It has never occurred to me before to write a brief history of the Van Daan family for my readers. It occurred to me today when I was trying to catch up with the #HistFicXmas fun prompts on social media. I love doing those things, they’re a great was for an author to connect with readers, but sometimes the question is just too big for a Twitter post.
Prompt number 11 was Christmas = Family. Tell us about your MC’s (main character’s) family.
Well. Where do I start?
Funnily enough I’ve just posted this year’s free Christmas story which tells for the first time, the story of how Paul van Daan’s parents first met. Through casual mentions through the book we’ve learned that Franz van Daan was a wealthy merchant and businessman from Antwerp who made a fortune in India then another in the City and married a Viscount’s daughter. When I originally sketched out Paul’s background I hadn’t really thought in any detail about when or how an upstart Dutchman from new money came to marry into the English aristocracy. The Yule Log explains all of that.
I’m going to base this post firmly in 1813 which is where I’m up to in the Peninsular War Saga. At this point, the Van Daan family is separated by war. There are also internal tensions which will presumably have to be worked out once the war is over and Paul returns home. In the meantime, for #HistFicXmas this is a brief introduction to the family so far.
Franz van Daan is Paul’s father. He’s now in his seventies and still actively involved in running his business empire although Paul is beginning to think it’s time he slowed down a bit, especially after he recently broke his leg in a fall on the hunting field. Franz has been a widower for twenty years and has never shown any interest in marrying again. He lost his beloved Georgiana along with his young daughter Emily to smallpox when his younger son Paul was only ten. Since then he’s divided his time between his London house and his estate in Leicestershire and is gradually leaving more of the business to his older son Joshua to run.
Joshua van Daan is ten years older than Paul which makes him around forty. He’s been married to Patience for eighteen years. Until recently, they had no children though Patience had a series of miscarriages, but she recently gave birth to a daughter, named Emily after Georgiana’s mother and Paul’s sister. Joshua is a much loved older brother to Paul, a great support when he first came home after his enforced service in the Royal Navy. Their good relationship has been strained recently however, due to Patience’s disapproval of Paul’s unconventional second wife.
Patience van Daan is in her thirties and is described as a pleasant woman. She came from a good family and there’s an implication that her marriage to Joshua was arranged in a very traditional way. Even so, the couple seem happy and she and Paul had a good relationship until she was introduced to Anne. The two women seemed friendly enough at first but Anne’s determination to make her own decisions about the raising of her step-children caused things to cool and a furious family argument about the provisions in Paul’s will made tensions worse. In book eight Patience tries to stop the children travelling to Portugal during winter quarters.
Anne van Daan is Paul’s second wife and my female MC. She’s nine years younger than him and when they met he was already married. He married Rowena, his first wife, because he had seduced her and she was carrying his child. He had an affectionate relationship with Rowena, who bore him two children but he was unfaithful more than once. Anne was also previously married to Lieutenant Robert Carlyon who treated her appallingly. Paul and Anne were finally free to marry after Rowena died in childbirth and Robert was shot while trying to murder Anne. Since then, Anne has travelled with the army, putting up with the terrible hardships of campaign life to be with Paul. She is described more than once as the heart and soul of the regiment. Formidably intelligent, she is willing to turn her hand to doctoring, nursing, administration and diplomacy – anything in fact that doesn’t involve housekeeping.
Paul currently has five children living at Southwinds under the care of their Aunt Patience. There is an older girl who may or may not be his daughter from a brief affair when he was a student at Oxford. We know little about her apart from the fact that Paul chose to take financial responsibility for her and that her mother has since married. As far as we’re aware, he has never met her.
His eldest daughter Grace arrived in his life when she was a toddler. She was the result of another of Paul’s casual liaisons, this time with Nell Kemp, the wife and then widow of a soldier. Nell remarried to a sergeant of the Highland regiment and Paul had no idea she had borne him a child until Sergeant Fraser was killed at Assaye and Nell died of fever soon afterwards. She asked one of the women to take Grace to the 110th to find her father. Paul, newly made captain and badly wounded during the battle, was about to sail home to recover. He chose to take Grace with him and developed a close and loving relationship with her. Grace is now eleven, a strong-minded child who is only too aware of the disadvantages of being born out of wedlock. She loved Rowena as the only mother she had ever known but it is Anne who really seems to understand her and there’s a suggestion that these two are going to make a formidable team as Grace grows up.
Francis is Paul’s oldest son with Rowena, named for his grandfather Franz. He almost two years younger than Grace and the pair are inseparable. Francis seems to have inherited his father’s temper and passion for justice as well as his irrepressible high spirits and he and Grace are constantly in mischief. He’s fiercely protective of her and has been known to punch other children who tease her about her illegitimacy. Both his uncle and his grandfather think he should be sent to school but Paul is adamant that he’s still too young. Francis is desperate to go into the army and follow in Paul’s footsteps. Anne thinks that two of them might be a bit tough on the army.
Rowena is three, the image of her dead mother and was inclined to be shy and very clingy with Patience. Since travelling to meet Anne however, she seems to be developing more confidence. She is particularly devoted to her younger brother William and keeps a protective eye on him even at such a young age. She doesn’t remember her mother and both Anne and Paul are determined to make sure that Rowena’s children know all about her.
William is two, Anne’s first child and has his mother’s dark hair though he still has the Van Daan blue eyes. It’s too early to know much about his personality. The same can be said for Anne’s latest child, little Georgiana who is not yet a year old. She was born prematurely after the appalling retreat from Madrid and Burgos and her birth was difficult enough for both Paul and Anne to hope that there won’t be any more too soon.
That brings me to the end of the current members of Paul’s family. Other family members are mentioned from time to time. We know that Franz had an older brother Andries who was also in trade divided his time between Antwerp and Cape Town and there is a brief mention in book one of his daughter Christina. Paul’s mother was an only child but we know that her father’s title was inherited by her cousin Edward and his family are presumably still neighbours of the Van Daans in Leicestershire. Anne also has a big family living in the industrial town of Thorndale in Yorkshire and it’s possible we’ll see more of some of them in future books.
After a shaky start and far too many youthful wild oats, Paul van Daan has proved to be a devoted husband and father and very much a family man. I’ve enjoyed getting to know his father and mother in this latest story and if all goes well I’m hoping you’ll get to know his children better in future books. I’m not convinced that the Van Daans history with the army is going to end in 1815…