Synopsis of The Heirs of Villeroy
The novel begins with a description of Mr Jeffries, a wealthy merchant, and his wife. They are kind and benevolent and when they meet a beggar girl, Anna, they take care of her. Their neighbours, Mr and Mrs Grenville, have a daughter called Emily who is a similar age to Anna, and they become good friends. We are told of the history of Mrs Grenville’s nephew Lord Charles Fitzwalter and his wife, Lady Caroline, and Eure Castle where they lived with her brother, Augustus Villeroy. Lord Fitzwalter resented Villeroy’s children because they deprived him of his inheritance, and so he disposed of them. She was so distressed that she left Eure Castle and moved to Deventon, where she became good friends with the Grenvilles and the Jeffries.
When Emily is eighteen she is introduced to Lord de Courcey and his son Henry. Mr and Mrs Grenville have a contract with Lord de Courcey that Emily would marry Henry in exchange for property. However, Henry falls in love with Anna. They visit Eure Castle and are greeted by Margarette and Robert, Lady Fitzwalter’s old servants. When Emily roams the castle she finds a secret passageway that takes her into the woods, where she meets Arthur, Margarette’s grandson, whom she is instantly attracted to although he is from a lower class than her. Henry declares his love for Anna and claims that class is not important to him. When Emily introduces Anna to Arthur they both feel drawn to each other and Emily becomes jealous because she thinks they are in love. However, the misunderstanding is resolved once Arthur declares his affection for Emily.
Lord de Courcey offers Arthur the chance to travel with Henry because he believes he has qualities above his class, and sends him to London where Arthur is introduced in society as a gentleman. When Anna and Emily return to Deventon, Anna gives Lady Fitzwalter the letters she requested from the castle and when she reads them she discovers the truth about Lord Fitzwalter’s plan although she does not reveal it to anyone.
Arthur and Henry travel to Naples and visit the Marachese di Ludovisa and his daughter Lady Agnes. They also meet an English man called Villars, whom they are unacquainted with. Lady Agnes elopes with Villars and Henry de Courcey and Arthur are asked to find her. However, Arthur goes missing and a stranger informs Henry that somebody has tried to kill him. Meanwhile, the woman who gave Anna away returns to claim her but in court the woman admits that she took Anna away for Lord Fitzwalter. When Arthur and Henry return to England, Lady Fitzwalter recognises Arthur as the heir of Villeroy. Augustus then tells Anna that she is the other heir, Marianna.
A pregnant foreign woman asks for Lady Fitzwalter’s protection until she gives birth, and she lets her stay at Deventon anonymously. Henry discovers it is Lady Agnes but she makes him promise not to tell anyone who she is. However, he writes to her parents to tell them she is in England.
Once Anna and Arthur’s origins are proven in court Henry and Anna get married. After the wedding, Villars returns, kills Agnes’ baby, wounds Agnes, and then kills himself. It is then discovered he is really Lord Fitzwalter. On her deathbed, Lady Agnes reveals to everyone who she really is and asks Henry to inform her parents of her repentance. They are in England and Henry goes to fetch them immediately. They arrive and forgive Agnes, but she dies. It is too much for the Marachese to bear and she dies shortly afterwards.
Arthur Villeroy and Emily get married, and they move to Eure Castle with Lady Fitzwalter, who dies soon after, happy that her ‘children’ are restored to their rightful place in society.