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Archive for the ‘Primogeniture’ Category

Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple makes an appearance with Sir Walter Elliot. Brock illustration.

“The Bath paper one morning announced the arrival of the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret. . . ” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

I have often wondered about dowagers and their status in Regency society in relation to widows. When did a widow become a dowager? Did all 19th century widows acquire the title? Why or why not?

Mirriam Webster Dictionary provides an answer : “Dowager – The widow of a peer, eg the Dowager Countess of Somewhere. The term was not added to a woman’s title unless and until the new holder of the title married.” The definition contains the clue. Until the new heir married, an aristocratic widow retained the title she acquired on the day of her own wedding.

Widows were legally entitled to a dower share or a third of the value of her husband’s estate after his death, for under the law of primogeniture he was the only real property owner. Dower rights meant that she would benefit for the rest of her life from a third of the income produced by a farm or from rental property on his estate:

“Under English common law and in colonial America, dower was the share of a deceased husband’s real estate to which his widow was entitled after his death. After the widow’s death, the real estate was then inherited as designated in her deceased husband’s will; she had no rights to sell or bequeath the property independently. She did have rights to income from the dower during her lifetime, including rents and including income from crops grown on the land.

One-third was the share of her late husband’s real property to which dower rights entitled her; the husband could increase the share beyond one-third in his will.

Where a mortgage or other debts offset the value of real estate and other property at the husband’s death, dower rights meant that the estate could not be settled and the property could not be sold until the widow’s death.” Women’s History 

Dowager Maud, Lady Holland (Dame Eileen Atkins) and Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) were able to live comfortably on 1/3 of the income of their husbands' estates.

Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, would actively assume the title of dowager upon her son’s marriage so that there would be no confusion of having two Countesses of Grantham in the same room. But she did not always go by that title. Generally speaking the dowager would be known by the simplest title when encountered alone. Therefore, Violet would be referred to as the Countess of Grantham unless she attended the same event as her daughter -in-law. In that case, she would be referred to as the dowager countess.

Cora, Countess of Grantham

Upon the heir’s marriage, it was expected that the dowager would move from the estate into a house of her own to guarantee a smooth transition of power. This was not always the case. As Amanda Vickery made clear in her fascinating book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, some brides needed to summon a great deal of patience and cunning when their mamas-in-law dragged their heels in moving to the dower house. In real life, the Dowager Duchess of Leinster chose to live at Number 14 Harley Street in London. She would leave town occasionally to stay in her cottage in Wimbledon. Eleanor Percy, the Dowager Duchess of Northumberland, was the childless widow of the 4th Duke. The dowager moved into Stanwick Park following her husband’s death in 1865, and after the 5th Duke had moved into Alnwick Castle, the ducal estate. Eleanor lived a productive life at Stanwick Park, creating elaborate gardens and cultivating fruits and flowers. Sadly, Stanwick Hall no longer stands today due to lack of fortune. – Stanwick Hall: England’s Lost Country Houses

Susan Fleetwood as Lady Russell in Persuasion

Widowhood could emancipate a woman or lead her to poverty, depending on the income she derived from her dower rights and her dowry, which was the money and goods that a bride’s father had negotiated for her upon her marriage. Take Lady Russell from Persuasion. She did not remarry again from choice. Her independent life, free from money worries, was so improved without the presence of a husband who could dictate her every move and who would have control over her possessions that she would be a fool to remarry unless she fell head over heels in love. In that event she would lose her first husband’s income as stipulated by dower rights, although she would retain her dowry and any property she received through her mother.

Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters await the arrival of her replacement as mistress of Norland.

In contrast to Lady Russell’s situation, Mrs. Dashwood’s circumstances in Sense and Sensibility were instantly reduced due to the stipulations of the estate her husband was overseeing, which decreed the inheritance would go directly to the son, regardless of how much Mr. Dashwood desired to make provisions for his second wife and daughters. This is why on his deathbed he tried to extract a promise from John Dashwood, for Mr. Dashwood had not lived long enough to save money from the income of the estate for his second family. Due to Fanny’s stinginess, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are left to live on the modest income from her dowry (which was barely enough to keep them comfortable) and the beautiful items that she had brought into her marriage (which she retained as her own, much to Fanny Dashwood’s chagrin).

