In 2014, when I started this blog, I had published my first novel, Rosings Park—a story about Anne de Bourgh. Miss de Bourgh, you may know, is a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Her claim to fame is that she was expected to marry her cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy, but didn’t. (He married Elizabeth Bennet.) Among the several issues I considered before writing the first chapter was this: Did Anne inherit Rosings Park from her father?
After much consideration I decided that, yes, she did inherit Rosings Park. I reached this conclusion after reading several books and also corresponding with Eileen Spring, author of Law, Land, & Family.1 Having inherited Rosings Park, could Anne be said to own it? Not precisely. She inherited Rosings Park as a life tenant, which meant that she could make improvements to it, but she could not sell any part of it. Basically, she was the conduit through which Rosings Park would pass to her eldest son (provided she had one). Few wives and daughters of the Regency era inherited real property (land, houses, and the like) because the inheritance laws were stacked against them. Men won the inheritance game during Jane Austen’s day (and for many decades afterward).
Nonetheless, some women did inherit real property. These mostly aristocratic women were influential, powerful, and managed their own lives.2 A woman with personal wealth could do pretty much as she pleased. Here are the stories of three such women: Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, Mrs. Elizabeth Doughty, and Mrs. Eleanor Frances Dixie Pochin.
Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800)
Mrs. Montagu was one of the original Bluestockings mentioned in my previous blog. Her husband, Edward Montagu, Esq., was a wealthy man. When he died in 1776, he left her his entire fortune, both real (meaning real property) and personal. (They had no children to inherit, their one son having died suddenly at the age of one year.) The estates she inherited generated £7,000 a year “in her own power,” meaning that she could do what she wanted with her property, including selling it.3
Seven thousand pounds doesn’t sound like much until one compares the value of one pound in 1776 with the value of one pound in 2018. The UK Inflation Calculator indicates that £1 in 1776 is equivalent to £159.17 today. Thus, Mrs. Montagu had a yearly income of £1,114,190 in 2018 pounds, which would place her in the top 0.1% of today’s UK earners. The estates Mrs. Montagu inherited included her husband’s Sandleford property in Berkshire and his coal mines at Denton Hall near Newcastle, Northumberland.
And she managed his properties, too! After her husband’s death she traveled to her estate at Burniston, for example, where she met with her steward to discuss her many tenant farms. The next day she hosted a dinner for her tenants.In Darlington she met with more tenants. In Denton she visited the coal mine and had a “fat beast” killed once a week, sending a piece of its meat to each family.4 She was a generous property owner.
Elizabeth Doughty (Birth/Death Dates Not Found)
Elizabeth Doughty was an heiress who in 1786 purchased a three-story house that sits at the crest of Richmond Hill and enjoys a commanding view of the River Thames. Originally built for Sir William Richardson in 1769, the Georgian mansion became known as Doughty House after she purchased it. (It is currently being renovated as a private residence.) After Mrs. Doughty died, the second son of Sir Henry Tichborne succeeded to her estate and changed his surname to Doughty, as shown at right. According to this genealogical summary Elizabeth Doughty appears to have been associated with Snarford Hall (described as both a “manor house” and a “farmhouse” by Historic England) and another property at Barkwith in Lincolnshire, in addition to the Richmond Hill (Surrey) house.
According to Burke’s History of Commoners Elizabeth was the fourth of five children.6 The numbers are a bit jumbled, but Burke reports that Elizabeth’s older sister, Abigail, died in 1831, aged 90. Thus, Abigail was born in 1741, which suggests that Elizabeth was born in the 1730’s. If her birthdate is correct, it indicates that she bought the property in Richmond Hill when she was in her 40’s. The fact that she appears to have purchased the property herself suggests that she was not married at the time. I found no information regarding her marriage. She appears to have styled herself with the courtesy title “Mrs.” As with so many other searches, this one is sorely lacking in strong details.
Eleanor Frances Dixie Pochin (1746-1823)Mrs. Pochin, shown at right, was the daughter of Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. (A portrait of her family can be seen in my blog titled “A Life of Perpetual Pregnancy for Regency Women“). She married Colonel George Pochin, Esq., of Lincolnshire. Her husband died in 1798, leaving no issue (that is, they had no children).7 When her half-brother, Sir Wolstan Dixie, 5th Baronet, died unmarried, she succeeded to his estate, Bosworth Hall, although the baronetcy itself descended to her second-cousin, Sir Beaumont-Joseph Dixie, the 6th baronet, as was customary.
Bosworth Hall was the country estate of the Dixies for roughly three hundred years. The last Sir Wolstan Dixie to live there was the 13th Baronet, who died in 1975. His elder daughter has claimed that the title should pass through the female line, in keeping with the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 (which was repealed by the Equality Act of 2010); her claim remains unsettled. Since Sir Wolstan’s death, the property has changed hands three times and was once a hospital. It is now a 210-bedroom hotel. A panoramic view of the estate painted in 1725-1730 is shown below.
1Spring, Eileen. Law, Land, & Family: Aristocratic Inheritance in England, 1300 to 1800. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
2Perkin, Joan. Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England. (Chicago: Lyceum Books, 1989), pp. 76-77.
3Doran, Dr. A Lady of the Last Century (Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu). (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1873), p. 193 (PDF p. 218).
4Ibid., pp. 195-201 (PDF pp. 220-226).
5Burke J and Burke JB. A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 1. (London: Henry Colburn, 1847), p. 344.
6Burke, John. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of The Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. II. (London: Henry Colburn, 1835), p. 540 (PDF p. 573).
7Anon. Mrs. Pochin (Obitutary). (London: The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1823, Vol. 93), p. 282 (PDF p. 307).