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Radical Reformer of the Regency

1)      Hi! I am so glad to be able to delve into your historical romance. But first, let’s begin with the most obvious question. What is your author name (pen name if you have one)?


Bliss Bennet


2)      Now before you take it away to talk about your topic of interest, what is your book and its blurb?


Not Quite a Scandal

Audacious Ladies of Audley Book 2

Genre: Historical Regency Romance


An inheritance lost. A betrothal threatened. A scandal brewing…

Outspoken Quaker Bathsheba Honeychurch knows how difficult it is for an unmarried woman to successfully champion political change. Her solution? Wed best friend Ash Griffin as soon as he comes of age and begin remaking the world. But when Ash’s urbane, aloof cousin arrives with inconceivable news, Sheba’s future dreams are suddenly at risk…

The death of the Earl of Silliman reveals an appalling lie: it is not Noel Griffin, but his long-lost cousin Ash, who is the true heir to their grandfather’s title. Raised to place family above all, Noel accepts his grandmother’s bitter charge: find Ash, disentangle him from his religious community, and train him to take on the responsibilities and privileges of a title that Noel had been raised to believe was his. Noel certainly won’t allow a presumptuous, irritating Quakeress to thwart him in doing his duty—no matter how fascinating he finds her...

When scandal threatens both their reputations, can Sheba and Noel look beyond past dreams and imagine a new world—together?



3)      Okay! Take it away Bliss!

Elizabeth Heyrick, Radical Reformer of the Regency

On a Gentleman saying that,

Some ladies, who were zealous in the

Anti-Slavery Cause, were brazen faced.


Thanks for your thought—it seems to say

When ladies walk in Duty’s way,

They should wear arms of proof;

To blunt the shafts of manly wit—

To ward off censure’s galling

And keep reproach aloof:—

And when a righteous cause demands

The labour of their hearts and hands,

Right onward they must pass,

Cas’d in strong armour, for the field—

With casque and corselet, spear and shield,

Invulnerable brass.

        —Susanna Watts


Britons take great pride in the fact that theirs was the first European country to outlaw not only the slave trade (1807), but also the institution of slavery itself (1833). It can be a shock for contemporary readers to discover, then, that many of the major British abolitionists of the Regency period urged a gradual, rather than an immediate, liberation of those they believed to be wrongfully enslaved. The national anti-slavery society founded in 1823 by William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Fowell Buxton and other male abolitionists was not called “End Slavery Now,” but “The Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions.” Only after British women began to play a major role in the campaign for abolition did immediate, rather than gradual, freedom for the enslaved become the standard of the movement.


The only known image of Elizabeth Heyrick. Courtesy of the Library of the Society of Friends. © Britain Yearly Meeting


Though few people today know her name, the most radical and outspoken female abolitionist of the 1820s was Quaker reformer Elizabeth Heyrick, who serves as a secondary character in my new historical romance, Not Quite a Scandal. Heyrick’s parents, Leicester hosiery manufacturer John Coltman and Elizabeth Cartwright Coltman, a book reviewer and poet, were both religious Dissenters (John a Unitarian, Elizabeth a Methodist), and from an early age, Elizabeth (or Bess, as she was known by her family) showed a deep concern for others, especially those unfairly oppressed by those with greater influence and power.

In 1787, she married John Heyrick, a lawyer, poet, and army dragoon. Stormy and short, their marriage ended after Heyrick died from a heart attack in 1795. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth returned to Leicester to live with her parents, and in 1807 became a convinced member of the Society of Friends (known to outsiders as the Quakers), a religious group that believed in the spiritual equality of women and men, as well as in a woman’s right to an education and a voice in public life. Elizabeth spent the rest of her own life teaching and writing—not children’s books, or poetry, or even novels for adults, as many literary women of her period did, but fiery radical political pamphlets protesting the major social injustices of her day. Cruelty to animals; the exploitation of factory workers; the inhumane treatment of prisoners and vagrants—all were subject to her witty, caustic condemnation. Family records suggest she penned over twenty pamphlets in all, although many have been lost or were never printed.

To historians today, Heyrick is best known for her 1824 pamphlet, Immediate, Not Gradual, Abolition; or, An Inquiry into the shortest, safest, and most effectual means of getting rid of West Indian Slavery, the first English-language work by a white author to challenge the gradualist stance adopted by the majority of British abolitionists (Black Briton Ottobah Cugoano had first called for total abolition in his 1787 autobiography, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species). Heyrick took the gradualists to task for being “too slow and cautious” in their calls for emancipation, for “accommodating” enslavers, and for encouraging the government to negotiate with plantation-owning colonists rather than outlawing slavery immediately. People needn’t wait for government action, she urged; ordinary men and women could take matters into their own hands by boycotting sugar produced on colonial slave plantations. Today, calls for boycotts are a dime a dozen, but in Heyrick’s day, the boycott was a novel tool, one Heyrick urged others—especially women, who were largely responsible for purchasing household goods—to adopt, to amazingly productive effect.

