A few days ago, in the giveaway for Maria Grace's Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World, I promised I'd be sharing a peek into its contents. Well, today is that day! Here's a look at some of the fascinating details of Regency life, courtesy of Ms. Grace (whom you already know breaks things down for us quite well); check it out, and leave your thoughts in the comments! And don't forget to enter to win a copy! (Psst! A new bonus entry has been added, just for this post!)
One of the most bewildering aspects of marriage in the regency era was the marriage settlements. These were prenuptial documents that established the financial arrangements of the marriage. This excerpt from Chapter 8 of Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World explains what the settlement contained.
Contents of the Marriage Settlement
Pin money, a woman’s disposable income, was stipulated in the marriage settlement. It represented money she could spend without answering to her husband. Since common law only stipulated that a man had to provide his wife’s ‘necessities’, pin money could supply the ‘luxuries’ that might be required to live the lifestyle to which she was accustomed.
The concept makes a great deal of sense, but since only a small minority of women enjoyed marriage settlements, most probably did not enjoy the luxury of their own private allowance to be spent as they wished. Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice gushes over the pin money she expects daughters Jane and Elizabeth to have as a consequence of marrying wealthy men. Later, Elizabeth notes making gifts to sister Lydia out of that pin money instead of bringing Lydia's requests for support to her husband.
Dower and Jointure
Until into the nineteenth century, without a jointure in a pre-marital contract, English common law ensured the widow had a right to a life interest in one third of the freehold lands in her husband's hands at the time of her marriage. The only way the widow could lose these rights was if her husband or herself was found guilty of treason, felony or adultery.
The jointure, the settlement on a bride by her future husband of a freehold estate secured for her widowhood, came into practice with the Statute of Uses (1535). To receive this settlement, the prospective wife had to surrender her dower (not to be confused with her dowry which was something different altogether.)
With formal repeal of dower in 1833, wives lost the absolute right to inherit. So in the absence of jointure provisions or explicit provisions in a husband’s will, the widow could be left without support at her husband’s death. If a man left his wife property upon his death, it might be marked with the stipulation that it would revert to his heir or another designate if she remarried.
Jointures were rarely on the same level as the dowry a woman brought to the marriage. They were usually anchored on the amount that a woman brought into a marriage. Generally it was an annuity, payable by the heir of the estate, equal to one tenth of a woman’s dowry. The annuity would be payable by the heir of a man’s estate until the woman’s death upon which time the principle would descend to her children.
The ratio of jointure to dowry was established by the expectation that the average wife would outlive her husband by about ten years. Thus, she would most likely receive back the amount she brought into the marriage over the duration of her widowhood.
The issues of jointure and inheritance created the initial problems for the widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters in Sense and Sensibility. Mrs. Dashwood was the second wife of Mr. Dashwood and not the mother of his heir (his son). The estate passed into his son's hands at the senior Mr. Dashwood’s death. Since the current Mrs. Dashwood was not the heir's mother, he had no obligation to provide for her or her daughters--and did not deign to do so. Instead, the widow and her daughters were forced to live on the income supplied by the jointure, £500. (This implies that she brought £5000 into the marriage as her dowry.) While the amount is sufficient to maintain them, it is not enough for luxuries like a carriage which would generally require twice that income to support.
Settlements to the Children
Marriage settlements also stipulated provisions for a couple’s children. Special provisions for children from a prior marriage would be included to insure that they received portions from their father’s property if it was in their mother’s hands at the time of her remarriage. If a man were widowed, these same provisions protected a first wife’s children from losing their mother’s fortune to a subsequent wife’s machinations. Those terms might also limit what a father could pass down to children from subsequent wives, the case in Sense and Sensibility.
The monies a woman brought into the marriage through her dowry and any other settlements on her, would go to her children, both sons and daughters, upon her death. Additional funds could be settled on the children from the father’s estate. The marriage articles would stipulate the amounts.
Typically, only the total amounts would be set forth in the settlement, not the division among the children. This made sense given there was no way to know ahead of time how many children of which gender would be born. One consequence, though, was that a parent might threaten to readjust the division of the funds in order to control the behavior of a child set on thwarting his or her parent’s wishes. Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility did this when Edward refused to give up Lucy Steele. She settled her fortune irrevocably upon his younger brother—who of course then took up with Lucy Steele himself. Clever girl.
While all these documents and legal requirements make for great plot points in fiction, it is important to remember most women would have been happy with a dowry of a few hundred pounds; most children did not inherit vast sums or property from their parents; and most widows had to rely on their children and other family for support.
If you’d like to know more about the customs of Jane Austen’s day, check out Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World by Maria Grace
Jane Austen’s books are full of hidden mysteries for the modern reader. Why on earth would Elizabeth Bennet be expected to consider a suitor like foolish Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice? Would Lydia's 'infamous elopement' truly have ruined her family and her other sisters’ chances to marry? Why were the Dashwood women thrown out of their home after Mr. Dashwood's death in Sense and Sensibility, and what was the problem with secret engagements anyway? And then there are settlements, pin money, marriage articles and many other puzzles for today’s Austen lovers.
Customs have changed dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels. Beyond the differences in etiquette and speech, words that sound familiar to us are often misleading. References her original readers would have understood leave today’s readers scratching their heads and missing important implications.
Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage in Jane Austen's world. Packed with information and rich with detail from Austen's novels, Maria Grace casts a light on the sometimes bizarre rules of Regency courtship and unravels the hidden nuances in Jane Austen's works.
About the Author:
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.
She can be contacted at:
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
On Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/mariagrace423/
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