During Jane Austen’s time, the British adhered to a strict class system, but every once in a while (and much like a fantastic plot in a romance novel), a titled gentleman would marry a servant. According to the National Trust,
Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh… lived a prodigal life at Uppark entertaining lavishly and included the Prince Regent among his frequent guests. In 1810, however, he withdrew from society and devoted his attentions to discussing improvements to the house and grounds with Humphry Repton. At the age of over 70 he took the extraordinary step of marrying his dairy maid, and left the entire estate to her on his death in 1846. She, in turn, left it to her unmarried sister and together they made provision for the estate to pass, after the life tenancy of a neighbour, to the second surviving son of another friend and neighbour, the fourth Earl of Clanwilliam, on the condition that he should assume the name of Fetherstonhaugh.
The dairy at Uppark, Sussex (above) designed by Humphry Repton. When Sir Harry passed by one day... he heard the dairymaid’s assistant, Mary Ann Bullock, singing. Sir Harry presented himself and asked for her hand in marriage. Mary Ann Bullock, aged twenty-one, was sent to Paris to be educated before being married to Sir Harry in September 1825. (Household Management, National Trust, p 30. ISBN 0-7078-0241-5)
How is this tale connected to Jane Austen and her world? By the merest thread. In Mansfield Park, Mr. Rushworth discusses changes for Sotherton Court after he had toured Compton, where he had viewed the improvements of the grounds by Humphry Repton. This short scene illustrates “the popular and expensive trend of improving one’s grounds to give the appearance of wealth both outside and inside the country home.” (Kerrie Savage, JASNA)
- Learn more about Uppark and its restoration after a massive fire.
- The Beautiful Diary, Loretta Chase