The Scandal of the Century

The Scandal of the Century


‘A sweeping, scintillatingly original, exciting exploration of writer, spy, power player, lover Aphra Behn’ Kate Williams, historian and author of Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots

'Hilton to showcase[s] her skill for both historical and detective work and compelling, evocative writing . . . A sparkling and eye-opening account . . . compelling to read [and] refreshingly transparent . . . Her fresh ideas could open up exciting paths for future scholars' BBC History Magazine



‘Whereas the Lady Henrietta Berkeley has been absent from her Father's house since the 20th August last past . . .


. . . and is not yet known where she is, nor whether she is alive or dead.


These are to give notice That whoever shall find her, so that she may be brought back to her Father, the Earl of Berkeley, they shall have 200 Pounds Reward’


This is The Scandal of the Century - and the true story of the author Aphra Behn, who used a shocking love affair to create the first English novel . . .


In 1682, a young woman in the throes of a passionate affair flees her parents’ home in Surrey to seek a new life in London.

A scandal in its own right, but this is no ordinary young woman: Lady Henrietta Berkeley is the daughter of one of England’s most powerful men, and her lover is her own sister’s husband. As news of this notorious adulteress spreads, her flight, capture and the lawsuit that follow tear through society as the scandal of the century.

To Aphra Behn, England's first professional female writer – herself condemned as a scarlet woman of loose morals – Henrietta’s trial would be more than a source of shock and intrigue: it would inspire her to write Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, an outrageous and bestselling political fiction and arguably the first novel in English literature.

Aphra herself is an enigma, the facts about her life continually disputed. By revealing the story of these two rebellious and ruthless women, Lisa Hilton's new history offers a surprisingly original theory on the origins of one of England's most celebrated playwrights.

Against the backdrop of seventeenth-century England, with its strict traditional conventions of love, duty and identity, The Scandal of the Century shows just how far both women will go to break free.


'Gloriously mind-boggling . . . This is a lively book' Spectator


  • 'A landmark book, a sweeping, scintillatingly original, exciting and game changing exploration of writer, spy, power player, lover Aphra Behn. Thrilling, scholarly, powerfully researched, this is Aphra as she’s never been seen before. She bursts from the page, and Lisa Hilton brings to complex, unforgettable, vibrant life this fascinating woman and her unstable, dangerous times that have so much in common with ours'
    Kate Williams, historian and author of Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots

About the author

Lisa Hilton

Lisa Hilton is a best-selling author, historian, presenter and historical consultant. Taking inspiration from the lives of women who shaped the world, she has written six historical biographies including Athenais: The Real Queen of France (shortlisted for the Somerset Maugham Prize) and the critically-acclaimed Elizabeth, Renaissance Prince. She has presented numerous historical series, including 'Charles I: Downfall' (BBC4, 2019) and 'Charles I: Killing a King' (BBC4, 2020). Lisa grew up in the north of England and read English at New College, Oxford, after which she studied History of Art in Florence and Paris. Since then, Lisa has lived in New York, Paris, Milan and London.
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