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The Congress of Vienna

I decided to set part of TO TEMPT A RAKE at the Congress of Vienna, a diplomatic gathering which convened in the fall of 1814 to reorganize Europe after Napoleon’s exile to Elba. Why? Because it's the perfect setting for romance, intrigue and mystery. Emperors, kings, princes, margraves, powerful government ministers and their entourages all flocked to the Austrian capital to make peace . . . and to make love (not necessarily in that order!) Yes, there were serious discussions on borders, political alliances and other such issues. However, the royals and all the others had come not just to work but to play!

And play they did! Vienna was THE ultimate party town at the time. Anybody who was anybody wanted to be there, to rub shoulders (and other unmentionable body parts) with the kings, princes, emperors and other high profile celebrities.
The Emperor of Austria hosted many of the dignitaries at his magnificent castle, and his poor aides spent countless hours trying to figure out the room assignments, taking into account who was sleeping with whom, so that late night tiptoeing through the corridors wouldn’t result in any embarrassing trip-ups.
Glittering balls, sumptuous banquets, fanciful medieval jousts, spectacular fireworks—the daily list of extravagant entertainments was mind-boggling. Party girls Princess Bagration and the Duchess of Sagan (who was having a torrid affair with Prince Metternich, the head of the Conference) vied with each other to see who could attract the most influential men to their soirees. As for other pleasures, well, let’s just say they all were intent on having a good time. In fact, the Tsar of Russia—a notorious skirtchaser—had to have a whole new wardrobe sent from St. Petersburg because he gained so much weight partying every night! (We girls can sympathize with that!)

Here’s are just a few of my favorite parties from the months of non-stop entertainment:

The Emperor’s Ball
The Emperor of Austria hosted a welcoming ball for the international array of royalty and diplomats . . . One of the “decorations” was having the Duchess of Sagan and 23 of her friends come dressed as the Four Elements: Six ladies dressed as Water, wearing blue and green dresses festooned with pearls, coral and seashells. Six wore bright red dresses and carried torches to represent Fire. Six wore thin, nearly transparent gauzy dresses and wore wings to be Air. And lastly, representing Earth, the Duchess and her group wore brown velvet dresses and headdresses made out of golden baskets filled with jeweled fruit!

The Carousel

This recreation of a medieval joust, held at the famous Spanish Riding School (where the white Lipizzaner horses traditionally were trained) was perhaps the most spectacular party of them all. Glittering chandeliers and thousands of candles lit the indoor arena. At one end was an imperial grandstand with gilded chairs for all the royal guests. The other end was for the “Queens of Love,” 24 ladies who had been selected to be the tournament’s belles d’amour for the 24 “knights” who, mounted on matching black chargers, jousted to win their favor. Around 1200 spectators, including ambassadors, diplomats and high-ranking officials packed the remaining seats, and the display of jewelry and sumptuous dresses worn by the ladies was said to be dazzling. After a mock combat with lances (only one casualty resulted when Prince Liechtenstein was knocked unconscious from his horse) the crowd returned to the Emperor of Austria’s palace for a banquet where acrobats, minstrels and jugglers entertained the guests.

Now I ask you, what could be a more perfect setting for a sexy historical romance that combines seduction and intrigue.

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

Prince Metternich of Austria

The Peace Ball

The Spanish Riding School

The Duchess of Sagan

Metternich's study

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France

The Duke of Wellington of Great Britian

The Emperor of Austria

A satirical cartoon depicting the leaders of the Congress

One of the many lavish balls

The King of Prussia