My first two posts here at Romancing the Past focused mostly on the Past aspects of the regency period, so this time I thought I'd look at a little more closely at the Romancing side of things. Most regency fans are familiar with William Makepeace Thackeray, whose most famous work, Vanity Fair, has a regency setting and even hinges on the Battle of Waterloo. But did you know his mother's real life love story was worthy of any regency romance?
Anne Becher was born in 1792 in India and, like many children of East India Company families, was sent to live with relatives in England—specifically her paternal grandmother, also named Anne Becher. The younger Anne grew into a beauty, with dark curly hair, soulful eyes, and a tender, dignified manner. In 1808, when she was 15, she met a handsome 28-year-old lieutenant of the Bengal Engineers, Henry Carmichael-Smyth, at the Assembly Ball in Bath. Henry hailed from a respectable Scottish family; his father, James Carmichael-Smyth, was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and "physician extraordinary" to mad King George III. In a courtship right out of Othello, Henry won Anne's heart with stirring tales of his military service in India.
But Henry was only a younger son, and Anne's grandmother had hopes of a better match for her. Moving quickly to quash the romance, she forbade Anne to see any more of the dashing officer. Since her grandmother's property sat beside a river, a rebellious Anne slipped out of the house and met Henry on the riverbank, where he came by boat to see her. Unfortunately the two were caught together, and Anne's grandmother locked her in her room.
Anne wrote to Henry with the help of a servant, but Mrs. Becher discovered the clandestine correspondence. Taking matters into her own hands, she informed Anne that Henry had died of a sudden fever. Storytelling seems to have run in Thackeray's genes, for Mrs. Becher told Anne the poor dying officer had remembered her with his last breath. Meanwhile, she separately informed Henry that Anne had lost interest in him.
Determined to keep her granddaughter from learning the truth, Mrs. Becher packed Anne off to India. Anne no sooner arrived in Calcutta than the British community there hailed her as a great beauty. A prosperous young East India Company man, Richmond Thackeray, began to court her. The son of a legendary elephant hunter, Thackeray held a prestigious post as Secretary of the Board of Revenue. On October 13, 1810—her eighteenth birthday—Anne became his wife.
Just nine months after the wedding, Anne went into labor with the couple's son, the future author of Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackeray was born with such a large head his mother never entirely recovered, and he was to remain her one and only offspring, though William did have an older half sister from his father's pre-marital dalliance with a mistress.
Five months after William's birth, Richmond Thackeray was promoted to Collector of the 24 Parganas, the district around Calcutta, a position roughly equivalent in Bengal to that of Home Secretary in England. The Thackerays' future looked bright. Then, in 1812, Richmond met "a most delightful officer" and invited him back to his official residence for dinner. Imagine Anne's surprise when the man walked in—and was none other than her first love, the supposedly dead and buried Henry Carmichael-Smyth.Whatever looks passed between Anne and Henry and whatever their feelings for each other may have been—and subsequent events make it clear the two still loved each other—Anne seems to have been a model wife and mother. No rumors or scandal attached to Anne and Henry while Richmond Thackeray remained alive.
United despite all obstacles, the couple remained happily married until Henry's death in 1861, forty-four years later. Anne even outlived her famous son, dying in 1864 on the first anniversary of his death.
The only shadow on Anne's happy ending was that she and Henry were unable to have children together, owing to William Makepeace Thackeray's enormous head.
Alyssa Everett's debut regency, A Tryst With Trouble, is available now for pre-order from Amazon. Her second, Ruined by Rumor, is due out in May. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.