No matter what the time period, people have always worried about money. So, how did a Regency-era gentleman, who was not born to wealth, manage to stay afloat, and what happened if he gambled away all the “blunt” he inherited from his grandmother, the Countess? Here are a few things a Regency-era gentleman might have done to increase his holdings and his consequence.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, gentlemen knew that land was always a secure investment. Land didn’t deteriorate and if farmed, produced a steady rental income from tenant farmers. Unfortunately, the majority of the older family estates were entailed, so not much new land was available for purchase. Therefore, if a gentleman wished to invest in “something” he had to look elsewhere to secure his future. (Note: For the most part, Regency ladies simply focused on finding a wealthy man to marry and never gave pounds or pence another thought.)
Anyhow, in Regency England, the “funds” were a popular and fairly lucrative investment. The “funds” was another name for the national debt, which was backed by the government and being systemically paid off with money from various other funds. Because the government backed the “funds”, to invest in them was not considered risky, plus it paid a respectable return of up to five percent. (Gee, even back then interest rates were higher than they are today.) A gentleman might tell a friend he’d invested in the “four percents”, referring to the rate he would receive from his investment.
Another type of government security that was popular then were “consols” which paid around 3%. Consol was a term that referred to a group of nine different annuities that prior to 1800 had been consolidated into one. Consols could not easily be cashed in and were set up to pay the annuitant a regular income, so this was another fairly safe way to go.
A younger son, however, might encounter difficulty securing his future. A small sum didn’t go very far, not if he wanted to see and be seen at the fancy balls and soirees held during a London Season. Plus, after a few visits to the most fashionable Bond Street tailor, and an impulsive purchase at Tattersall’s, no doubt the young man would find his pockets to let. Therefore, any subsequent purchases he made would have to be on credit. Even the most affluent gentlemen bought nearly all their goods and supplies on credit.
Finding himself without a feather to fly with, a gentleman might turn to a bill broker, or perhaps a moneylender, who in exchange for his signature on a promissory note, would advance him a decent sum. But when the London Season drew to an end and the wealthy heiress he’d been eyeing wed another man, the younger son’s future would again look grim.
Bill collectors now call daily. There’s nothing to stop his more persistent creditors from paying a shilling for an arrest warrant, then turning it over to a sheriff’s officer, and the young man, if not a peer of the realm, would then be arrested and thrown into jail. He’s allowed a few days to make a show of settling his affairs, but more than likely, the proud pup will still refuse to give up his spanking new barouche and the prize cattle (meaning the matched bays he purchased at Tattersall’s) that go with it.
Because he now can’t pay his rent, his landlord seizes his furniture and after five days, sells it to recover some of the back rent. His carriage and cattle are stabled elsewhere, so at least the young man believes they are safe. For the nonce.
At the young man’s trial, he is declared a “debtor” as opposed to a “bankrupt”, and once again, is locked up. His family is horrified by the shame he’s brought on their heads. His father, a harsh but principled man, refuses to come to his aid. In a hastily scribbled note, he angrily accuses his youngest son of being “. . . a wastrel and a rakehell whose actions have proven he cares not a whit for his dear mother’s good name.”
After languishing three long months in prison, the down-trodden scoundrel, who is now a scandalous embarrassment to his family, reluctantly agrees to give up the rest of his possessions in order to satisfy his creditors. Thereafter, the Court of Insolvent Debtors in Lincoln’s Inn Fields sets him free. Jail not being to the young man’s liking, he now decides to take his dear mother’s advice and declare himself to the rather bracket-faced, but quite wealthy young lady he met the last time he attended a Wednesday evening assembly at Almack’s. To his chagrin, the girl accepts his suit. Her father is overjoyed. His father congratulates his son on his “wise investment.”
In my newly released novel, Murder In Mayfair, set in London in 1821, a young man turns to collecting and selling antiquities as a way of earning the money he needs to secure his future. Of course, things go vastly awry and all does not end well.
Best-selling author Marilyn Clay has written numerous novels set during the English Regency period. For sixteen years, she published The Regency Plume, an international newsletter focused on the English Regency. She has written several historical suspense novels set in Colonial American Jamestown in the 1600s; another set in Philadelphia in 1776, and a contemporary murder mystery set in Dallas, Texas. Her latest novels include Book #1 and #2 of her new Juliette Abbott Regency-set Mystery Series, Murder At Morland Manor and Murder In Mayfair, released in January 2017. A full-time writer, Marilyn is currently at work on Murder In Margate, #3 in the Juliette Abbott Regency Mystery Series, scheduled for release in August, 2017. You can read more about Marilyn Clay’s novels at Marilyn Clay Author or her Amazon Author Central page. You’ll find Murder In Mayfair at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple itunes, KOBO, and in Paperback.
“Murder In Mayfair is a fine Regency mystery brimming with suspense and intrigue, surprising twists and turns, and seasoned with just a hint of romance. Witty and outspoken, Juliette Abbott is a first-rate, fast-thinking young sleuth! Well done!” – Regency Mystery Reviews.