Prevented from taking a desperate way out and picked up by a crew of smugglers, Isabelle is quickly forced to re-evaluate everything she thought she knew about her world.
Smuggler’s Kiss is set five years after the events of The Girl in the Mask. There is no overlap of characters or story, but the times are very similar. This is Georgian England; a time of unprecedented development and economic success, but the spoils are not evenly divided. The ruling class have increasingly obscene wealth and can gratify every whim. The rising mercantile class are also doing well and have spare money. The poor have next to nothing and no safety net in hard times other than the parish poor relief; shameful to have recourse to. There is no free education or medical care either and ordinary people have no vote.
1720 was remarkable for the South Sea Bubble and the great crash that followed when it burst. Firstly, all the wealthy people were keen to invest their money and make more. There was a limited availability for stocks or shares in those days, so when the South Sea Company offered shares for sale, a huge number of people rushed to buy them. But the company had sold too many and their business returns were dismal. In the summer of 1720, they crashed and many investors lost everything they had.
In the book, Isabelle’s wealthy family are one of the many who lose their fortune and their home and are left with practically nothing.
The hardship was not confined just to the people who had invested. It brought about hardship for many poor who were dependant on employers and landowners. Unemployment became a real problem, particularly in the rural communities where farm workers were laid off during the winter months.
For many of the poor coastal communities in the England in the Georgian era, smuggling had long been carried on. When life became even tougher, it gained in popularity as a way of staving off starvation. It was also the case that smuggling was best done under cover of darkness and in rough winter weather when the customs officers weren’t so keen to put to sea, which fitted well with the time of year that many were laid off work.
At the same time, the government levied heavy taxes on many luxury goods to raise money for a series of foreign wars, which meant smuggling was all the more worthwhile. There was a great deal of money to be made and the smugglers made it. The illicit trade grew dramatically, often carried on quite openly as there were few officers in place to prevent them. In France, whole warehouses were set up on the coast to supply the smugglers. They sold brandy, for example, in small portable kegs rather than in the usual huge containers that needed to be winched ashore in a port.
The goods that were smuggled included wine, brandy, sherry, tobacco (mainly snuff) fine lace, playing cards, coffee, cocoa and, later, tea and hair powder.
It was mainly farm workers and fishermen who smuggled, but there are lots of stories of gentlemen who took to the trade as well. And there were plenty of women involved, but mainly on land, not at sea.
The smugglers had the support of their whole community, who would protect them by hiding them and their goods and by supplying horses, carts and places to store the smuggled goods. They would also provide alibis and tell cover stories. It was often said that it was impossible to find a local jury who would convict smugglers, even if they were caught and charged with the crime. They did not feel they were doing wrong in breaking laws they had had no part of making in order to feed themselves and their family.