In the land of Albion, women have no rights. They are the property of their menfolk and subject to their husband’s, father’s or master’s discipline.
Lady Margia and her Freedom for Women League aim to change all that. They want to vote, own property, be independent, and be free from men’s punishment.
But how do Lady Margia and her supporters reconcile their beliefs with the attraction they feel towards the dominant men who want to love them?
Publishers Note: This collection contains two previously published books: Betrothed and Freedom that have been updated for your enjoyment. These books contain elements of power exchange.
“The betrothal is the hardest thing a woman goes through,” Mama had warned me on the day I became betrothed to Sir Edmund.
Something I was about to discover for myself.
I stole a glance at Edmund as the carriage headed in the direction of Grantly Park, where my friends Amelia and Georgiana lived. He was looking out of the window, a stern expression on his fair, handsome face. He had barely spoken since we had almost cannoned into him in the alley, when we’d been running for our lives, away from the angry mob. He had moved fast to get us to the safety of his carriage, but he’d uttered not one word of sympathy, not even to Georgiana, who was still trembling and weeping copiously.
Georgiana hadn’t wanted to attend the meeting in the town square, but Amelia and I had talked her into it. “If we want to see change in our lifetimes, we need to support Lady Margia,” Amelia had insisted.
“But Father wouldn’t want us to–”
I cut off Georgiana’s protest. “Of course, he wouldn’t! My father wouldn’t want me to go either! He loathes any mention of Lady Margia in the newspapers because it suits him—it suits all men—for women to have no rights. Lady Margia is right—if we are allowed to vote, we can then vote women into parliament. Then we can have unfair laws changed, like the law that says any property or money we have becomes that of our husband when we marry.” My two friends had an older brother, but I was an only child and well aware that it would be Sir Edmund, not I, who inherited Eversleigh Manor when my father died. “And once we have our own property and money, they won’t have authority over us. So it’s not surprising that our fathers don’t want us embracing Lady Margia’s ideas.”
“Our fathers will never know anyway,” said Amelia. “Carter can take us to a different part of the town and we’ll say we’re meeting Catherine there for tea. Then we can walk to the square.”
So Georgiana had given in to us, just as she always did. As children we’d persuaded her to climb trees, to ride our ponies out of bounds, and to steal cakes and tarts from the kitchen to be secretly eaten in the nursery. Amelia and Georgiana were only one year apart, but very different in looks and personality. Amelia was tall, dark-haired, and like me, a rebel and a tomboy—although I was two years older, we had forged a firm friendship from the moment her family had moved into Grantly Park and had become our closest neighbours. Georgiana was slight and fair, and hated tearing her dresses. She also hated most of our schemes and left to herself would never have joined in any of them.
Most of the time, it would have been much better if she’d been the one to talk us around to her way of thinking. Attending today’s Freedom for Women League meeting being no exception. We’d been caught attending an illegal meeting, and now we’d have to pay for it. And much as I loved Edmund, I couldn’t help wishing I wasn’t betrothed. Amelia and Georgiana would only receive a spanking from their father. Whereas I would be punished twice. At least from the expression on Edmund’s face, I assumed I would be. I felt sick with nerves just thinking about it. It would be the first time that Edmund had spanked me. I wondered what it would feel like.
When I’d first met Edmund at the Twelfth Night ball at Grantly Manor, and he’d been granted my father’s permission to take me to a concert in town the following week, Mama had explained to me the rules of courtship. If I displeased Edmund, he was not allowed to discipline me; he had to report the misbehaviour to my father. This occurred a few weeks later, when Edmund learned I’d continued to play cards with Amelia, Georgiana and Catherine after he’d told me he disliked cards and had forbidden me to play. Edmund had taken me to see Father in the library. Father had ordered me to bend over the sofa and had given me three cuts of the cane. Even though my skirts offered protection, Father wielded the cane fiercely, and this time, the punishment hurt more because it had the added humiliation of being instigated by and given in front of Edmund.
Now that we were betrothed, Edmund too had the right to punish me physically, though he still needed to obtain permission from Father, who would punish me, too. That was why Mama had warned me about the betrothal. “Even though once you’re married, your husband can bare your bottom to spank you, at least you’ll know while he’s disciplining you that there isn’t a second punishment to come,” she’d told me. “Instead, what usually comes after a marital spanking is infinitely more delicious. As you’ll find out at the Bedding Ceremony.”
I’d had a horror of the Bedding Ceremony since I was a child and attended a wedding on the other side of town. After the Wedding Ceremony, everyone had gathered at the married couple’s new home for the Wedding Feast. Before the feast was served, the groom had carried the bride over the threshold and up to their bedchamber. There had been silence in the great hall while everyone listened to the thwacks and squeals coming from upstairs. Presently, the groom had appeared on the gallery, brandishing the paddle he’d been given by the bride’s father in one hand, and a bloodstained sheet in the other. All the adults had clapped and cheered and stomped. Horrified, I’d asked Mama if the bride had been spanked until she bled. Mama had laughed, hushed me and whispered no, of course not. A good, loving husband would spank his wife hard if she displeased him, but he would never really hurt her. Later, in my bedchamber, she explained about the blood.
