Sunday, April 20, 2014

Captain Gronow, his Sicilian Valet & the Duchess of Marlborough

by Philippa Jane Keyworth

I have heard it said many times that Regency romances idealise that interesting, though regrettably short, period of history. I have also heard readers complain, ‘Oh, that would never have happened back then because of propriety, etiquette, etc.’ when being confronted by some scandalous event within the fictional world of the Regency romance they are at that moment reading. However, if you are one of those sticklers for proper Regency behaviour, then the tasty morsel I am about to serve up to you might just have you flummoxed!

Whilst I was reading Regency Recollections: Captain Gronow’s Guide to Life in London and Paris, edited by Christopher Summerville and leant me by the estimable M.M. Bennetts, I came upon a certain recollection that did have me giggling out loud and relaying it to all those unfortunate souls who were near me at the time.

The particular anecdote to which I allude involved Captain Gronow, his Sicilian Valet named Proyd, the Duchess of Marlborough and a set of fire tongs, and it went a little something like this:

When serving in the peninsular war, Gronow had managed to pick up a Sicilian man to serve him, who was perhaps the best scavenger in the army and always presented him with decent meat and bread when all others had none. So, he was rather a handy little fellow, and for this reason Gronow brought him back to England with him to serve as his valet.

However, Gronow hastens to add in his memoirs that,

“With all of these accomplishments, he possessed one fault: a too great admiration, unqualified with respect, for the charms of the fair sex, and he seldom lost an opportunity of stealing a kiss from any pretty girl that came his way.”

In spite of this fault Gronow took Proyd with him to White Knights, the seat of the Duke of Marlborough. For it must be remembered, Gronow was quite the dandy and did like to rub elbows with the ton!

Unfortunately for Gronow, the fault of his new manservant mentioned above, his weakness for the ladies, proved fatal at White Knights. On the very day that Gronow arrived, Proyd met the maid of Lady Macclesfield on the staircase,

“…without the slightest ceremony he attempted to kiss her.”

The maid, rather shocked by the suddenness of this stranger’s affection, proceeded to run away. Not easily deterred, the Sicilian hopped-to and chased after her through the main hall of the Marlborough residence and right up into the Duchess’ bedroom where the maid sought sanctuary.

The Duchess, who happened to be in the bedroom at the time, was so shocked she turned on the valet and shrieked loudly. Proyd promptly hid under the bed, most probably realising the error of his lustful ways, and refused to come out.

The Duchess then called for her husband who made use of the poker and fire tongs beside the bedroom fireplace to jab the miscreant out from under the bed. I imagine this caused quite a lot of embarrassment to Gronow who remarked,

“This incident, which created great confusion, rendered it necessary that the Sicilian should be sent to rejoin his regiment.”

Well, what a jolly good story, eh? Now, I am sure you agree that that is the silliest, funniest and most improper occurrence, and the best part about it is that it actually happened!

You see, as much as I agree, Regency romances cannot bend societal rules willy-nilly to fit their storyline, I would also argue that you can’t view the Regency period as all black and white with no room for grey.

You see, as much as romanticising the Regency in a book should not be done, neither should the applications of past rules never be questioned. Were you told not to use curse words when you were younger? I expect, if you are anything like me, that you did not keep that rule too well.

That is not to say that Regency romance writers, or any other historical fiction author for that matter, should indeed be willy-nilly with their storylines, nor should they be staunch about what they “know” happened. After all, we can never be one hundred per cent sure of what happened in the past. That is what makes it so captivating.


Philippa Jane Keyworth, known to her friends as Pip, has been writing since she was twelve in every notebook she could find. Whilst she dabbles in a variety of genres, it was the encouragement of a friend to watch a film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that would start the beginning of her love affair with the British Regency. Her debut novel, The Widow's Redeemer (Madison Street Publishing, 2012), is a traditional Regency romance bringing to life the romance between a young widow with an indomitable spirit and a wealthy viscount with an unsavory reputation.

The Widow's Redeemer - Regency Romance - Philippa Jane Keyworth

The Widow's Redeemer @ Amazon UK

The Widow's Redeemer @ Amazon USA


  1. Wonderful story, Philippa. People being what they are, a writer's imagination can produce some inventive scenarios to produce situations that could have happened.

  2. Great entry, Philippa, and very amusing. Isn't it said that fact is stranger than fiction? There are so many possibilities and probabilities. It's an author's candy store.

  3. Thank you for reading Gerri and Darlene and I quite agree - it's no wonder some writer's write historical fiction, Regency romance etc - it's just so much fun!

  4. Thank you for sharing this Captain Gronow gem!


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