Napoleon’s agents in Regency England: Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow

Blame it on Yvette! There I was thinking that I was through with Georgette Heyer and her Regency romances but she wrote one interesting post after another so that finally I caved in, picked up one, and read it at one go (though the review is much delayed) . To my surprise, The Reluctant Widow turned out to be not so much a romance as an espionage mystery set in an England where memories of the French revolution are still fresh and agents of Napoleon Bonaparte are scouting the countryside.

Elinor Rochdale is a young woman forced to find employment after the death of her father. On her way to becoming a governess, she gets into a wrong carriage and finds herself at Highnoons, a decaying country-house. Over there, she meets the suave and sophisticated Edward Carlyon and hears the strangest proposal of her life. Edward wants her to marry his dissolute cousin Eustace Cheviot. His reason is that he doesn’t want to inherit Eustace’s estate which he’d be compelled if the young man remains unmarried. Totally astounded, Elinor refuses to compile. Enter Nicky, Edward’s younger brother who informs them that he got into a duel with Eustace and has fatally injured him. Compelled by circumstances and reasons she is unwilling to admit even to herself, Elinor consents to marry the dying man. In a few hours thus she becomes a wife, then a widow, and the mistress of the crumbling Hihgnoons.

Her first night in her new house is strange and unsettling. Hearing a noise, she gets up to investigate and finds herself face to face with a stranger. The man is dumbfounded when she tells him of the death of Eustace and her marriage to him. Mumbling apologies, he withdraws. Only later does she think about how he had gained entry into the house with all the doors being securely locked. When she narrates the incident to the Carlyon brothers, young Nicky immediately senses an adventure. Meanwhile, another of the Carlyon brothers, John returns home with the news that an important memorandum detailing Wellington’s campaign for the spring has gone missing. There are fears that there is a traitor among those at the Horse Guards. When Elinor recalls that the stranger had a french accent, Nicky imagines that the document is somewhere in the house and that man was an agent of Napoleon who would come again to collect it. That night he lays down a trap for the man. Everybody more or less is dismissive of it till an intruder enters, there are shots in the dark and Nicky is injured. Suddenly the notion doesn’t seem too fanciful.

Meanwhile things get further complicated with the entry of Lord Bedlington and his son Francis Cheviot, relatives of the dead man. Then a murder occurs and suddenly the stakes become very high. So where exactly is the document, was the intruder of the second night the stranger of the first night, who is the murderer, what agenda do Bedlington and his son have, and what exactly is the game that Edward Carlyon is playing?

Reading a Heyer after a long time, I enjoyed the book. Thank you Yvette.


First Line: It was dusk when the London to Little Hampton stage-coach lurched into the village of Billingshurst, and a cold mist was beginning to creep knee-high over the dimly seen countryside.

Title: The Reluctant Widow

Author: Georgette Heyer

Publication Details: London: Heinemann, 1962

First Published: 1946

Pages: 306

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Black Moth.

Trivia: The book was made into a movie in 1950.


Old and new copies of the book are available on the Net. I borrowed the book from the college library. [823.91 H 512 R]


Submitted for various challenges.

10 thoughts on “Napoleon’s agents in Regency England: Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow

  1. Oooh, ooooh, this sounds so wonderful, Neer! I've never read this one. I'm going to get my hands on a used copy immediately if not sooner. THANKS SO MUCH for cluing me in. How did I miss this???


  2. I've only read a couple of her contemporary-set mysteries from the 30s but this sounds like an intersteting combination of her styles, or modes – thanks Neeru – shall seek it out. What with you and Yvette spreading the good word, who could resist?


  3. Neeru – What an intriguing-sounding story! I'm not as familiar with Heyer's historical novels, but this one sounds irresistible. There goes my TBR (*sigh*) 😉


  4. This sounds very interesting, I read some of the mysteries previously and plan to re-read all of those, but this one sounds like one I would really like. I am glad you discovered it so I can benefit.


  5. Thanks Sergio. Actually the romance in this is practically non-existent. Suddenly in the end there is a declaration of love, more like an after-thought than a valid conclusion.


  6. Well it does have some delightful passages, Margot, and a fair enough mystery. I don't know how many books you have added to my T.B.R list so I am glad. 🙂


  7. You are welcome,Tracy, That's the best part of having blogging friends, one can benefit from each others readings.:)I haven't read any of her mysteries but since you plan to re-read them, I think I'll also try them.


  8. This is the first Heyer I ever read and remains my absolute favorite–I've read it three times, and have at least that many rereads planned for the future! I really like the characters–Eleanor is wonderful, but the Carlyon brothers, especially Nicky, are so much fun. Great plot twists too. Don't you just love those covers? I have the first one you showed and it always makes me smile. I've heard the movie is dreadful, btw. Nothing like the book.


  9. Welcome to the blog Jane GS.I too remember my first Heyer The Black Moth with a great deal of affection. This book was interesting because I was reading a Heyer after a very long time. My favourite character is Francis Cheviot – who would not step out of his room unshaven even though the whole house might be on fire. :)These covers are far better than some of the recent ones I saw. Apparently the movie didn't do well at all unlike the book which in a very short span of time went for a number of reprints.Thanks for the visit. Do come again.


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