Fanny Morland is growing up against the background of the Napoleonic Wars, and the regency of King George IV who is standing in during the mental breakdown of his father, George III. Fanny was designated as the heir to the Morland castle, farm, wool business and other holdings by her grandmother Jemima before her death. Her father James dotes on her, and lets her have her way in everything. She grows up spoiled, manipulative, and arrogant, a terror to the rest of the family. Her step-mother Heloise is so afraid of what harm Fanny might do, she sends her own daughter and Fanny's cousin away to school.
Fanny is only 11 when the meets Lieutenant Fitzherbert Hawker at a family ball. Hawker is a gambler constantly in debt, and would be very happy to wed a wealthy titled woman. He immediately dismisses Fanny feeling the wait for her to become of age is too long. However their paths continue to cross over the years. Their courtship begins in earnest while Fanny is visiting her maternal grandfather Hobsbawn in Manchester. Even though she will inherit a fortune, she decides she wants Grandfather Hobsbawn's textile factory business too. He plans to leave it all to a distant cousin Jasper because he doesn't believe a woman can handle a business. In her quest to prove her ability, Fanny persuades her grandfather to take her on a tour of the factories. While they are there, Lieutenant Hawker rushes in to warn them that a mob of Luddites are on their way to break the weaving frames and burn down the factories. Grandfather Hobsbawn charges Hawker to get Fanny back to his home safely. Hawker has to shoot to keep the mob from attacking Fanny's carriage. Fanny begins to consider him as a suitor, even though he is not titled, so in her opinion, way beneath her.
Their relationship develops somewhat secretly after her coming out ball in London. She is staying with her Aunt Lucy who is preoccupied with her own problems; grieving for the loss of her lover in a naval battle, an unexpected proposal of marriage, and searching for Fanny's cousin Africa who ran away from boarding school. When Fanny announces her intentions to marry Hawker, the family is outraged. Her father tries to persuade her that he is only trying to take advantage of her fortune. Hawker has already told Fanny about his shady past, so she is not dissuaded. Both are self-serving, shrewd and ruthless in pursuing their interests. Her Uncle Edward, her trustee for her estate until she comes of age, is especially vocal in trying to prevent the marriage. In spite of his lifetime of devotion to the estate, Fanny vows to kick him out once she is 21. After Fanny's wedding, the family braces itself for hardship and heartbreak. It comes in a way entirely unexpected.
This report prepared by Susan Coffey