Following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the small principality of Jura was recognized as a free and independent state by the Allies in spite of the efforts of Metternich to have Jura declared part of the Austrian Empire. The same Congress, however, awarded territory in such a manner that Jura is now surrounded by Austria. In order to assure Jura’s security as a separate state, its ruler Prince Augustus negotiates a treaty with England. With the stated intention of bolstering the treaty, Augustus decides to make a British marriage. He writes his great-aunt, Princess Mariana, who married an English nobleman and is the mother of the Earl of Beaufort.
Princess Mariana approves of Augustus’s plan. She takes steps to arrange a marriage between Augustus and her older granddaughter, Lady Lydia. Lydia is stunningly beautiful and is accustomed to being the object of male admiration; the idea of being a crowned princess appeals to her so she agrees.
Augustus comes to England in the company of his cousin Franz. Augustus has spent most of his adult years battling Napoleon’s forces from the mountains of Jura and is unused to the company of women in high society. He is pleased with Lydia’s beauty, and arrangements for the state wedding, which is to be held in Jura, proceed. Some of his late father’s advisors oppose the treaty and are desirous of closer ties to Austria so the marriage becomes increasingly important. Augustus devotes his time to affairs of state while in London leaving Franz to entertain the Lady Lydia.
Seventeen-year-old Lady Charity is the Earl’s younger daughter. She doesn’t share Lydia’s stunning beauty, but she’s more intelligent and educated. She has heard tales about Jura and Prince Augustus since childhood from her grandmother and has hero-worshiped him from afar.
One week before the wedding it is discovered that Franz and Lydia have eloped. Scandal and diplomatic disaster are narrowly diverted when it is decided that Charity will wed the prince in her sister’s stead.
Princess Charity is thrust into a role she was not prepared to assume at the same time that Augustus is struggling with threats against himself and his throne.
The title Royal Bride is somewhat misleading because this is more Augustus’s story than Charity’s. Both characters are fully developed, but the story and its characters revolve around Augustus. Furthermore, the romance is often subordinate to the machinations of state and international politics.
I have followed Joan Wolf’s career from her years as a regency author, and many of her books are in my keeper collection. I especially like her heroes, and Augustus is representative. Her heroes are uniformly intelligent, dedicated, and highly principled but not unrealistically perfect. When Augustus wrongs the heroine and faces the consequences of his actions, he is stricken with guilt. No “men have needs” rationale for him. And he rings true.
Lydia is furious when she learns that he knew she was going to receive an invitation from the Prince Regent three days before it arrived - three days in which she could go shopping for the absolutely right dress. Augustus is clueless. “What difference could it make? She got the invitation, didn’t she?” What woman hasn’t confronted exactly the same type of male thinking? It’s nice to see a romance hero demonstrate some typical infuriating male logic and behavior.
The one aspect of Royal Bride that seems somewhat unpersuasive is the pace at which Charity matures. Over the course of a few months, she goes from a charming but immature child to a woman of depth, vision, and courage. I was particularly struck, given her sheltered background in England, by the unlikely speed at which she perceives and tackles social problems within her new country.
The story easily held my attention from the very first page. As Augustus’s position of ruler is challenged, the plot picks up speed until the end. The book excelled at the pick-up-put-down test - I seized every available opportunity to read the next page, the next chapter, the next several.
Set in a time period familiar to many readers, Royal Bride doesn’t follow the same course as many other romances set in the same time. Readers who enjoy Regency era historicals should check out this book with its uncommon plot and memorable lead characters.