was most definitely street-wise yet, throughout the novel, her behaviour is quite innocent. Did she really believe there could be a future for her in Buckingham Palace? I expect there is a little artistic licence by the author in this regard!
Bertie did eventually marry when he returned home, but not until after his father’s untimely death, which his mother always blamed him for. The atmosphere between mother and son deteriorated rapidly over the following years, as the consequences of Bertie’s activities were always present. What happened to Nellie Cliffden is quite blurred but her name will forever be remembered as ‘the Irish woman who nearly brought down the monarchy.’
By Royal Appointment is a very entertaining novel packed with scandal and drama. It is a story of passion and temptation, a coming-of-age story of a young man whose misfortune was to fall for the wrong woman. In the words of Poolbeg Press ‘in this year of happy royal events, By Royal Appointment is a timely reminder that not all royal affairs end as fairy tales’
Purchase Link ~ By Royal Appointment
A graduate of the National University of Ireland Maynooth and Trinity College Dublin, A. O’Connor is the bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House, The Secrets of Armstrong House, The Legacy of Armstrong House, The Footman, The Left Handed Marriage and On Sackville Street.
He has also written one children’s book on Irish patriot Michael Davitt, and one on the history of Kilmainham Gaol (Also published by Poolbeg)