DW decided to change track from writing stories relating to the Second World War as there were “.....scores of plots I could have used, but now I daren’t or I’ll find myself in the Tower for having infringed the Official secrets Act”
Air Commodore Kenneth Collier told him, “All you have to do is to create a hero who lived in Napoleonic times. Then you can use any exciting episodes you learned about in the war and nobody will be able to lay a finger on you”
The Launching of Roger Brook was the first of twelve novels and told of RB’s latter schooldays through to 1787.
The Shadow of Tyburn Tree continues the storyline from 31st March 1788. George III was still the King of England.
William Pitt - the younger is now 28 years of age and has held the post of Prime Minister for four and a half years.
RB has been spending time with the beautiful Lady Georgina Etheredge (Previously Georgina Thursby) and her husband Humphrey at her stately mansion 'Stillwaters' near Ripley in Surrey. Georgina freely admits that the main reason she married the ‘older man’ was because she had her heart set on ‘Stillwaters’; and now that Humphrey has started to pry into her affairs and become a heavy drinker she is pleased that she does not have to spend too much time with him. Fortunately for her RB fulfils the other duties that a husband would expect to carry out. This however does not stop her wishing to try and sample some of the other fruit in the basket; and a Count Vorontzoff is currently the next item due to be sampled much to RB’s ‘chagrin’
A social event has been organised and numerous dignitaries are due to attend including Lord Edward Fitz-Deverel (Droopy Ned) now the Right hand man to the Prime Minister – William Pitt, Charles Fox–The leader of the opposition, the Russian Ambassador-Count Sergius Vorontzoff who plays a central part in this storyline, the Duke of Bridgewater and George Selwyn – a very interesting character that DW introduces to the scene primarily due to his connection with ‘The Hell fire Club’ of which he regularly writes. (Arrow paperback pages 43 – 46) See also - http://omni.sytes.net/selwyn.htm
Despite Georgina’s thoughts regarding Vorontzoff she decides that RB is really the only man for her and is forced to fend off the Russians advances with RB’s help. Vorontzoff is furious and ensures that her husband is informed of Georgina’s activities. Humphrey travels 25 miles to return to Stillwaters, he then bursts into her bedroom and starts to whip her for her behaviour. She throws a perfume bottle at him which dazes him and RB is forced to assist in stopping his continued attack by throwing a punch which lands just below his heart. Humphrey collapses and dies.
As nobody other than Roger & Georgina were in the room they decide to blame Humphreys death on a heart attack.
Her father suspects that there is more to what happened than was told and she recalls her father once telling her,
"Man made laws are but a rough guide to conduct, for the general protection of society. They should be disregarded when they are no longer in keeping with one's sense of right. Do what you will, provided that you can square it with your own conscience. But even if you fail in that you must endeavour to regain your own integrity by finding the courage to face the consequence of your act without whimpering about your lot to others, and involving them in your troubles."
The scene changes to the Prime Ministers home in Kent. He asks RB to go to Russia to gather as much information as possible on the current political state there as he would like to make an ally of this great power.
RB travels via Copenhagen and Stockholm rather than go directly to Russia so that it appears to be more of a general visit rather than a direct approach. By doing this he manages to get a general feel of the politics from the Scandinavian countries. In fact there are so many info dumps that you start to lose the will to live but if you persevere beyond them the story gathers pace particularly when he meets up with the Baroness Natalia Andreovna Stroganof at a Bal Masque; had he been able to forsee the future he would have fled the ballroom there and then.
They become lovers but when RB becomes interested in another lady, Natalia organises a gang of thugs to attack him one evening as he is leaving her home. He would probably have been killed if a passing coach and horses not stopped to intervene. The owner of the Coach just happened to be Count Haga which was the name King Gustavus of Sweden used when travelling incognito.
RB had been in bed recovering for 5 weeks when the King explained that with regard to Natalia, 'Twould not be the first time that having quarrelled with one of her gallants she has had him whipped beneath her window"
The King then accuses him of being a spy (which he was!!) but RB explains roughly what he was doing and the King agreed that Sweden had similar political aspirations to that of England. He then asked RB to spy for him as well as England!!
The King in the meantime had organised Natalias' expulsion from Sweden. The King and RB decide to arrange Rogers inclusion on the same ship as Natalia (without her knowledge) with a view to using her to get to the Russian leader Czarina Katerina Alexeyevna ; also known as Catherine II or Catherine the Great.
RB manages to hide himself in her room whilst she is having breakfast with the Captain. When she returns RB gets his own back on her by giving her a few slaps. During the subsequent struggle she manages to lose her bathrobe and so is running around totally naked. She grabs a knife; RB overpowers her picks up a sturdy parasol and sets about "belabouring her bottom in no half hearted manner".
She then realises that he has found the way to her heart. All that was needed was the violence of a Russian lover. "No Russian woman really believes that her husband loves them unless they beat them occasionally". (I think I'm going to emigrate!!!!!)
RB & Natalia eventually arrive in St Petersburg (Which became Leningrad in 1924 and then was reverted back to St Petersburg in 1991). She is duty bound to take up residence in the palace of her grandfather, Count Cyril Razumofsky, RB thought it would be wiser to take up lodgings in the city. He manages to acquire a suitable residence and the services of a14 year old servant girl named Zaria Feodorovna.
