My previous blog provided short biographies of three women who inherited real property—by which I mean land, houses, farm buildings, and the like: Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, Mrs. Elizabeth Doughty, and Mrs. Eleanor Frances Dixie Pochin. Here are short biographies of three other women who inherited real property: Mrs. Catherine Knight, Mrs. Amelia Heber, and and Laura Pulteney, 1st Countess of Bath.
Catherine Knatchbull Knight (d. 1812)Most Jane Austen fans have heard of Catherine Knight. In 1779 she married Thomas Knight, a politician who sat in the House of Commons. Two years later Thomas inherited his father’s estates at Chawton, Godmersham Park, and Winchester. What is Catherine’s connection to Jane Austen? One of Austen’s brothers, Edward, was introduced to Catherine and Thomas Knight, who were wealthy, landowning relatives of his and Jane’s father. Since the Knights had no children they took the 12-year-old Edward under their wing, even sending him on a Grand Tour when he was 18 years old. In 1783, they designated him their heir.
When Thomas Knight died in 1794, his will specified that Godmersham Park and its lands should go to his wife for the rest of her life, with the remainder to Edward Austen. (The remainder in this case refers to his Chawton and Winchester estates.) Thus, Catherine Knight inherited Godmersham Park and its attached land holdings. However, she did not wish to remain at Godmersham Park after her husband died (perhaps because it required extensive maintenance or because she did not enjoy estate management) and so removed to Canterbury, signing over Godmersham and her other estates to Edward. After her death, Edward took the surname of Knight.
Mrs. Amelia Shipley Heber (1789-1870)
Amelia Shipley was born in 1789. Her father was Dr. William Davies Shipley, dean of St. Asaph Cathedral from 1774 to 1826; her mother was “the heiress of Bodrhyddan” in Rhuddlan. In 1809 she married Reginald Heber in Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, North Wales. Reginald Heber had a distinguished career as a man of letters, composer of hymns, and Bishop of Calcutta (today known as Kolkata). Two of his most beloved hymns are From Greenland’s Ice Mountains and Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.
Mrs. Heber wore the property-managing pants in her family. According to Mrs. Charles Cholmondeley, presumably a friend of the family, Bishop Heber so trusted his wife’s business judgment that he left her all of his property, made her the sole guardian of their children, and appointed her the executor of his affairs.1 On his death she inherited Hodnet Hall in Shropshire. She was also an authoress. After her husband’s death she edited and published his journals, hymns, sermons, and a 2-book biography of his life.
Henrietta Laura Pulteney, 1st Countess of Bath (1766-1808)(Henrietta) Laura Pulteney was the only child of the immensely wealthy William Johnstone, who later became Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet. (He was said to be the wealthiest man in England at that time.) Her mother was the heiress Frances Pulteney, who inherited the estate of her father’s cousin, General Harry Pulteney, who had himself inherited the estate of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath. (The latter was a prominent 18th-century politician and owned considerable property in what is now central London.) After Frances Pulteney inherited her empire, the Johnstones changed their surname to Pulteney. Thus, on her mother’s death Laura Pulteney inherited the enormous Pulteney estates.
Her father had holdings in Great Britain (Bath and Weymouth), North America, and the West Indies. He built the Pulteney Bridge and developed Great Pulteney Street and Sydney Place in Bath.2 He procured a title for his daughter, who became first Baroness of Bath in 1792 and then Countess of Bath in 1803. When he died intestate, his estate was divided equally between his daughter Laura and his second wife.
Laura Pulteney was said to be a very unusual woman in that she had an abiding interest in her money. Even though she was shy by nature, she learned to manage the family’s extensive properties. It was said of her that “in those affairs which may be called business, she was considered an expert.”2
What was Laura Pulteney’s estate worth when she died in 1808? The income from her father’s holdings was about £50,000 per year. On her death, her entire estate was estimated to be worth £600,000.3 What is £600,000 in 1808 money worth today? £51,480,000.
How Jane Austen would have envied such security! Her father died in 1805 while they were all living in Bath. Mrs. Austen was left with exceedingly fragile finances, having an income of only £210 per year and two daughters to support.4 Fortunately, four of Mrs. Austen’s sons were in a position to support their mother and sisters, thus raising Mrs. Austen’s annual income to £460 (equivalent to £38,566 in today’s money)—a modest income to support the three Austen ladies and also their friend Martha Lloyd, who moved in with the Austens after her mother died.
1Perkin, Joan. Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England. (Chicago: Lyceum Books, 1989), p. 78.
2Worsley, Lucy. Jane Austen at Home. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017), p. 160.
3Burke, Edmund. Annual Register, 1808, Vol. 50, p. 158.
4Halperin, John. The Life of Jane Austen. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 145-146.