The first and most important step in writing The Royal We was obviously creating our central characters — fleshing out Nick, Bex, Lacey, Freddie, the friends and enemies they make. But we also needed a Queen. And she needed a family. So we needed to change history.
We’re frequently asked why, in the face of that obstacle, we didn’t just set the book in a country we invented out of whole cloth. For whatever reason, that never crossed our minds. The Royal We needed to feel grounded, because at its crux is the push and pull between an ordinary person and her extraordinary situation, and the potential sacrifice of one for the other. Her world therefore had to be relatable. Familiar. She had to be walking the streets of a real city so that the reader could truly put themselves in her shoes, and empathize with the divide between where she came from and where she went. But more importantly, a huge part of the story is Nick’s destiny. He is going to be king. And that reality, and the burden it puts on him, has so much more heft when the reader brings into the story a knowledge of what that means. Socially, politically, even just terrestrially. In the wonderful FitzOsbournes trilogy by Michelle Cooper, about the family that rules the fictional island of Montmaray off the coast of the UK, an imaginary country works because it’s not REALLY about that; at its core the trilogy is the story of a close-knit group of kids who grew up in bizarre isolation, and then had the sanctity of their unit threatened by the various dangers of World War II (and in fact, even that trilogy eventually forsakes Montmaray for England’s richer tapestry). Those books explore what happens when the world encroaches on you. The Royal We is the reverse, a story about a girl who encroaches on a world. Bex falls in love with a man who just so happens to have another marriage in the hopper — to his birthplace — that is bigger than anyone could possibly imagine. She chose England the first time with just the weight of her own desires and expectations at stake, but when she chose it again, it was a heavier decision. Using the UK in this situation gives readers an innate understanding of just how big a deal, and how explosive a pressure-cooker, that choice is.
Besides, let’s face it, setting the book in London gave us ample and irresistible chances to color the story with actual landmarks, traditions, and references to Henry VIII. Sold.
Creating our fictional Lyons dynasty, however, wasn’t as simple as just pulling Queen Eleanor’s name out of a hat and then making up the rest as we went. That’s a quick way to make a tangled web that won’t unravel. Offhand mentions of random royal relatives would start to step on each other, and risked disconnecting readers from a world where the pieces not only didn’t seem to fit together, but felt like they were pulled from different puzzles. What we had to do was, in essence, our homework. Like using scratch paper in math to work out a problem so that you can fill in the right answer on your exam, even if your teacher never gets to marvel at how you arrived there. We knew we wouldn’t be able to show our work via a full and lengthy Lyons timeline at the front of The Royal We — in our first draft, our attempt accounted for a full five Microsoft Word pages, so we had to slice-and-dice — but in order to thread our narrative with allusions to Eleanor’s ancestors, every reference had to ring accurate. If it didn’t feel true to us, it wouldn’t feel true to the reader.
The trick became tweaking events in the UK’s actual monarchical timeline so that it afforded us exactly the right amount of space. Cut it too close, and we’d cross streams with the Windsors of today; erase too much, and we’d wipe out crucial elements of what makes the UK what it is. We wanted some room to create our own rulers with big romances and zany deaths, but we had to do it without abundance of real Edwards and Georges in the way — yet also without losing too much of Britain’s fabric, or London’s architecture and landmarks. Delete Victoria, and it deletes Albert, which zaps out Royal Albert Hall and the gargantuan golden monument to him that she built after he died. Poof: one grand romantic gesture stricken from the record. It’s a domino effect. Besides, we were already contending with minutiae like the fact that our characters would refer to Queen Elizabeth I as simply Queen Elizabeth, because the regnal number isn’t added until there is more than one, and of course, in The Royal We there is no QEII. In short, there was only so much of the past we could twist without making pretzels of our brains and of British history.
In the end, we chose to keep Queen Victoria, but make two critical changes to her immediate successor(s) — we prematurely eliminated a son, and revived a grandson — so that it created a completely fresh crew (and eventually gave her the regnal number we took away from Elizabeth I).