An elopement to Gretna Green was a most foolhardy and risky step for a young heiress

The dowry was one of the reasons that it was more than foolhardy for a young woman of fortune to elope to Gretna Green. Upon marriage all her worldly goods were legally handed over to her husband. An unscrupulous man could spend every single one of her pennies – except the amount that her father had settled upon her. A young woman who eloped had no such protection, for her family, caught unawares, would not have had the time to provide for her personal welfare. Her husband could go through her fortune (and his) with impunity, leaving her penniless and without recourse after his death.

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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:


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Created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), “Downton Abbey” depicts the lives of the noble Crawley family and the staff who serve them at their Edwardian country house. It is April and the Titanic has just sunk.The world will never be the same for the Crawleys, for both the heirs to Downton Abbey went down with the ship.

Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. This image speaks of power and privilege.

The earl and countess of Grantham’s three daughters cannot inherit the estate, which is entailed to the male next in succession. He is Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, son of a doctor and a nurse, and a lawyer by trade. Matthew knows nothing about running such a vast estate, and cares little about the niceties of protocol.

Dan Stevens plays Matthew Crawley. He also played Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility.

The answer to the earl’s predicament is simple really – Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, should marry Matthew. But nothing is simple in Downton Abbey, for Lady Mary is stubborn and has a mind of her own.

The Crawley sisters: Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

The series is lushly produced and the story lines are riveting. In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television’s most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs, which aired on MASTERPIECE (then MASTERPIECE THEATRE ) in the 1970s. One of the thrills of MASTER PIECE’s 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Episode 1
Sunday, January 9, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
When the Titanic goes down, Lord Grantham loses his immediate heirs, and his daughter Mary loses her fiancé, throwing Downton Abbey and its servants into turmoil. The new heir turns out to be Matthew, a handsome lawyer with novel ideas about country life.

Matthew and his mother are formally received by the servants and family during their first visit to the Abbey

Episode 2
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Mary entertains three suitors, including a Turkish diplomat whose boldness leads to a surprising event. Downstairs, the shocking former life of Carson, the butler, is unmasked, and Bates risks his health to remain valet.

Jim Carter (Cranford) as Mr. Carson, the butler

Episode 3
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Growing into his role as heir, Matthew brings out the bitter rivalry between sisters Mary and Edith. Servants Thomas and O’Brien scheme against Bates, while head housemaid Anna is increasingly attracted to him. Lady Violet’s winning streak in the flower show is threatened.

The Countess (Elzabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) at the flower show.

Episode 4
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
The heir crisis at Downton Abbey takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile, rumors fly about Mary’s virtue. Her sister Sybil takes a risk in her secret political life. Anna unearths Bates’ mysterious past. And O’Brien and Thomas plot their exit strategy.

The Countess of Grantham with her daughter Lady Edith

My posts about Downton Abbey

Cast

Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda, Filth)…Robert, Earl of Grantham
Jessica Brown-Findlay…Lady Sybil Crawley
Laura Carmichael…Lady Edith Crawley
Jim Carter (Cranford)…Mr. Carson
Brendan Coyle (Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act)…John Bates
Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford)…Lady Mary Crawley
Siobhan Finneran (The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard)… O’Brien
Joanne Froggatt (Robin Hood)…Anna
Thomas Howes…William
Rob James-Collier…Thomas
Rose Leslie…Gwen
Phyllis Logan (Wallander)…Mrs. Hughes
Elizabeth McGovern (A Room with a View)…Cora, Countess of Grantham
Sophie McShera…Daisy
Lesley Nicol (Miss Marple)…Mrs. Patmore
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)…Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens (Sense & Sensibility)…Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton (Wives and Daughters)…Isobel Crawley
Charlie Cox (Stardust)…Duke of Crowborough
Kevin Doyle (The Tudors)…Molesley
Robert Bathurst (Emma)…Sir Anthony Strallan
Bernard Gallagher…Bill Molesley
Samantha Bond (Miss Marple)…Lady Rosamund Painswick
Allen Leech (The Tudors)…Tom Branson
Brendan Patrick…Evelyn Napier
David Robb…Dr. Clarkson
Helen Sheals…Postmaster’s Wife

