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Albert Duke of Southumbria has recently returned to his ancestral home with his bride, the beautiful Countess Mary Greenelea, Duchess of Southumbria. During his final year at Eaton, and with plans to read law and politics atOxford, the Duke was dispossessed by high death duties following the bad investments made by his father and grandfather.
Taking the name ‘James’, the duke abandoned his plans for Oxford, sold the estate, including Southumbria castle, and found employment incognito as a chauffeur for other nobles. In due course he found himself working for the then Earl of Westumbria, Lord Reginald and his wife Lady Melanie Swinbury. His true identity was soon revealed and with the help of Lord Reginald, who turned out to be a distant cousin, and the further help of Algernon (Algie), Duke of Eastumbria and head of the Privy Council, became known to the Lords and the Monarchy, having discovered treasure beyond imagining that had been long hidden in subterranean chambers.
Mary, the then chambermaid to Lady Melanie, was appointed as personal assistant to the duke and together they discover the old priest’s hiding hole that led to greater finds. They worked tirelessly to achieve the goal of reclaiming the castle and estate at Southumbria and the respect of the monarch and the Lords. The duke and the chambermaid quickly fall passionately in love and as their quest progresses the chambermaid becomes the countess, Westumbria becomes a duchy with the Earl and his Lady becoming the Duke and Duchess.
This process was assisted by Lord Wilfred Swinbury, son and heir of Lord Reginald and Lady Melanie; a forensic pathologist/archeologist from Oxford, Dr Alison Gray, Lord Wilfred’s girl friend and later fiancée; and Professor Percival Venables, Professor of Law at Oxford and lecturer cum friend of Lord Wilfred. Further assistance came from Bensons, a firm of jewellers inOxford. This firm had served both families for more than three hundred years.
Unexpected but invaluable assistance came from Lady Penelope Swinbury, daughter of Lord Reginald and Lady Melanie and sister of Lord Wilfred. Lady Penelope, affectionately known as ‘Penny’, was at the time in her final year at an exclusive ladies college on the outskirts ofOxford. Like her mother, Penny liked to play, and was not particularly fussy who he was. However, when asked to assist in this matter her breeding and education shone like a beacon.
The generosity of the Westumbria and Southumbria families greatly affected Her Majesty and she chose to honour the families without seeking the consent of the Commons. The legalities had been checked both by His Grace the Duke of Eastumbria and by Professor Venables. A constitutional crisis loomed darkly on the horizon, reminiscent of the abdication crisis of 1936 and earlier the execution by the commons of the reigning king! This looming crisis was heightened by the discovery among the treasures of the skeleton of a former Duke of Southumbria who had been assassinated by Cromwellian soldiers while defending that same King! Her Majesty insisted that a proper memorial service be held at the Abbey for the late Duke Robert of Southumbria, followed by interment in the mausoleum at Southumbria.
Thanks to skillful legal work and the support of the Privy Council, the House of Lords and eventually the government, and the fact that the nation would receive untold wealth and not have to pay anything, the crisis was averted. His Royal Highness the Prince, and heir to the throne, became a personal friend of the Duke of Southumbria, knighted those non nobles who had helped make all this happen and received the gift of a magnificent and very ornate Norman sword!
Albert Duke of Southumbria and Countess Mary were married by the archbishop in the presence of both the queen and the prince, heir to the throne, in a most formal and elaborate ceremony at Westumbria Castle. The ceremony and reception included the re-enactment of a medieval tournament on horseback performed in the ancient tilting yard.
Now, returned from a magnificent honeymoon on the French Riviera, accompanied by their personal maid, the Duke and Duchess of Southumbria set about re-establishing Southumbria as a place of monumental importance in the life of the nobility and of the nation and for a very meaningful role in the House of Lords, the Privy Council and at the Palace.
The butler at Westumbria, Braithwaite, while strictly speaking, doing no more than his duty, did so in a way that facilitated everything that happened there. Knowing that the former butler at Southumbria had died and no replacement found, he suggested to the Duke of Southumbria that his nephew, highly trained and very responsible, although a little young still, being in his early forties, would be an excellent choice.
Following discussions with the duchess and her lady in waiting, Jennifer Fortescue (Jenny) who also functioned as overseer of all that is Southumbria, Braithwaite arranges for his nephew to attend for interview at Southumbria. To facilitate matters, Lady Melanie, staying as a guest of the duke (Bertie) and the duchess (Mary), arranges to check up with previous employers. Satisfied that all is as it should be, and with the approval of His Grace Duke of Westumbria, Braithwaite senior agrees to assist his nephew in the early days.
It is agreed that Christmas will be spent at Southumbria by families and most staff from both estates! Sir Jon and Lady Beatrice Benson and Sir Percival Venables will be among the guests, and the guest of honour will be His Royal Highness.
It was apparent from his first visit to Westumbria, that His Royal Highness was fond of both Jenny, lady in waiting to the Duchess of Southumbria, and of Brenda Wynthroppe the beautiful and seductive chambermaid of the Duchess of Westumbria, the equally seductive Lady Melanie. These friendships with the prince were being kept well hidden from all but a few close members of the family. If such news were to reach the public domain, even though at this time the friendships were no more than that, the repercussions would be enormous.
Brenda has a colourful history from her time at Westumbria and her flirtations with the then earl, Lord Regie. It is only through the ministrations of Bertie and Mary that Brenda did not lose her position at Westumbria. Spending a lot of time being guided by Bertie and Mary, and the full cooperation of Brenda, the situation improved. Added to this is the fact that Regie had been chasing Brenda quite openly in front of other servants. In due course the matter was resolved; Melanie came to love Brenda who in turn demonstrated her loyalty to the Westumbrias and her love for Mary and Bertie many times!
In the short time that the prince stayed at Southumbria on that occasion, he spent his free time almost exclusively with Jenny. Brenda was happy to be at the beck and call of the Duke and Duchess of Westumbria. She saw that if she played her cards right she had a bright future there. But she also had other opportunities. While Jenny was occupied with His Royal Highness, Brenda made up the shortfall by caring for the Duke and Duchess of Southumbria. Much of this work was very intimate and she used every chance she had to show Bertie and Mary just how grateful she felt for their earlier help. She did, however, take care to show that gratitude to Bertie only when Mary was also present.
The prince treasured his hours in the arms of Jenny, who was simply pleased to be of service to a man she saw as amazingly gracious. He also gained much support from serious discussions with Bertie and Mary who was showing remarkable insight into the ways of such politics! However, he was also very worried that his mother was performing less and less of her official functions and passing them to him because she was always tired and needed to rest. Bertie, Regie and Algie, discussing this with the prince, became aware of more clouds on the horizon. The new found strength and mutual support among the nobility, especially among the duchies would now be essential. The Lords would require every fibre of the centuries of breeding that made up the fabric of this system.
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