Oh, and a word about names: We strove to christen our characters in a way that was at least somewhat in keeping with history — we threaded in connections for a few where we needed them, like as middle names, or Frederick and Richard being actual ducal family names for the one we revived for Queen Victoria II’s husband — but which didn’t step on the names of current royals or on any of the kings we eradicated. So, for example, we couldn’t invent a new George, because he’d have been George V, which easily would be confused with the ACTUAL George V that we had eliminated from the timeline. Ditto making a new fictional Edward VIII. Further, we couldn’t invent a Charles, because he’d have been King Charles III in our book, which is the same number the real Charles may be someday (unless he styles himself George VIII or something) and that would create similar confusion in the future. And William and Harry/Henry we stayed away from for obvious reasons, although with William, it’s also the same monarchical issue of not wanting to make up a William V that would someday cross streams with the eventual William V (if that’s what he chooses for himself). Finally, we realized hearing the names of ANY of the present-day crew would take you out of the book because it’s so hard not to picture their faces, so we struck Edward, George, Andrew, Anne, Elizabeth, and Philip from the list. Fun fact: Prince Edwin was originally named Prince George, until we read through the first draft and realized that every time we saw his name we pictured the new little moppet and his CHEEKS.
Here’s our timeline, created with help from my research star of a sister, including children, spouses, deaths, and other historical notes explaining certain decisions we made. There are NO book spoilers herein, but there are in the comments, so beware if you’ve not read the entire book.
HOUSE OF HANOVER: 1714-1901
Georges I through IV, 1714-1830
William IV, 1830-1857
Queen Victoria I: 1837-1901
- Spouse: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
- Children: Victoria (1840), Albert Edward (1841), Alice (1843), Alfred (1844), Helena (1846), Louise (1848), Arthur (1850), Leopold (1853), Beatrice (1857)
- Albert Edward, Prince of Wales: Assassinated in 1900; never succeeds his mother
- Spouse: Alexandra of Denmark
- Children: Prince Albert Victor (1864), George (1865), Louise (1867), Victoria (1868), Maud (1869), Alexander (1871)
- Death: Assassinated in Belgium by a protester of the Boer War, worsening relations between the United Kingdom and the continent
- Notes: In real life, Albert Edward, a.k.a. Bertie, survived the assassination attempt and became Edward VII. This was our first big reversal of real events.
HOUSE OF SAXE-COBURG-GOTHA: 1901-1916
King Albert: 1900-1916
- Spouse: Georgina Lyons-Bowes (name chosen as a loving nod to the real Queen Mum, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon), 1885. Albert falls ill with typhoid in early 1884, which freaks out the royal family because that’s what actually did kill Victoria’s Albert. Georgina is instrumental in nursing him back to health, and they fall in love. It causes a minor scandal because Georgina is not the high-profile foreign princess the world would’ve expected for the heir, but the royal family and nation are so grateful for her aid in Albert’s survival — and, her family is sufficiently upmarket — that the furor quickly subsides.
o Princess Victoria Eleanor, born 1886
o Prince Arthur Edwin Alexander, born 1889
o Prince Charles Richard George, born 1891, d. 1918
- Historical note: In real life, Albert Victor actually died young of pneumonia, and a devastated Victoria honored him with a large and loving tomb at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor (when we passed it on our tour, I said to Jess, “See this? NONE of it exists in our book”). He was engaged at the time to Mary of Teck, who — while recovering from their mutual grief, in what was by all accounts a genuine accident of affection — fell in love with Albert’s brother George and married him instead. George also filled Albert’s role as heir, later becoming George V, a.k.a. Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather.
- Dynastic change: Having nursed Albert so successfully, Georgina as Queen Consort becomes a prominent advocate for health causes, hospitals, nurses, etc., and often visits the sick and wounded – which endears her to the people and naturally leads to her brave and unprecedented journey abroad to comfort the WWI wounded. En route, she is killed, another casualty of war. With a heavy wariness of the Germans already fomenting on his home shores, Albert harnesses his grief and that of his country and changes the dynastic name from his grandfather’s Saxe-Coburg and Gotha — thus distancing Britain’s rulers from their German roots — to Lyons. It’s both in honor of his late wife, and a homophone with the three lions that feature twice on the Royal Standard flag (and once on the England football jerseys).
- Death: His broken heart drove him mad, and eventually to his grave.