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Turnpike Gate, George Morland

Turnpike Gate, George Morland

Historical romances abound with tales of aristocrats falling in love with beautiful women outside of their own class and marrying them. Several years ago in The Dairy Maid and the Master of Uppark, I wrote about Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, who married his milkmaid.  These exceptions prove the rule, for  Society frowned severely upon those who married downward. Thomas Thynne, 5th Viscount Weymouth, who made the mistake of falling in love with the tollgate keeper’s daughter, was never to become the 3rd Marquess of Bath.  He first eloped to Paris with his pretty bride, then lived in Italy, where he waited to claim his inheritance. No matter how hard his father (the 2nd Marquess) tried, he could not get around the legalities of the entail and disinherit his son. So the Marquess dug in his heels, willing himself to live longer than the Viscount …

The first Marquess of Bath was said to have been a great womanizer, gambler, and dissipator. His biggest contribution to posterity was in hiring Capability Brown to landscape his estate at Longleat, a former priory, changing the gardens from formal parterres to a more natural design.  After his death in 1792, his son, Thomas Thynne, the second Marquess of Bath, rebuilt the outdated portions of the old priory. By 1815, he had spent over£100,000 on improvements. In 1820, the second Marquess opened the grounds to the public once a week and free of charge, encouraging picknics and similar leisurely pursuits. One would think that by setting such a sober example, his children would live equally responsible lives, but this was not to be the case for all.

Longleat Outbuilding

The 2nd Marquess and his plumb intellectual wife, Isabella, had eleven children. Two daughers married well, but three of his sons caused them no end of trouble. Without consulting his parents, Thomas, the 24-year-old heir, eloped with beautiful, raven-haired Harriet Robbins, the daughter of a humble local toll-keeper named Thomas Robbins. Up to that point, the young Viscount had not led an exemplary life and had a reputation for drinking and gambling. The Marquess was furious with his son’s marriage.  He must have made his extreme displeasure known, for after two months of silence young Thomas replied in a letter from Italy:

You know the remorse I feel for having given so many miseries to so good a father … a sort of fate hurried us on … I saw myself surrounded by misfortunes which I find at last were of my own making … My mind was in a state of confusion and despair, and I am ashamed to say I tried to attach the blame on you. I did not dare open the last letter from you for a long time, but when I did, I flew to anything to drive away reflection…

The young Viscount was smitten by “the artful charms of a country girl, then hurled [his] fortune to the wind in hasty flight“.  The letter did not assuage the Marquess, who set about to disinherit his heir. He attempted to “bribe” Thomas by offering money in exchange for his inheritance, but the Viscount rejected the offer, opting to live in Italy while literally waiting for his father to die.

 

Longleat House. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Weymouth was not the only child to disappoint the Marquess, for two of his other three sons, Charles and Edward, lived lives of such extravagance and mounted such enormous debts, that the Marquess fired off a letter to The Times “disclaiming all responsibility for their behaviour” and any liability for their debts. Charles and Edward had expected their father to bail them out. When this did not occur, they moved from England. It is thought that Charles ended up in Canada and Edward in Australia, but the records are not clear on this topic.   Thomas’s mother, Isabella, was the only member of the family to travel to Paris to visit the Viscount and his wife. Seeing that they were reasonably happy, she forgave them for their unkindness and misconduct, but she was never able to arbitrate a truce between her husband and son. Before her death in 1830, she wrote in a letter to her husband:

Accept my grateful thanks for all the kindness and happiness you have bestowed on me for so many years, which has been returned by the warmest affection that one mortal is capable of for another…Talk to our children of your interests, of your affairs, and try to get reacquainted with theirs. Be their friend, as well as their respected father …

London to Paris Routes, Planta's Paris, 1825

London to Paris routes

Despite his wife’s wishes, the Marquess remained obdurate. After Isabella’s death, any hope of reconciliation vanished, and both he and his son were determined to outlive the other. In January of 1837, the Viscount died at the age of 41 without an heir. He shrugged off his mortal coil a scant five weeks before his father, who died at the age of 74.  Harriet, only a few years younger than her husband, was now a widow.