Caption: Petitioning Parliament to abolish slavery, as well as boycotting West Indian sugar, were both signs of the newly important power of public opinion on politics in Britain in the early 19th century. Illustration from Amelia Opie’s 1826 anti-slavery poem The Black Man’s Lament, Or, how to make sugar (illustration cropped to omit offensive imagery; you can see the full image here)]


Heyrick’s polemical 24-page pamphlet proved surprisingly influential, and surprisingly popular, with thousands of copies circulating widely in both Britain and the United States during the 1820s and 30s. It also proved unsurprisingly disturbing to Wilberforce and the other gradualists of the national Anti-Slavery Society. Historian Helen Rappaport claims the gradualists tried to suppress its distribution, and that Wilberforce instructed the national organization to ignore the female anti-slavery auxiliary societies that Heyrick and other women began to organize from 1825 onward. Difficult to do, since the national organization relied heavily on contributions from the Birmingham Ladies’ Negro Friend Society and other female anti-slavery auxiliary associations to support their own work.

The unpublished poem at the head of this note, by author and fellow abolitionist Susanna Watts, a close friend of Elizabeth Heyrick’s, suggests that Wilberforce’s and other gradualists’ negative opinion of women’s participation in the cause were all too familiar to female anti-slavery activists. But Heyrick and Watts never let such disapprobation keep them from doing what they believed was right. They canvassed far and wide in Leicester, urging their fellow citizens to boycott West Indian sugar, a technique also adopted by other female anti-slavery campaigners. By 1825

, roughly twenty-five per cent of Leicester's population had stopped buying sugar. And, as depicted in the final chapter of Not Quite a Scandal, the two women (with Heyrick’s sister, Mary Ann Coltman, not my fictional Bathsheba Honeychurch) edited and published The Humming Bird, the first English anti-slavery periodical.

“Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know”: a reproof purportedly offered by William Wilberforce to his fellow members of Parliament for failing to abolish the slave trade. Though the quotation can be found all over the Internet, the words appear to be apocryphal; I’ve not been able to find them in any printed speech of Wilberforce’s. In my mind, then, I choose to imagine them being spoken not by the gradualist Wilberforce, but instead by the “brazen-faced” radical Elizabeth Heyrick, the intellectual and moral guide of Not Quite a Scandal’s protagonist, Quaker Bathsheba Honeychurch.


You can find out more about Elizabeth Heyrick in these books and online sources:


Beale, Catherine Hutton. Catherine Hutton and her Friends. Cornish Brothers, 1895. 

Grundy, Isobel. "Heyrick, Elizabeth (1769-1831)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2010.

Holcomb, Julie L. “I am a Man, Your Brother: Elizabeth Heyrick, Abstention, and Immediatism.” Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labour Economy. Cornell UP, 2016, pp. 89–106. 

Holton, Sandra Stanley. Quaker Women: Personal Life, Memory and Radicalism in the Lives of Women Friends, 1780-1930. Routledge, 2007.

Midgley, Clare. Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870. Routledge, 1992.

Rappaport, Helen. Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers, vol. 1. ABC-Clio, 2001.

Robinson, Jocelyn. Elizabeth Heyrick: The Making of an Anti-Slavery Campaigner. Pen and Sword, 2024.

Shuttleworth, Rebecca Elaine Christie. Life Writing in the Midlands’ Dissenting Circle of Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831) and Susanna Watts (1768-1842): ‘We preserve the best part of departed friends.’ MPhil Thesis, U of Leicester. 2018.


4)      Now before we wrap up, I want to ask a few other questions. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?


Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Despite being born and bred in New England, Bliss has always been fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. Though she's visited Britain several times, Bliss continues to make her home in the States, along with her spouse and an ever-multiplying collection of historical reference books.

Bliss's Regency-set historical romances have been praised as "savvy, sensual, and engrossing" by  USA Today, "catnip for the Historical Romance reader" by Bookworlder, "romantic, funny, touching, and extremely well-researched" by All About Romance, and "everything you want in a great historical romance" by The Reading Wench. Bliss's latest book is Not Quite a Scandal, the second book in The Audacious Ladies of Audley series.


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