An Interview with Erica Vetsch,
Author of The Indebted Earl
Erica Vetsch brings her much beloved Serendipity & Secrets series to a close with the highly anticipated release of The Indebted Earl (Kregel Publications). This latest installment tells the story of Lady Sophia Haverly, the free-spirited and energetic younger sister of Marcus Haverly readers will remember from The Gentleman Spy, and Captain Charles Wyvern, a longtime naval officer trying to find his footing on dry land.
Q: The Indebted Earl is the final release in your Serendipity & Secrets series. Can you give us a recap of the series up to this point and introduce us to your new book?
The Serendipity & Secrets series is three books about three men who come into titles unexpectedly and the women who capture their hearts. In The Lost Lieutenant, a soldier is granted an earldom as a reward for bravery on the field of battle . . . but he is suffering from partial amnesia and cannot remember what he did to earn the title. In The Gentleman Spy, the new Duke of Haverly is wrestling with keeping separate his public life as a duke of the realm and his secret life as a spy for the Crown. And in The Indebted Earl, a naval captain inherits a title and an estate, three young wards, and the care of his late best friend’s fiancé and mother, all while trying to get back to his life at sea.
Three unexpected titles, three unexpected marriages, and three stories of secrets, love, and testing whether God is truly sovereign.
Q: Both Lady Sophia Haverly and Captain Charles Wyvern feel a responsibility to care for someone that is left behind. From where does that sense of duty come?
Lady Sophia’s care of her fiancé’s mother is born out of her love for him. She was also instilled from birth with the social customs of noblesse oblige. As a woman of noble birth, she has an obligation to live up to that nobility by behaving nobly. While her fiancé is at war, he has entrusted her with the care and companionship of his mother, Lady Richardson. Sophie is delighted with the responsibility, because it allows her to demonstrate her love, and it gives her a bit of freedom that living in her older brother’s household would not afford.
Captain Wyvern naturally shoulders responsibility for his ship and his crew. As the leader, everyone under his command is also under his care. This responsibility extends to the dependents of his crew, including the fiancée of his late best friend. Charles feels he bears the blame for his friend’s death, and he must attempt to make some sort of amends. His natural leadership abilities cause him to throw his mantel of responsibility over Lady Sophia, Lady Richardson, the three waifs who wash up on his shore, and the estate and community he’s inherited.
Q: What is Sophie struggling with spiritually in The Indebted Earl? Is Charles facing something similar?
Sophie struggles with the idea that God is both good and sovereign. It’s easy to accept one or the other, but both? How can God be good when He’s taken her beloved fiancé away? How can He be sovereign when bad things happen? How can she trust in His plan when it seems everything is spinning out of control?
Charles’s struggle is similar in that he is all about control, about ordering his life according to his plan, but with the cessation of war, he is on the beach without a command. And he’s carrying a tremendous weight of guilt over the death of Major Richardson. Did God make a mistake, having Rich die in his place? What Charles wants—to continue his naval career—is both noble and reasonable. Why won’t God make it happen?
Both Sophie and Charles are learning to trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God’s plans, and realizing that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are higher than ours.
Q: Marcus tries to get Sophie to come back to Haverly Manor with him after her fiancé dies. Would a single woman in her situation during the Regency period have the choice to live on her own?
It would be difficult for an unmarried woman in the Regency era to live on her own. Though Sophie had the financial means to live independently, it would have been considered improper for her to live alone. However, for her to continue to live with Lady Richardson, as her companion and friend, was entirely proper.
Though Marcus is acting out of an abundance of compassion and brotherly concern, Sophie is reluctant to return to his home. She’s reluctant to give up the freedom she’s gained, as well as reluctant to live in a house where everyone will be watching her grieve. She wants to remain at Primrose Cottage with Lady Richardson.
Q: How does the Captain find himself becoming Earl Rothwell? Is he eager to adapt to the new role?
Charles’s parents were estranged from his family before he was born, and there was an heir closer in line to the earldom than he, so he never expected to inherit the title. But when his cousin, the heir, is revealed to be a traitor to the Crown and is killed, Charles is next in line. He’s never met his uncle, the old earl, and his uncle has never shown the slightest interest in his nephew.
Charles has made a fine career for himself in the Royal Navy, and though the war has ended and many ship captains are without commands and looking for work, Charles is determined to continue a life on the sea. He knows nothing about managing an estate and cannot even ride a horse, having gone to sea as a child. He is a reluctant peer, but his life aboard ship has equipped him in some nonobvious ways to be at the helm of an estate.
Q: Can you give us a quick lesson in peerage and the hierarchy of society during this time period?
There are five ranks of nonroyal peerage in Britain: duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron, in descending order of rank. Most titles were entailed, meaning they passed from father to son, or to the next closest male in the lineage. Often a peer would also hold subsidiary titles at the same time, and his heir would be given use of one of the lesser titles as a courtesy. For example, an earl may also hold the subsidiary title of viscount, and while the earl is alive, his son would use the lesser title of viscount until he came into his inheritance.
The British aristocracy during the Regency period was quite small compared to the entire population of England. The government was divided into the House of Lords (where one must be a member of the peerage to have a seat) and the House of Commons, which was open to any elected official. Land was most often owned by members of the peerage. As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, more and more commoners became wealthy, which caused some friction. As the wealth of a member of the peerage declined, they might look outside their exclusive set to marry some of that new money.
Q: All of your leading men in the series end up with titles and responsibilities they weren’t expecting. Within moments of arriving at his new home, Charles’s new responsibilities multiply. Can you tell us about the surprise he receives?
Charles finds himself as the guardian to three young girls, sisters who were born on the estate. His uncle, the previous earl, had, for reasons of his own, taken on the orphaned girls as his wards and paid for them to go to boarding school. But at his death, the girls were returned to the estate.