“So the family now awaited with bated breath to hear if she were pregnant. Insensitive suggestions were made about getting her to submit to an official examination so as to preclude the possibility of her turning up at Longleat in years to come, having acquired a son of approximately the right age, to claim the inheritance retrospectively.

Yet such cynicism proved unwarranted. Harriet went on to marry an Italian nobleman and never did have any children. But in any case, she did not attempt, nor wish, to give any further trouble to the Thynne family. –  Strictly Private

Harriet, Marchioness of Bath

Harriet, Marchioness of Bath and Henry Thynne's wife. Image @Turtle Bunbury

As for the title and the inheritance, they passed to Henry Thynne, a captain in the Royal Navy, who died soon afterwards. A Pyrrhic victory, indeed.

Facts about Harriet Matilda Robbins – Born:18 Nov 1800. Died: 18 June 1873. Daughter of Thomas Robbins. She married, Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, son of Sir Thomas Thynne, 2nd Marquess of Bath and Hon. Isabella Elizabeth Byng, on 11 May 1820. Her married name became Thynne. She married, secondly, Count unknown Inghirami after 1837, and died on 18 June 1873 at Florence, Italy. From 1837 on her married name became Inghirami.

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Edward Austen Knight

[Marianne] “’What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?’
‘Grandeur has but little,’ said Elinor, ‘but wealth has much to do with it.’‘Elinor, for shame!’ said Marianne; ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction as far as mere self is concerned.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Elinor, smiling, ‘we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?’

‘About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.’

Elinor laughed. ‘Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.’” – Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility, volume 1, chapter 17

“To be above vulgar economy” … was one of Jane Austen’s express wishes, yet on the surface it would seem that her rich brother Edward contributed very little to Jane’s and her mother’s and sister’s notions of security. How was it that Edward’s fortunes were so very much above that of his family, and why did he not do more for his sisters and mother than provide them with a roof over their heads and a small annual sum?

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Edward, third son of the family … became the favourite of some wealthy childless relatives of his father, the Thomas Knights. They met him as a 12-year-old when they visited the rectory at Steventon on their wedding journey. When they left, Edward accompanied them for the rest of the trip and subsequently went frequently for holidays at their estate. Eventually, when Edward was 16, they adopted him as their heir. – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

The Austens must have been thrilled beyond belief when Thomas Knight, George’s rich, childless cousin, took an interest in Edward, his third son. The practice of childless couples in adopting an heir from a less fortunate branch of the family was not an uncommon one for wealthy relatives to take at the time. When Edward inherited his estates from his adopted father, he became richer than Mr. Darcy, earning £15,000 per year from his investments against Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 per year. Multiply this number by 50 and you have an approximate amount of how much income Edward enjoyed in today’s terms.

Godmersham Park

Godmersham Park

And yet, with such a rich brother, Jane and her sister and mother worried a great deal about money after the sudden death of Rev. George Austen in Bath in 1805. Three of the brothers rallied behind them. Edward’s initial pledge of £100 a year almost doubled his mother’s income of  £122 from a small South Seas fortune, and both Henry and Frank pledged £50 apiece per year to support their mother and sisters. Cassandra received a small income from Tom Fowle’s £1000, which he had bequeathed to her in his will.  Even so, the three women were forced to move in March to more affordable rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend Martha Lloyd, shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.

The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.”- Soft and Loud, JASA

Panorama of Chawton

Panorama of Chawton

Edward finally came through for his mother and sisters. Four years after his father’s death, he refurbished Chawton Cottage and invited them to move in. It was in this cottage that Jane was at her most prolific, polishing off earlier versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and famously writing Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. In skimming through a variety of biographies, many authors treat Edward’s seeming parsimony with a hint of contempt. The Knights had a history of generosity towards their poorer Austen relatives. Thomas Knight, second cousin to Rev. George Austen, gave him two livings that were valued at £210 the year that Jane was born. At Steventon, the Austens also had land to farm, which was an important factor in their diet and maintaining their self-sufficiency. The Austens also took in boarding pupils, and by the time Rev. Austen retired , he was earning almost  £600 per year, the same amount that his eldest son, James, made towards the end of his life.

