Single men of large fortune

Meet the Regency era's most eligible bachelors

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Single men of large fortune

Since jobs and professions were usually a no-go for the upper classes, there were only a few careers open to cash-strapped male aristocrats. One of these was the clergy, since the church was very respectable – and the heart of country society. Practically everyone went to church, for gossip if not for salvation, and the vicarage was usually one of the best homes in a village. A parish was a ‘benefice’ or ‘living’ rather than a ‘calling’, usually appointed by the landowner. It was often reserved for younger sons of landed gentry, who would not inherit the family estate. A woman looking for a husband with a secure future would do well to marry a local clergyman. 

Austen had a sharp eye for clergymen. Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Mr Elton in Emma are two of her funniest characters, but she recognised many men of the cloth were sincere. There are few examples in literature of a romantic hero that craves a career in the church, but Edward Ferrers in Sense and Sensibility and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park both fall into that category.  

 
 

 
Though not the most charming of gentlemen, clergyman Mr Collins guaranteed a lifetime of security
 

If they longed for adventure, the Navy was a good way for young men born without fortune to amass some money and standing. Prize money – a portion of the loot from captured enemy ships – was a great way to boost income, and even relatively humbly born men found it possible to rise through the ranks. Fanny’s beloved brother William in Mansfield Park is allegedly based on Jane’s own two naval brothers: Francis, who eventually became Admiral of the Fleet, and Charles, Rear-Admiral of the famous warship Namur. 

Servicemen in Austen’s world, however, are double-edged sabres. Her younger, more impressionable female characters are obsessed with pleasure-seeking officers in their brightly coloured ‘regimentals’. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion are attractive, older ‘men of the world’, with a distinctly edgy feel. Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Wickham is such a rake, even the local militia won’t have him and he is forced into the ‘regulars’ – a much more dangerous profession, which carried a real possibility of being called up to fight for the Duke of Wellington. 

 
 
 
Read the full feature on Doctor Who in the July 2016 issue of History Revealed, available to buy from buysubscriptions.com, or why not subscribe and save 33% on the newsstand price
 
 

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