In Heiresses, I will tell the controversial and fascinating stories of the women whose vast inherited fortunes – colonial wealth, generated by the labour of enslaved people in the Caribbean – were imported by marriage into British society. Their inheritances not only enabled them to marry into the top tiers of the aristocracy, but also attracted impoverished naval officers, soldiers, writers and, on occasion, unscrupulous fortune-hunters. The book will explore the source of their wealth, what happened to the women after they married and how the tainted money was spent on everything from country houses and paintings to foreign travel and paying off gambling debts.
I've been intrigued by the subject even since I encountered Elizabeth Vassall, the larger-than-life heiress to three Jamaican sugar plantations, who married Sir Godfrey Webster of Battle Abbey while I was researching English Heritage properties' links to slavery and abolition back in 2006.
As I told The Bookseller: "It’s fantastic to be given the opportunity to investigate these fascinating women, and expose how their slave-produced wealth came to all corners of Britain, under cover of matrimony. I’ve already found stories of arranged marriages, elopements, great love affairs, adultery, divorce, compulsive gambling, outrageously opulent entertaining, political intrigue, bankruptcy, insanity and suicide. I’m delighted to be working with the outstanding, supportive team at Oneworld again, and looking forward to sharing what I find with the world."
My editor at Oneworld, Sam Carter added: "We are thrilled to be publishing the brilliant and committed Miranda Kaufmann again, and in these stories of real-life Mrs Rochesters she’s found her perfect subject."
Watch this space to find out more as my research progresses...
If you think the book sounds interesting, you may also be interested in the Colonial Countryside project I'm working on with the National Trust, Peepal Tree Press and Corinne Fowler at the University of Leicester, using both children and adult's creative writing to explore ten National Trust properties' links with Caribbean slavery and the East India Company.