Why the ‘bond’ of marriage meant freedom for Regency ladies – a guest post from Sophia Holloway to celebrate the publication of Kingscastle
To celebrate the recent publication of Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway, and the end of the Kingscastle blog tour, we invited Sophia to share some thoughts on how marriage liberated women in the Regency era…
Human nature does not change, but social attitudes do. The Regency romance in the twenty first century sits less easily than it did when Georgette Heyer virtually invented it in the first half of the twentieth because the rights, expectations and aspirations of women have moved on. Women are independent and have equal rights in law. We are empowered. When Heyer was writing, and for most of that long period, a woman even needed a man to act as surety for her if she wanted a mortgage. She certainly did not receive the same pay for the same job, and opportunities were limited when it came to careers. The gap between the position of a woman in the Regency elite and the woman of today has increased exponentially from that between the Regency and the woman of the 1950s. The Regency romance is all about love, but also marriage; marriage where the wife and all she owned became the possession of her husband. It sounds repellant, but in fact marriage was simultaneously a liberation as well as a shackle, and one can see why so much effort was put into getting daughters married.
Cynics would say this was to make them someone else’s responsibility, but in fact it was seen as ensuring a daughter’s security. In the world of the time, that was correct. There was the odd exception where a single lady carved out a life on her own, but for the most part a woman who did not marry had a life that gave her little. The likelihood would be that she would become the companion to her mother in the dower house, or perhaps live frugally in a grace and favour house on her brother’s estate, or on some small and generally unvisited minor holding of the head of the family. She would be reliant upon them for money, and could make few decisions of her own. She was an encumbrance, and knew it. Society viewed her as a failure and her social world would slowly implode. Mothers were thus desperate that their daughters avoided this grim future, and securing a prestigious husband for their progeny was in many ways the final proof of a lady’s success, and would make her the envy of her friends.
If a young lady married suitably, or even better, very well, then her life became less constricted even as she became her husband’s possession. She gained social standing because she had succeeded and become a wife, augmented by the social status of her husband, and at a superficial level was permitted to wear the finer fabrics, brighter colours and bolder designs that were not considered suitable for demure maidens. She would have sufficient ‘pin money’ for her to go to the most fashionable modistes (though many a husband remonstrated at the level of debt his wife ran up with her dressmaker). Most of all she had the running of the family seat and London residence, her own household empires. Whilst working was something the lower social orders did to keep a roof over their head, the society lady was not idle. She did what we would term ‘networking’ on a daily basis, was her own party planner, and at the family seat would organise open days and oversee local charity. She would also change her clothes, with the aid of her maid, according to the time of day and activity from riding or walking to calls upon other ladies, dinner or a party. Six changes in a day would be perfectly normal.
In a sense the Regency hostess was like a modern CEO of a business, projecting an image, directing what would be done, delegating, making important decisions which affected how her ‘company’ stood among its peers. The Regency miss looking for a husband was seeking promotion, so perhaps we have more in common with her than it might at first appear.
Oh, and love? Well, that is for the pages of the romance.
Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway (9780749027834) is out now in paperback.