1861 – Ireland is abuzz with the upcoming visit of Queen Victoria and the Royal family. After the recent devastation of the famine, growing republicanism and calls for Irish independence, the royal family are on a charm offensive to re-capture the hearts of the Irish people. But one member of the Royal family will capture the heart of an Irish woman and change the course of history. As part of the charm offensive it has been arranged for the young Prince of Wales, Bertie, to become an honory officer in the army and is to be stationed in Kildare to receive military training before joining his parents on the Irish tour. Bertie is a reluctant Prince and future monarch, constantly undermined by his domineering parents who favour his elder sister. Bertie has led a life of extreme privilege but also loneliness and has striven for a life where people accept him for who he is and not what he is. Being stationed for the Summer in Kildare is like a dream come true for Bertie who has at last been given the freedom he has so long yearned for.
Nellie Cliffden is many things – a beauty, an actress, a famine orphan, a scarlet woman, a fallen woman. She has survived the famine and prospered on the stage in Dublin. She owes her good fortune to her loveliness, wit and her Svengali Captain James Marsden. When James had met Nellie she was lost and destitute, but James saw her potential and trained her in the ways of society so that she could pass herself accordingly. Nellie had once been in love with James, but now she realises he sees her merely as a business opportunity. With James’s connections and Nellie’s beauty she has risen to become one of Dublin’s most soughtafter escorts.
In the Summer of 1861, the Prince of Wales arrives at James’s military camp in Kildare. At first overawed, the officers at the camp soon become charmed by Bertie. Devoid of airs and graces, Bertie quickly befriends the other officers including James. Free from royal protocol for the first time in his life, Bertie throws himself into the lifestyle enjoyed by his fellow officers including drinking, dance halls, gambling and parties. Drunk with the exuberance of freedom, Bertie is game for anything. And as James studies the young Prince, he sees the biggest business opportunity to come his and Nellie’s way. James engineers a meeting at a party between Bertie and Nellie. James believes he can gain favour with the Prince by introducing him to a beautiful woman during his stay. When Bertie meets Nellie, he is taken by her. He has never met a woman like her. Despite the intense preparation Nellie has been given by James, she too finds Bertie like no other man she has met. They come from different worlds but soon Bertie and Nellie fall in love and become lovers. Realising the couple are in love and shocked by their naiveite , James believes he can exploit the lover’s relationship to exert influence over the Prince and gain entry into a world of riches and power he could only ever dream of. As the Royal tour of Ireland finishes and Bertie returns to England, Nellie accompanies him. As Nellie becomes a visitor at Windsor Castle she naively believes fairytales can come true and that despite her past she may become the Princess of Wales. However, the relationship has become the talk of the gentlemen’s clubs and stately homes of England and when word reaches Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s ears, they are outraged with their son’s relationship with ‘that common low woman’ and the biggest scandal to hit the monarchy in centuries erupts. The lovers are soon brought down to earth when their private world is exposed to the powers that be. The scandal rocks the government and Bertie is quickly separated from Nellie and engaged to a suitable Princess. But Nellie now has become a very inconvenient woman with secrets that could destroy the royal family. Devastated by her abandonment by Bertie, Nellie is not going to go away easily and fights for her rights. Rumours that Nellie is pregnant with the Prince’s child or that she is blackmailing the royal family rock the establishment and bring the scandal to boiling point. Terrified that his plan has spectacularly backfired, James and his fellow officers are being blamed for the Prince’s downfall, and they face ruin and are told to get rid of Nellie, any way they can. As Nellie fights for her dignity and rights, she realises too late that she has made very dangerous and lethal enemies and has no friends left. With nothing to lose Nellie decides to take on the army, monarchy and British government, realising too late that this will put her life in danger. Nellie soon realises that falling out of favour with the most powerful man in the empire is a frightening and precarious position to occupy.