My story, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst,” is heavily influenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Many of the characters names, for example, derive from the poem. However, in Longfellow’s narrative, John Alden speaks to Priscilla Mullins because his friend, Miles Standish, wishes to marry Priscilla. In the Longfellow poem, Standish simply wishes to marry Priscilla because his wife, Ruth, has died, and, obviously, at the Plymouth Colony, few English women were available. Yet, it is John Alden who loves Priscilla, and, astutely, she loves John in return.
I did not want my story to follow Longfellow’s tale too closely, just to be influenced by it. Why? You may ask. The reason this tale has captured my attention all over again is John Alden, the Assistant Governor of Plymouth Colony, is my 10th Great Grandfather on my maternal side through Alden’s daughter Rebecca.
Alden was born in approximately 1599, most likely in Harwich, Essex, England. Although there are several other possibilities for his heritage, the Aldens of Harwick were related by marriage to the Mayflower‘s master Christopher Jones. Alden would have been about 21 years of age when he hired to be the cooper (barrel-maker) for the voyage. Once those aboard the Mayflower reached America, Alden chose to remain rather than to return to England. Priscilla Mullins, the woman he eventually married was from Dorking, Surrey, England. Her parents, William and Alice Mullins, and her brother Joseph, all died during their first winter at Plymouth.
As members of the original voyage, both Alden and Priscilla held shares in the company financing the establishment of Plymouth Colony. Priscilla’s shares were many due to the deaths of her family members. John Alden was elected an assistant to the Colony’s governor in 1631. “He was one of the men who purchased the joint-stock company from its English shareholders in 1626, and was involved in the company’s trading on the Kennebec River. [In 1626, the colony’s financial backers in London, known as the Merchant Adventurers, disbanded. This left the colonists in a quandary as to how to settle their significant debts to those who had funded the effort. Eight of the Plymouth colonists, including John Alden, agreed to collectively assume, or undertake, the debt in exchange for a monopoly on the fur trade from the colony. These men who averted financial ruin for the colony became known as the ‘Undertakers.’ The fact Alden was among them is indicative of his growing stature in the colony.] John Alden, along with Myles Standish and several other Plymouth Colonists, founded the town of Duxbury to the north of Plymouth. Evidence suggests the men began constructing their houses as early as 1629.
About 1653, he, along with his son Captain Jonathan Alden,built the Alden House, which is still standing and is maintained by the Alden Kindred of America. By the 1660s, John and Priscilla Alden had a growing family of ten children [Elizabeth, John, Joseph, Priscilla, Jonathan, Sarah, Ruth, Mary, Rebecca, and David]. Combined with his numerous public service duties (which were mostly unpaid positions) he was left in fairly low means. He petitioned and received from the Plymouth Court various land grants, which he distributed to his children throughout the 1670s. He died in 1687 at the age of 89, one of the last surviving Mayflower passengers.” (Mayflower History)
The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst
What happens when a lady falls in love, not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?
Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst since her birth. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, which it has, but that ending is not what the reader anticipates.
Cilla knocked on the door to her father’s study. “You sent for me, Papa?” She knew quite well what the subject of today’s meeting was to be, for she had observed the marquess’s mark on the express delivered a half hour removed to her father on a silver salver. Ironically, she had been raised with a strong sense of independence, but, today, she was to be maneuvered into accepting a man she had never met—to be the pawn in a chess match where everyone would win, but her.
“Come in, Priscilla. I have additional news from Lord Blackhurst.”
She swallowed her sigh of resignation as she made herself do as her dear Papa said; yet, she was not pleased with the situation. Until Lord Blackhurst had shocked her by sending word to her father that he was prepared to meet the arrangements between the marquess’s family and hers and marry her, Cilla had only heard mention of the man and his family because one of the marquessate’s many properties marched along with her father’s main estate.
Most assuredly, she had heard more than a few tales of the previous Marquess of Blackhurst. Lord Robert Keyes had been her father’s most loyal chum growing up in this part of Yorkshire, and Lord Edward Keenan had often sung the man’s praises. Since learning of the arrangement between her father and Robert, 10th Marquess of Blackhurst, Cilla had often thought if her prospective groom had been the father, instead of the son, she would have held no qualms about marrying the man. Even if only half of her father’s tales were true, there was much to admire in the former marquess.
His son, however, possessed quite a different reputation. Unbending. Sanctimonious. Harsh. Empty of humor. Being forced to marry a man she could not respect was beyond the pale. “Has his lordship changed his mind about taking a complete stranger to wife?”
Her father looked up from the letter resting upon his desk and frowned. “Do you realize how fortunate you are? You are a mere ‘miss,’ the daughter of a baron. His lordship’s agreement to marry you is a rare opportunity for one of your station. Customarily, a duke or a marquess would court daughters of earls—women who are addressed as ‘Lady So-and-So,’ not ‘Miss Keenan.’ Your marriage to Blackhurst will make you a marchioness, one of the leaders of English society.”
She rarely spoke disrespectfully to her father, who had turned his life upside down to raise his five children properly after the loss of his beloved wife. However, in this matter, Cilla could not agree. “What good will it be to become a marchioness if Lord Blackhurst means to clip my wings? I shall not be allowed my own thoughts on anything more important than the color of a pillow in my favorite drawing room.” She worried if she would be allowed to continue to compose music once she married. She had already sold two pieces to Mr. McFadden in London, and she hoped the fugue she was writing would be the third such piece to know authorship.
“Such nonsense,” her father grumbled. “Blackhurst is not an ogre.”
Her brow crinkled in objection. “In the newsprints, he is depicted as a man with a stick down his trousers and not in the front,” she declared in bold tones.
“Priscilla Rebecca Elizabeth Keenan, I will not tolerate such language in this house! Do you understand me?” her father chastised in sharp tones.
She wished to remind him it was she who oversaw the horse breeding upon the estate and knew something of the nature of stubborn stallions and resistant mares, and she was well aware of what the caricatures meant, but, instead, she bowed her head in submission and said, “Yes, Papa. I beg your forgiveness.” Cilla paused before daring to ask, “When was the last time you laid eyes upon his lordship? Perhaps the man you knew is not the man who has returned to London after years in India.”
Her father’s frown lines deepened in concentration. “Blackhurst was perhaps twelve or thirteen. The last few years of Robert Keyes’s life, the family lived on the property belonging to the late Lady Blackhurst through her marriage settlements. Her ladyship preferred Devon to the wilds of Yorkshire, and Lord Blackhurst adored his wife as much as I did your mother. He allowed her to determine his home seat, but the abbey is Blackhurst’s traditional home.”
“More than seventeen years,” she said triumphantly. “Since reaching his majority and leaving university, the current Lord Blackhurst has spent his years in India. For all we know, he would still be there if his father had not passed. And, might I remind you, that was nearly two years removed. His lordship made no effort to rush home to claim this peerage. We know nothing of the type of man he has become other than the tales found in the newsprints of his years of service to the East India Company, most of which are quite unflattering. I cannot believe you mean to send off your only daughter on the arm of a man who is a complete stranger.”
Turbulent emotions reflected upon his countenance, and Cilla realized he was not as pleased with this arrangement between her family and that of the marquess, as she once thought. Her father sighed heavily. “A contract exists between our families. Would you have me know dishonor? Or ruin? I could not afford a large penalty for breaking the agreement. I have your four brothers to consider.”
“I would have you also consider your only daughter,” she said defiantly.