- Notes: In real life, George V changed the dynastic name to Windsor (and stripped 15 German relatives of their British titles) purely for political reasons. Per Wikipedia: “High anti-German sentiment amongst the people of the British Empire during World War I reached a peak in March 1917, when the Gotha G.IV, a heavy aircraft capable of crossing the English Channel, began bombing London directly and became a household name. In the same year, on 15 March, King George’s first cousin, Nicholas II, the Emperor of Russia, was forced to abdicate, which raised the spectre of the eventual abolition of all the monarchies in Europe. The King and his family were finally convinced to abandon all titles held under the German Crown and to change German titles and house names to anglicised versions.” Hilariously, Wikipedia also says, “In reference to Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, German Emperor Wilhelm II remarked jokingly that he planned to see The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” Oh, Wilhelm, you joker.
HOUSE OF LYONS: 1916-present
King Albert: 1916-1917
King Arthur I: 1917-1919
- Spouse: None
- Engagement(s): Grand Duchess Olga of Russia (b. 1895). Arthur drags his feet on making it official because he is in love with his best friend’s wife. Then World War I does the rest of the work, making the union logistically impossible for a time. The engagement stands because it’s considered such a desirable match, but then Olga is assassinated in 1918 before she can get to London to say her vows. Thus, Arthur is free to marinate in his romantic depression.
- Children: None
- Death: Pneumonia, on the official record, but per the Lyons lore it was booze and unrequited passion.
- Historical notes: Olga of Russia, oldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, is a real person, and that is her real death. We just borrowed her for this purpose.
Queen Victoria II: 1919-1957
- Succeeds her childless brother Arthur at age 33
- Spouse: Married in 1907 to Frederick Sackville-Germain, 8th Duke of Dorset
- Romances: Crown Prince Sigmund of Germany
o Prince Arthur Frederick Edwin, born 1909
o Prince Richard Charles Nicholas, born 1910
o Princess Mary Victoria Louise, born 1912
- Notes: First owner of the Lyons Emerald, given to her by her father on the occasion of her wedding. … In reality, the Dukedom of Dorset became extinct in 1843 when the 5th Duke, Charles Sackville-Germain, died unmarried and childless. Traditional Dorset/Sackville family names actually and helpfully do include Frederick and Richard.
King Arthur II: 1957-1958
- Spouse: Princess Ingeborg Christina of Denmark (born 1911).
- Children: None
- Death: falls off his horse.
- Notes: Ingeborg is a fictional daughter of King Christian X — himself the brother of the Norwegian king, so it’d be considered a suitable match for an heir.
King Richard IV: 1958-1960
- Spouse: Princess Marta Eleanora of Sweden (born 1912)
o Princess Eleanor Alexandra, born 1933
o Princess Georgina Elizabeth Agatha, born 1935
- Death: boat accident (as Nick points out to Bex, Lyons kings have an unfortunate tendency towards fatal idiocy)
- Notes: Marta is the fictional second daughter of King Gustaf IV.
Queen Eleanor: 1960-present
- Spouse: Married in 1954 to Henry Nicholas Vane, 7th Duke of Cleveland
o Princess Agatha Mary, born 1955
o Prince Richard Phillip Christian, born 1956
o Prince Edwin George Albert, born 1959
- Notes: The Dukedom of Cleveland actually became extinct in 1891 when the 4th Duke died with no (legitimate) heirs. We chose a homegrown consort, so to speak, because rumor has it the Brits actually hoped for the same with Queen Elizabeth II — and picking someone from Greece would’ve been too close to reality, Russia too controversial, and Scandinavia, too close to Eleanor’s lineage.
THE NEXT GENERATION
- Spouse: The Hon. Julian de la Poer
- Child: Nigel de la Poer (b. 1993)
Richard, Prince of Wales
- Spouse: Married in 1985 to Lady Emma Somers (b. 1965), daughter of Charles, 7th Earl Somers
o Prince Nicholas Alexander Arthur Edward, born August 1986
o Prince Frederick Charles Richard, born April 1988
Notes: Google “Earl Somers” to see why we chose that name…
- Unmarried as of the beginning of The Royal We.