The 3rd Duke, John Ker, was an ardent and discriminating collector of rare books and manuscripts. After his death his heir, who was a distant cousin - the Duke having remained unmarried due to an unhappy affair of the heart in his youth - at once put the library up for sale. This was in the summer of 1812, when of course Mr Strange was campaigning in the field with Wellington.
Bidding for many items was fierce, but out of deference to the standing of Gilbert Norrell as England's premier magician no other gentleman bid against him for those seven texts relating to magic. In the absence of her husband however Mrs Strange bid for them all. She was unsuccessful in every single case, and felt her failure so deeply as to give way to some natural tears at her final defeat. Mr Norrell's indifference to her distress caused some adverse comment from Sir Walter Scott, who happened to be present at the time.