Jane, her sister and mother had fallen on hard times. Financially dependend on their families, they are forced to move in March to rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend martha Lloyd shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.
“The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.” JASA Soft and Loud,
Finally, four years after his father’s death, Edward Austen Knight refurbished Chawton Cottage for his mother and sisters, and had them move in. The walled garden, designed by Edward Austen Knight on the advice of his sisters Jane and Cassandra, is being recreated to provide not only flowers but organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs, some of which will be used in contemporary recipes to be prepared in the kitchens. The church where Jane’s mother and sister are buried sits halfway up the drive.(from Chawton site)There had always been generostiy from the Knights towards the Austens. .

Jane’s mother, Cassandra, who was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, placed a great hope that her rich childless brother, James Leigh-Perrot, would leave money to her eldest son James. While James Leigh-Perrot provided James with a clerical living and some supplementary cash, his property eventually went  not to James, but to his son, James Edward, who was Jane Austen’s biographer. James Leigh-Perrot left nothing to his sister Cassandra, even knowing that she lived on a small income. He might have supposed that her uber rich son, Edward, would take care of his mother, which, in a fashion he did. Why did Edward not contribute more to his mother and siblings?

This is mere conjecture on my part, but Edward did the best he could under the circumstances. Yes, he was rich beyond imagining, but his responsibilities were many and heavy. He inherited two large estates, which were the physical embodiment of his inheritance. The laws of primogentirue demanded that as the heir, he should keep everything intact, from the land, which provided the income, to the house and all the family heirlooms within it. The heir was merely a “keeper” of the estate and the family name, and his actions were proscribed. Edward was more a tenant than an owner, and he was duty bound to turn over his entire estate to his male heir. – The Country House, JASA.

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage

Running these estates, with their attendant servants and necessary improvements, took an enormous, some would say crippling, amount of resources. In addition, Edward’s family was large. His first wife, Elizabeth, died after giving birth to their eleventh child. Add his seven brothers and sisters, his biological mother and adopted mother and her family, the Knight family, and the ever widening circle of nieces and nephews, and the even larger circle of aunts, uncles and cousins on both the biological and adopted sides, and you can imagine the pressures Edward must have felt all around.  Had he doled out what we would deem as adequate support to all the needy individuals in his extended family, Edward’s estate would soon have been frittered away.

Chawton House

Chawton House

One cannot fault Edward too much for moving prudently and cautiously, for he was obliged first to his immediate family and the need to provide for adequate dowries for his daughters and support for his younger sons. I do fault him for not helping Jane to repurchase her manuscript, Susan (renamed Northanger Abbey), for the measly sum of £10, so that she could pursue its publication, but for all we know she might have never applied to him for help.

I sometimes wonder if the Austen women were as destitute as people today conjecture. Unlike 90% of their countrymen, who rarely traveled outside of their immediate area, the Austens traveled frequently, visiting friends and relatives. They were able to keep two servants and supplement their diet with vegetables from their kitchen garden, and received an endless supply of milk from Edward’s cows. Jane secured a modest but extra income from her writing, and the three women lived off a yearly income of  £500 pounds, which was only  £100 less than Rev. George Austen earned, who had a family of eight to feed, in addition to his boarders. Jane’s eldest brother,  Rev. Frank Austen, managed to keep a carriage for his second wife on an income of  £600 per year. I am not saying that the three women were rich, by any means, for, like Elinor Dashwood, they lived frugally and prudently, but they did dine frequently with Edward and visited him over extensive periods of time at Godmersham Park, which must have been as luxurious an experience as any visit to a high end resort.

