Jane Roland

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Admiral Jane Roland, by Shyangell

Character Profile[edit]

Name: Jane Roland
Date of Birth: c. 1774 or earlier; older than Laurence
Service: Aerial Corps
Rank: Admiral
Nationality: British
Billets: Dover covert, Captain to Excidium


Biography[edit]

Jane Roland was a strong, confident woman and an experienced aviator. Captain to the Longwing Excidium, she wore the three bars of a senior captain in the Aerial Corps and a medal from the Battle of the Nile. She and Excidium led their formation at the Battle of Trafalgar. Excidium was approximately forty years older than Jane, so it is likely that she was at least his third captain and not at all unlikely that she inherited her position from her mother.

She had a distinctive scar across her face and neck that caused her left eye to droop. Although the details of her injury were unclear, William Laurence believed the scar to be the result of a sword wound. As an aviator, she habitually wore a uniform, including trousers, and was characterized as having a "mannish" stride. She was uncomfortable in traditional women's clothing, finding long skirts to be inconvenient and annoying. The combination of her scar and her unfeminine manners often caused stares when she appeared in public among non-aviators, but Jane simply ignored them, seemingly perfectly comfortable.

Jane bore a daughter, Emily Roland, in 1795. She was not and had never been married to Emily's father, whom she apparently had not seen since Emily's conception. This was not an unusual situation in the Corps, and Jane was oblivious to or simply uninterested in the attitude of which society in general would have regarded it.

It was expected that Emily would assume Jane's role as captain to Excidium upon Jane's death. Given that the tradition of familial captainship did not always succeed (e.g., Jeremy Rankin), Jane was concerned about Emily's prospects as an aviator and was relieved when Laurence, Emily's commanding officer, gave her a favorable report about Emily's character and progress.

Jane and Laurence began an intimate relationship, on Jane's initiative, while both were stationed at the Dover covert in September 1805. Both had an understanding of an aviator's transient life and enjoyed their time together while they could, accepting that their duty to their dragons and to the Corps must be given priority. An interesting note: Jane said she would've "offered" herself to Laurence to provide for Temeraire's next captain except that she was too busy at the time (i.e. to manage a pregnancy); this was his introduction to some of the less public aspects of life in the Corps.


Admiral Roland

In 1806, the Dragon Plague struck Britain. One of the victims was Observaria, the flag-dragon of the Channel Division. Shortly afterwards her captain, Admiral Lenton, suffered a stroke and was reassigned to a quieter post at the Edinburgh covert. In the absence of any suitable and willing male candidates, the Admiralty was forced to make Jane Roland commander-in-chief of the Channel Division and Admiral at the Dover covert, a post in which she proved herself eminently capable. If her superiors outside the Aerial Corps were uncomfortable at dealing with a woman in a military role, Jane was not above using their discomfort to make her voice heard and achieve results.

In early 1807, Temeraire was exposed to the plague - but proved to be immune. This was thought to be the result of an earlier exposure and cure in Cape Town, en route to China. Jane acted quickly in response to this information, sending not only Laurence and Temeraire but also the rest of Lily's formation to Cape Town to find the cure, a mission on which they were successful.

After his return from Africa in September 1807, Laurence asked Jane to marry him. Quickly and practically she refused, citing the difficulty of giving him orders as his commanding officer if she promised to "obey" him in her vows, as was traditional at the time.

Despite her position as commander-in-chief of the Channel Division, Jane was not informed of the Admiralty's plot to spread the plague to the French dragons. In fact, she did not learn about their decision to send the infected courier Sauvignon to the Paris covert until two days after the event. Quite aside from the ethical implications of the act - which was tantamount to genocide - Jane was furious because of the liklihood that once Napoleon realized what had happened, he would retaliate by attacking Britain while his dragons still had the strength to do so. As it was her responsibility as commander-in-chief to thwart any such attack, the Admiralty's failure to inform her was a serious insult.

Jane was not much less furious, at least initially, when Laurence left with Temeraire to bring the curative mushrooms to the French, leaving behind a letter written to her as if she were only his lover and not his commanding officer. Of course, she had to turn the letter over to the Admiralty and then deal with the resulting sniggers. She was also temporarily demoted and her command handed over to Sanderson, who was far less competent. Although she agreed with Temeraire's and Laurence's act, she herself would have accomplished it much more quietly and practically by leaking the information to a Frenchman of sufficient rank and letting the French bribe the servants at the Loch Laggan covert, where the mushrooms were being kept.


Napoleon's Invasion of Britain

When Napoleon invaded Britain anyway in December 1807, Jane sent Tharkay to find Laurence - who was being held prisoner in Dover following the sinking of the HMS Goliath - and bring him to command headquarters. With the support of Wellesley, the juniormost of the three generals in command, she managed to convince the others to send Laurence to the Pen Y Fan Breeding Grounds to retrieve Temeraire and to reinstate her as commander-in-chief of the Channel Division.

Jane and Wellesley shared a certain blunt practicality and worked well together during the invasion. Actions in which Jane and Excidium fought personally included the battle above Folkestone and the Battle of Shoeburyness in March 1808, which saw the expulsion of Napoleon's armies from Britain.

After Shoeburyness, Wellesley (now the Duke of Wellington) had Jane named Admiral of the Air. He also sought to make her a peer. However, one of the unassailable privileges of a hereditary peer - the usual form of peerage in the 19th century - was membership in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of Britain's Parliament, comparable to the US or Canadian Senate). It was illegal for women to sit in the Lords.

The eighteen "life peerages" which had been created during the period 1603-1760 were all for women. Thus, to appoint the Admiral of the Air as a life peer rather than a hereditary peer would make it all too scandalously public that the Admiral was a woman. (Men were not to be appointed as life peers until 1876. Women did not sit in the Lords until 1958, and membership in the Lords remained a privilege of all hereditary peers until 1999.)

Jane herself took all of this with a sense of humour. However, she recognized that the times ahead would be dirty ones politically as well as militarily, so she was not unhappy when the government exiled Laurence and Temeraire to Australia, where they would be out of the mess. She considered it not impossible that Temeraire's activist tendencies might lead him to raise civil war, especially given that his handling of the unharnessed dragons had demonstrated that he had a talent for organization and command.

As three dragon eggs with captains and crews were also being sent, Jane was able to slip the remnants of Temeraire's crew in among them, including her own daughter Emily. She worried less for Emily's physical safety in a distant land than for effects on Emily's spirit if she were to be used as a political tool either for or against her mother.