The eldest is nearing womanhood and is a romantic, eager to fall in love and bewildering to Charles. The second is a daredevil, tomboy, and adventuress in whom Charles sees glimpses of his younger self. And the third is a girl barely six summers old, who is fascinated by Charles and imitates him at every turn. He’s not certain which of the girls scares him most, and as a collective, they have that crusty old sea captain shaking in his boots.
Q: Charles is comfortable leading a ship full of men but finds himself in a house full of women. Does the very stern military officer become a softy?
As a captain in the Royal Navy, Charles has been trained to show no softness, no weakness. Conditions were harsh aboard ship, discipline strict, and the dangers of nonconformity very real. In addition, he’s not spent much time around women in general and none at all around girls. He mistrusts their giggling, crying, emotion, and, above all, what he sees as their lack of discipline.
But as he is exposed to them and their bewildering array of emotions, they each in their own way begin to break down those walls of sternness and discipline, teaching him that kindness and love will not make him vulnerable but, instead, make him stronger than he’s ever been.
Q: Charles ends up proposing a marriage of convenience. What are the benefits of the arrangement for each of them?
Charles’s reasoning is threefold. If he marries Sophie, he can begin to pay some of the debt he believes he owes to her because of her fiancé’s death. He feels responsible for her grief, and if he can take on the responsibility of being her husband in name only, he can see that she is properly cared for. In addition, he would have someone who was properly trained to run an estate house, taking care of his property while he returns to his life at sea. And, finally, it would solve the problem of what to do with the girls. Rather than being sent to an orphanage, which he isn’t comfortable with, or back to another boarding school, which the girls don’t want, they would be able to stay on the estate under Sophie’s care. It all makes perfect sense to him.
For Sophie, marrying Charles would mean she was the one in charge of settling her future, not her matchmaking mama, who intends to find her a husband as soon as it is respectable to do so. It would mean she could maintain the freedom she so dearly loves, she could continue to care for Lady Richardson, who is in the early stages of dementia, and she could keep the girls, whom she has come to dearly love. Though her heart will always belong to Baron Richardson, marrying Captain Wyvern would give her much in the way of stability and freedom.
Q: Something doesn’t seem quite right with the staff at Gateshead and the surrounding village. What does Charles pick up on? What trouble does he find himself in?
Charles encounters inconsistencies in the behavior of those on the estate and in the nearby town. The town is more prosperous than he anticipated, people have possessions he didn’t expect, and there are signs that something is amiss. His steward has little talent in organization and leadership, and the accounts are a tangle. Much blame is put on the previous earl’s eccentricities, but is that enough to explain what’s going on?
What he suspects is that he’s stumbled across a smuggling ring. With an estate on the coast, bringing in contraband goods by sea was too easy for the inhabitants to resist. England had been at war with France for many long years, and no French goods were to be imported. However, there were those willing to risk the consequences and bring merchandise into the country illegally. When Charles vows to act on his suspicions, he finds himself under arrest!
Q: Captain Wyvern and Lieutenant Evan Eldridge (from The Lost Lieutenant) fought in the Peninsular War. Did you need to do a lot of research on the war and specifically on the different branches of the British military for the series?
There was definitely some research involved, as there always is when writing historical fiction. I first had to ground myself in the basics of the Napoleonic Wars, who were the major players, where did the major battles take place, and what was the general timeline. Fortunately, there are many resources available. I wanted Evan Eldridge to be a sharpshooter from the 95th Rifles, so I needed to pick a battle in which the 95th was involved and study the terrain, the battle lines, and the tactics in order to recreate it in his mind. There was also a bit of study into the medical treatments of the day and what they did with men who were suffering what we now know as PTSD, but at the time they knew even less about it.
The Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars was a completely different animal to the land battles of the Peninsular War. The jargon is so specific: the ships, the ranks, the rigging, the battle tactics. I was able to immerse myself in the work of Patrick O’Brian. I was able to find a book called Nelson’s Navy by Brian Lavery that gave wonderful overviews of life aboard a naval vessel.
Research both solidifies and uncovers new story lines for me. I get lots of inspiration and ideas from research, learning about a particular era or battle or place and then asking those what-if questions that lead to building a story.
Q: Last year you had your first research trip to England planned that, of course, got postponed. Are you planning an even bigger and better trip for the future?
I am! Though nothing is set just yet, I am planning to get to England. My list of must-see places continues to grow at an alarming rate. Hopefully, with the pandemic reducing in severity, world travel will again become an option for more people, and I will be winging my way to England to experience all the places I now read about.
Included on my itinerary are some places that are found in the Serendipity & Secrets series: Hatchards bookstore, Hyde Park, Oxfordshire, and Portsmouth to name only a few. And hopefully a few places that will inspire new stories.
Q: Will you be sad to let this trilogy—your first Regency series—go? What can readers look forward to next?
There’s such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing this series completed, but to answer your question . . . YES! I am so reluctant to let these stories and characters go that I’m bringing some of them back in my new series, the Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries!
The first book, The Debutante’s Code, should arrive in the fall of 2021 and features Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street Runner Daniel Swann in a fast-paced tale of intrigue, espionage, and art thievery!
Q: Where can Regency fans go to interact and talk about books on Facebook?
I am thrilled that we have a place on Facebook to discuss all things inspirational Regency romance. There is a lively and growing community of readers that can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2568745689914759. We have contests, giveaways, polls, notices of sales, reviews, and much more, and we’re always welcoming new members.
Learn more about Erica Vetsch and her books at www.ericavetsch.com. She can also be found on Facebook (@EricaVetschAuthor) and Instagram (@EricaVetsch).