After Thomas Knight died, his widow, instead of waiting until her own death, handed over the family estates to Edward, who from 1798 lived the life of a country gentleman at Godmersham in Kent. When Mrs Knight herself died in 1812, Edward and his family, as stipulated in her will, took the name of ‘Knight’, prompting his eldest daughter Fanny (a favourite niece of Jane Austen’s) to write in her diary that now ‘we are therefore all Knights instead of dear old Austens How I hate it!!!!!’. Fanny’s aunt Jane wrote more calmly to her friend Martha Lloyd that ‘I must learn to make a better K.” – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

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Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.

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Watch Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in this hilarious 5-minute sketch, titled The Duke of Northampton, in which the duke (Fry) discusses his “ownership” of Huntington Castle and his responsibilities to keep his estate intact for the next heir.

(Click on the bolded words for live links.) For another take on primogeniture laws and on the fee entail, click here to read my post on Jane Austen’s World titled The Fee Entail in Pride and Prejudice.

For other, more serious resources, click on these links:

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    The Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice were considered gentlewomen because their father, having inherited money, did not have to work for a living. In Jane Austen’s era, families with inherited money were considered to have a higher class and social standing than a family that lived on an income gained through hard work and labor. However,

    The squire of a great country house, in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, standing on his terrace looking out across his broad acres, was rarely the owner of his land or even his house. He was the life tenant, in possession of the family capital but unable to deal with his estates as if he owned them outright. His interests were subordinate to those of the family, and the family was of more importance than he was. He was the king in check, his freedom of manoeuvre limited by a peculiarly English system of inheritance, the strict settlement (English & Saville, 1983, p. 11).

    As the plot of Pride and Prejudice unfolds, one starts to sympathize with silly Mrs. Bennet’s determination to marry her daughters off to practically any eligible (and unknown) man who happened to stop by the neighborhood. Due to the stipulations of Mr. Bennet’s will that only a male heir can inherit his estate, none of the Bennet girls will receive any of their father’s money. Unless they married well, they will be left destitute. For Mrs. Bennet the situation was made even more galling knowing that Mr. Bennet’s cousin, a man the family had never met, would also inherit Longbourn House, their family home.

    Mr. Bennet to Mrs. Bennet:

    “About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.”

    “Oh! my dear,” cried his wife, “I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

    Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason; and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

    “It certainly is a most iniquitous affair,” said Mr. Bennet, “and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself.” – Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 13

    As it turns out, Mr. Collins, a ridiculous and self-important man, had good intentions. He arrives at the Bennet’s doorstep determined to ask for one of the Bennet daughters’ hand in marriage. In his mind, his generous act would make up for the unfairness of the will’s stipulation. Mr. Collins tells Mrs. Bennet about his desire to court Jane, the eldest daughter. When Mrs. Bennet informs Mr. Collins that Jane is practically engaged to Mr. Bingley, he quickly turns his attentions to Elizabeth, providing one of the most memorable marriage proposals in literary history, and one that I relish reading over and over. Learn more about entails from Wikipedia below:

    Pride and Prejudice contains a particularly thorny example of the kind of problems which could arise through the entailing of property. Mr. Bennet, the father of protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, had only a life interest in his property, known as Longbourn. He had no authority to dictate to whom it should pass upon his death, as it was strictly arranged to be inherited by the next male heir. Had Mr. Bennet fathered a son, it would have passed to him, but it could not pass to any of his five daughters. Instead, the next nearest male heir would inherit the property; in the course of the novel, this was revealed to be Mr. Bennet’s cousin, William Collins, a minister in his mid-twenties. The inheritance of the Longbourn property completely excluded the five legitimate Bennet daughters. Such entails typically arose from wills, rather than from marriage settlements, which usually made at least some provision for daughters.

    Read more about the topic here: The British Aristocracy, Capital and Income, and Nineteenth Century Company Accounting, Christopher J. Napier

    Illustration by C.E. Brock. In the novel, I recall the proposal scene occurring after breakfast. I do not recall Jane describing Lizzie at her sewing table as Mr. Collins proposes.

    Update: Read more about the entail as explained by a British lawyer named Henry in a post I titled: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Entail in Downton Abbey and More.

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