So they have boatloads of cash right? Gigantic house in the country (known as their country seat) and beautiful mansion in Town? They are all so very handsome whether man or woman and they have all the time in the world to rollick about and cause scandals….right?
Now, I haven’t learnt a great deal about the aristocracy of the Regency yet. I am still researching and as in my previous post I went over the history and size of the aristocracy, I thought in this one I would go onto what that 200 hundred or so title bearers and their families would do…with their lives that is.
What it’s worth remembering is that these people did not just exist within the Regency Era (1811-1820), no, some of them would have been living within the reign of the previous monarch, Farmer George III making them old men within the Regency, some of them would be born in the Regency Era and live to know the full excesses of Prinny and on into his brother, formerly the Duke of Clarence and latterly King William IV’s reign, whilst yet others would be coming of age in the Regency. (Of course, it’s these aristocrats, aged 18 – 35, that we hear most about in Regency Romances 😉 ).
- For those who were, of age in the period of Prince George’s Regency, what exactly did they do? Were they just party animals, gambling, drinking and jumping into bed with every painted lady and saucy madam they could find? The men that is…
- Well, truth be told, as much as a Title brought with it privileges; usually land and if you had thrifty ancestors, a fortune; a Title also brought responsibility. A Title gave you a seat in the House of Lords, you were expected to have a hand in politics and the government. If you had a long-standing family line of Title holders in your family, you carried the achievements and reputation of them all throughout your life.
But perhaps the huge and beautiful houses paid off? Well, I have a three bedroomed flat at the moment and it takes me quite a lot of time and energy just to keep on top of it, just imagine ‘keeping on top of’ a great house. Chatsworth, the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire and the past home of the famous or perhaps infamous Georgiana, part of Prinny’s Clarence House set, has 175 rooms, it has 17 staircases, 24 baths, 52 hand basins, 53 toilets and 21 kitchens. This is one of the grandest houses I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit and if it was mine it would be rather fabulous – it would also be an incredible (and I do not use the word lightly) responsibility and workload.
Yes, the Duchesses, Countesses, Viscountesses, Ladies and Most Honourable blah, blah, blahs of the day did hold lavish balls, attend the theatre, assemblies and exhibitions. They upheld a full schedule of social engagements whether it be morning calls or other. They also ran the equivalent of a large hotel which was known as their home. In some cases these homes were very large, like Chatsworth. They would be expected to hold house parties and whereas now our guests may stay a long weekend or a week at the most, these spectacular house parties could go on for beyond a month. They would organise menus with the cooks, the accounts of the house, the hiring and firing of servants, the decoration of the house and in between these activities be working on popping out a podgey little master for an heir.
You might think the aristocratic ladies have the brunt of it but I haven’t even gotten to the estate yet. Not only did the aristocratic man hold the responsibility of his name, his seat in the House of Lords, his reputation, his ability to make a good match and produce an heir, he also held the running of his estate upon his shoulders. He had stewards and managers perhaps but the final weight of responsibility rest with him. You might say, so what? All he had to do was make sure they were getting good crop yields etc and if not he lost a bit of money.
True in part but the main heaviness of responsibility came from his tenants. Though developed from feudal times with no serfdom or complete hold over workers lives, the Titled man held his tenant’s livelihoods and therefore their well-being in his hands.
Oh, don’t we love a reckless rake as I said in my last post? Do we not delight in their scandal causing ways and their ‘care-for-nought’ attitude? However, what we often don’t appreciate fully whilst reading these characters, is how utterly selfish these men were being.
They did not just damage themselves by their behaviour, nor did it limit itself to the degradation of the family name. If the Titled man was gambling away his fortune, always in Town raising hell and constantly being parts of wagers at White’s which threatened his life, the extent of his foolishness would run right to his tenants. How could he pay them and keep up the estate and the equipment and animals they needed if he no longer had a fortune? How could he manage and better his estate if he were never there? And what would happen if he up and died whilst competing in a particularly dangerous carriage race from London to Newbury?
We love the entertainment and the lavishness of their lives back then. We love the etiquette and the scandal caused by breaking the rules. We love the balls, assemblies, theatre, clubs, bets and social engagements.
Yet, underneath it all, a good titled man was shouldering his responsibility, enjoying the life afforded him and never forgetting all that balanced upon him. A good titled woman was accomplished, quick-witted, practical and level-headed.
Now whether these perfect people really existed is another case entirely, but at least we can realise that they were hopefully not all air-headed snobs or devil-chasing care-for-noughts……Hopefully…..