It still mystified me how Mama could say a husband would “never really hurt” his wife. The spankings and canings I received from Father always hurt, and they were over skirts—and I’d often heard Mama yelling and crying when Father paddled her. Yet, at every Bedding Ceremony I’d attended, the bride always looked radiant when she came down to the feast, even if she did have to sit on a cushion.
Right now, though, I had a more imminent worry than the Bedding Ceremony, which was still two months away. Remembering some of the stories Mama had told about her betrothal, when she’d sometimes gone to bed with a sore bottom after being spanked by Father and sore hands from being caned by her father, I wondered why I’d ever thought it a good idea to attend Lady Margia’s meeting. Then I reminded myself that if Lady Margia managed to raise enough support throughout the country, worrying about being spanked was something I—and every other woman—would never have to do again. One of the many things Lady Margia and her Freedom for Women League were calling for was the end of the right of fathers and husbands to discipline their wives and daughters.
Indeed, Lady Margia had started her speech to the fifty or so women who’d gathered in the square by referring to this. “Ladies,” she’d begun, “I am delighted to see you here today because I know what you risk by being caught attending. And putting an end to the archaic practice of spanking grown women is just one of the things the Freedom for Women League is fighting for. We’re not children—we want to run our own lives, own our own property, make our own decisions, and have the freedom to do what we want, when we want.”
Amelia and I had joined in the shouts of “Hear, hear!”
“In many countries across the world, women either have or are are gaining their freedom,” continued Lady Margia. “Many have the right to vote, the right to a proper education, the right to decide that they don’t want to marry, and that they want to live their own lives. Why should we be different? Why should our fathers decide that we must marry and choose husbands for us? Would they like us choosing wives for them and saying that their money now belongs to their wife? Would they?”
“No!” we all chorused, apart from Georgiana, who kept casting nervous glances around the square, terrified of being recognised by someone who’d report her to her father.
It was Georgiana who noticed the approaching mob of men and alerted us before they started charging at us. Some were police, lashing out with their truncheons, others were miners and nailers from nearby villages, come to help break up what they regarded as disorderly behaviour. As Amelia, Georgiana and I sped towards an alley that would lead us back to the area of town where Carter waited for us with the carriage, I caught a glimpse of a policeman beating Lady Margia’s bottom with his truncheon. The screams of some of the women behind us indicated that they were being beaten as well.
We’d all been terrified, even Amelia, who was usually the bravest of us, and it was with some relief that we realised the man we’d run into in the alley was not an angry member of the mob, but Edmund.
Our relief at being rescued had soon dissipated when he questioned us about why we’d been in the square and informed us of his intent to report the matter to our fathers. We had first made our way to where we’d left Carter and the carriage; Edmund had dispatched Carter back to Grantly Park, saying he would look after all three of us given the trouble currently happening in the town.
And now we were being taken home in disgrace.
“Sir Edmund, please forgive us—we didn’t really know what we were doing,” said Amelia in sudden desperation as the carriage turned into the drive to Grantly Park. “It’s not that we were really part of the meeting—we were just curious…”
“It was an illegal meeting, Lady Amelia,” Edmund said. “If I hadn’t been there you could have found yourselves in very serious trouble had you been caught by a police officer or—worse—that angry mob. You could have been taken to prison, or beaten badly, or both. Even Lady Margia will find herself in prison this time—she was warned about it after her last meeting had to be broken up. It is only the fact that her father is in Parliament that has kept her out of prison so far.”
Georgiana, who had only just dried her tears, immediately started crying again.
“Oh, do shut up, Georgiana,” Amelia snapped. “Crying isn’t going to make any difference.”
“Crying shows that she knows she’s in the wrong,” Edmund said. “I hope your father makes sure that you too will be crying before very long, Lady Amelia. Cassandra certainly will be.”
My stomach lurched at his words and the coldness of his tone.
“Say goodbye to your friends, Cassandra,” said Edmund as the carriage came to a halt. “You are forbidden to see them again before our wedding. And after that, I shall seriously consider whether you will be allowed to see them when you are my wife. I don’t consider you to be a good influence on each other.”
Amelia, who had been about to step down from the carriage, cast horrified eyes on Edmund. “But, Sir Edmund–”
“We’ve been friends for years, Edmund,” I protested. “Since we were little girls.”
“And this is twice that I know of that you’ve done something you weren’t allowed to do while in their company. I mean this, Cassandra—and I shall inform their fathers and yours of my decision.”
Now, Amelia and I didn’t need a spanking to make us cry. We hugged and kissed each other goodbye, and I stared miserably out of the carriage after them as Edmund accompanied them to the Hall. When a footman opened the door, both Amelia and Georgiana turned to give me a wave of farewell. I broke down in sobs. I couldn’t imagine life without Amelia and Georgiana—especially Amelia. I had other friends, but none of them were as entertaining and lively as Amelia. We’d shared in so many escapades and adventures—and now I wouldn’t see them for at least two months and possibly forever if Edmund didn’t relent once we were married.
Lady Margia might be fighting for the future, but she’d made my present very miserable.