RB meets with several dignitaries within the Russian Palaces. He is introduced to the rather large figure of Catherine – Czarina of All the Russia’s.
In fact Rogers activities become quite varied at this point; he offers his services to assist the Russian Army in quelling an army 40,000 Swedish men who have landed in Helsingfors and were advancing on St Petersburg; he also manages to pass on some valuable information to the King of Sweden for which he is awarded the title of ‘Chevalier of the prestigious order of the Sword of Sweden’.
On his return he is arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit; He decides that he really doesn’t like Natalia due to her sadistic and vicious nature and to round it off he becomes Catherine the Greats ‘Favourite’ to whom he can call her ‘Your Majesty’ in public but in private can call her ‘Catherina Alexeyevna’ He is made a ‘Knight of the order of St. Vladimir’ and given the title deeds to an estate, carrying three hundred and fifty serfs in the province of Tula’. The only downside to this is that he has to ‘pleasure’ the ‘very large’ Czarina.
He is reprieved of his duties when Natalia tells of her of their long standing love affair and forthcoming marriage.
The Czarina then tells them that they will marry the next day and then go to live in Siberia.
The wedding does take place but Roger has no intention of going to Siberia! With some assistance he manages to secure accommodation on a vessel sailing for England via Copenhagen. When they arrive in the Danish capital he excuses himself from his 'wife' in order to get a message to Gustavas via one of William Pitts diplomats (Hugh Elliott). Hugh persuades RB to go directly with him to Stockholm with the information, due to its importance. In the meantime Hugh arranges to get a message back to Natalia to inform her of this last minute change of plan.
When RB & Hugh present the information to the King, he is delighted and is keen to pass this information to his troops I Gothenburg. At the kings request RB accompanies him and for his devotion is given an improved award to the one given earlier. He receives the title of 'Officer of the prestigious order of the Sword of Sweden' and the king presents him with his own star mounted in diamonds
Roger then arranges to get Natalia back to England only to find that Georgina has now been accused of Killing her husband. RB is certain that it must be count Vorontzoff's doing and so he goes to Woronzow house in St Johns Wood to sort this out.
He creeps around the house and manages to climb through a window to see through a curtain. Vorontzoff is talking to Natalia who is about to betray RB and England by handing over secrets to the Russian ambassador. Then all hell breaks loose.
I thought this was a good follow up to the excellent 'The launching of Roger Brook'. It was only let down by the excessive info dumps but other than that I enjoyed it. Next stop, 'The Rising Storm'
• According to DW, 'Stillwaters' was designed by William Kent in the 1730's. I tried to locate a Palladian styled house near Ripley, Surrey but without success.
• I tried to establish where Siberia is actually situated ;
It makes up about 77% of Russia's territory - 13.1 million square kilometres), but only 25% of Russia's population (36 million people).
It extends roughly from Ekaterinburg northwards to the sea and southwards to the borders of Mongolia and China).
• Did you know that Churchill used to build walls for recreational purposes just as DW did at Grove House, Lymington? The bit about Churchill was actually mentioned in the programme 'The old Guys' starring Jane Asher, Roger Lloyd Pack & Clive Swift recently.
The Duchess of Devonshire campaigned for the Whigs—particularly for a distant cousin, Charles James Fox—at a time when the King (George III) and his Ministers had more direct influence over the House of Commons, principally through their power of patronage. During the 1784 general election, the Duchess was rumored to have traded kisses for votes in favour of Fox and was satirised by Thomas Rowlandson in his print "The Devonshire, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes". Charles Fox was a distant cousin of The Duchess of Devonshire who was beautiful, fashionable and enjoyed life to the full. Her real name was Georgiana Cavendish. She sounds like the ideal candidate for DW to base his 'Georgina' on. It's just a shot in the dark but you never know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgiana_Cavendish,_Duchess_of_Devonshire
The Duchess (2008), played by Keira Knightley. The film, directed by Saul Dibb, is based on the biography - Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. (I must get a copy)
• Count Mikhail Vorontzoff, a Russian statesman, born in 1710, died in Moscow in 1767. He was descended from Gabriel Vorontzoff, who fell in 1678 at the siege of Tchigrin, Little Russia. He became a lover of the empress Elizabeth, who arranged a marriage for him with her cousin, a niece of Catharine I., and in 1744 she made him vice chancellor and minister of foreign affairs. The emperor Charles VII. made him and two of his brothers counts of the German empire. He negotiated important treaties, and finally became chancellor, but lost his influence under Catharine II.
Finally, Did you know that only two of the thirteen Roger Brook novels (if you include The Lusty adventures….) didn't start with the the word 'The'. See if you can remember what they were!!!
Newspaper comment’s for ‘The Shadow of Tyburn Tree.
“An inborn knack for telling exciting stories”
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
“Mr Wheatley combines history and hearsay in the sprightliest way”
Ralph Strauss in THE SUNDAY TIMES
“I look forward with pleasure to the spectacle of Roger Brook turning the Scarlet Pimpernel pale pink”
Howard Spring in THE SUNDAY GRAPHIC