Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Country Life, Part 1

Hello, everyone! We hope you had a wonderful summer. Now that September’s almost here, we’re slipping back into our regular posting schedule once again…did you miss us?

A couple of posts ago Regina blogged about country house visits. We thought it would interesting to delve a little more deeply into the country house...the place where our young ladies of fortune retired to when they weren't gallivanting about in London, going to Almack's and flirting with handsome young men.

An estate (or often more than one) in the country was home for the upper classes in 19th century England. More than the aristocracy of other European nations, the English loved country life. Houses in London, Bath, Brighton, or whatever other urban setting might come and go, but the ancestral estate was always there.

There was a darned good reason it was always there: ownership of extensive amounts of land was the noble family's source of wealth. Don't forget that English titles of nobility were usually tied to a geographical location, a relic of the giant land giveaway that happened after the Conquest. A wealthy landowner's income, whether he was titled or not, came chiefly from rents on land and buildings and commercial property: you rented land for farms out to farmers, houses and shop buildings in your villages to shopkeepers and professionals. But there was also substantial money to be had from from crops and other products of the land like mining, forestry, and animal husbandry, and from manufacturing.

In addition, if you were a member of the House of Commons (open to non-peers), you generally counted on your tenants (the ones who could vote, anyway) to vote for you. Prior to the 19th century seats in Parliament were almost looked at as family perquisites that could be handed down father to son; while that assumption was less true in the 19th century, it hadn't entirely gone away.

In short, if you had land, you had money and power.

Not everyone was enamored of country life--not a few wealthy men dedicated themselves to life in politics, the law, or court life, which necessitated living in the city. But the country house was always there in the background, like a safety net one could fall into during times of illness, disgrace, or surfeit with city life and high living. It was the place you called home.

Stay tuned for more detail on just what life in the country entailed.

And it's nice to be back!


ChaChaneen said...

Welcome back and yes you ladies were missed! I did enjoy your summer hiatus postings on various subjects but am looking forward to the regular rhythm again. Have a great day!

Gillian Layne said...

And it's nice to have you all back! :)

I imagine you all could think up a month's worth of posts concerning country life. Do you have any good books or references on village life? I realized I don't know much on the particulars.

Marissa Doyle said...

What decades, Gillian? I highly recommend Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford (I discussed it here a year or two ago)hich takes place in the 1880s and 1890s, but hearkens back to earlier days as well. You aso might look up The Victorian Country Child by Pamela Horn (or indeed ANY of her books-- wonderful research). Some of Mark Girouard's books on the English country house might also be a good starting place (like Life in the English Country House).

It's nice to be back!!

QNPoohBear said...

Welcome back, ladies! I'm a city girl myself but it's always nice to get out to the country for a time.

I second Marissa's recommendation of Lark Rise to Candleford, and watch the TV series too. (It's been airing on our local PBS and you can find episodes on You Tube). It's full of wonderful and quirky characters.