One of my editors for The Mistress of Rosings Park presented me a question that I thought I should address to all, not just to her. In my story, Mr. Darcy assumes control of Rosings Park after the death of his wife, the former Anne de Bourgh. I understood what I planned to happen to Mr. Collins’s “living,” the one presented to him by Lady Catherine, but still my editor pointed out that she understood that a living was for life and could not be rescinded. That is a common belief, but there were means around the situation.
First, we must acknowledge that to hold a living, meaning retain it for life, the man had to be a rector as in residing in the rectory, vicarage, or parsonage, the “free” home presented to him along with his employment and his duties. A rector had the legal right to the living and could not be forced out unless he had acted in some manner against the church or his duties to his parishioners. Do recall there were NO pension plans upon which an elderly rector could hang his hat. For a variety of reasons, it was important to keep the living as a life term. The rector had the right to lay claim all the money associated with the living.
The income allotted to the rector came from two sources: (1) glebe land, meaning a small farm, a tradition carried forward from mediaeval times when the parish priest was responsible for growing his own food. By the Regency era, the rector would customarily made an arrangement with a local farmer to manage the land in return for part of the crop produced thereon or he let it out to a farmer and used the rent money to purchase the food he required for his household. Naturally, any extra produce could be sold to others, resulting in more income. (2) Tithes, a church tax in the amount of 10% charged against certain land holdings, different properties in the parish, and the crops produced. The rector was expected to collect these tithes himself, meaning he was a “tax collector” who often had to deal with those who defaulted on their payments. These taxes were paid on specific days each year—usually two days, but sometimes quarterly payments were arranged. The person owing the tax would bring it to the rector’s home, where he was served a good meal and plenty to drink in return.
A vicar, on the other hand, could only lay claim to the income allowed him by the rector. A vicar was a “deputy” for the rector, usually meaning a rector was not willing to serve the parish himself. This usually happened if the rectorship was owned by a college or other institution or by a lay-person.
A rector and a vicar could be considered curates for that particular word referred to the ordained person who “cured” the souls of the parish, but, by the Regency era, it had come to a different definition. A curate was a salaried assistant, deputy or locum, who was paid a stipend or salary by the rector or vicar to whom he reported. One might recall in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” Captain Wentworth’s brother was a curate. A perpetual curate, a term also found during the Regency was a curate with no allegiance to a rector or vicar. He was employed through an endowment or a charity. He received a salary, but nothing from the tithes.
In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we learn: ” Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.”
Austen’s father was a rector of Deane and of Steventon in Hampshire. Orphaned at the age of nine, George Austen (and his sister Philadelphia) were taken in my Uncle Francis Austen, a rich man. After attending Tonbridge School and St John’s College, his uncle purchased the living at Deane for him. His cousin presented him the living at Steventon, which was turned over to his son James when he retired.
The point is, Jane Austen understood the legality of a “living.”
So, how do I remove Mr. Collins if he has been presented a living, for a living is for life?
During the Georgian era, receiving a living depended upon patronage or influence. The patron or patroness, in this instance, “presented” the living to a clergyman. HOWEVER, it was still up to the diocesan bishop to accept or deny the presentation. The only exception would be a “gift” of the living from the bishop himself. Remember the right of presentation could be bought or sold. The rich and influential would use this “loophole” as a means to hold the living for younger sons. Granting patronage occurred where there was the most advantage. The livings held by Oxford and Cambridge were reserved to provide a career for fellows of the university or alumni. Landed gentry presented their holdings to family members or favorites of the family.
So, I ask you: What if Lady Catherine who likely has no right to Rosings Park (unless Sir Lewis left it to her in his will, rather than to leave it to his daughter Anne or have it pass to another person in the male line of succession) presents Mr. Collins with a living, but the diocesan bishop never approved of the presentation? Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!!!
For additional reading on the Clergy during Austen’s time, you might find this piece from Elaine Owen on the Austen Authors’ blog valuable. I certainly did.
Enjoy this short excerpt from The Mistress of Rosings Park, currently on preorder and available on 8 January 2021.
Late June 1813
“That dreadful man will arrive tomorrow,” Lady Catherine de Bourgh bemoaned. “And I have had no opportunity to remove to the dower house.”
“There. There,” Mr. Collins commiserated. “Mrs. Collins and I will assist you. Your situation, if I may be so bold to say, is a true travesty, my lady. A travesty indeed.”
From her position in a chair in the corner of the room, Elizabeth Bennet watched in mild amusement as her father’s cousin attempted to calm the latest round of hysterics displayed by the grand dame of Rosings Park. Mr. Collins, who continually genuflected before his patroness, was a comical creature without even attempting to be so. Elizabeth said a silent prayer of blessing that the man had not become her husband; yet, she again pitied her long-time friend, Charlotte Lucas, who had readily accepted the man’s proposal out of fear of becoming a burden to her family.
In truth, Elizabeth had been surprised to receive an invitation for a visit to Kent from the Collinses. She suspected Mr. Collins had agreed in order to prove to Elizabeth she had made a mistake in refusing him. The situation had been poorly played by all, and her relationship with Charlotte had suffered greatly. Their bond had been badly shaken by her friend’s acceptance of Mr. Collins’s hand, a man who had proposed to Elizabeth and been rejected fewer than two hours prior to his proposal to Charlotte.
The scene of the man’s insolent superiority played through Elizabeth’s head as she watched Mr. Collins attempt to soothe Lady Catherine’s vexations.
“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins with a formal wave of his hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am, therefore, by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”
“Upon my word, sir,” Elizabeth had cried, “your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies, if such young ladies there are, who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world to make you so. Nay, were your friend, Lady Catherine, to know me, I am perfectly persuaded she would find me in every respect ill-qualified for the situation.”
Elizabeth had been correct. At home, it was Jane and Mary who tended to their mother’s “nerves.” Elizabeth would certainly not be as solicitous to Lady Catherine’s vapors as were the Collinses. She was more likely to tell the woman to “saddle up.” Even so, she understood the Collinses’ position in this melodrama.
Earlier, Charlotte had explained that Rosings Park had passed to Lady Catherine’s daughter when the young woman reached her majority, although it appeared to Elizabeth as if her ladyship had continued to run the estate. Miss Anne de Bourgh had married and had removed to her new husband’s estate. Much to the chagrin of all concerned, reportedly, Miss de Bourgh had passed within months of her marriage, and the property now belonged to the lady’s husband. However, Lady Catherine had yet to abdicate her rule over the estate, which was none of Elizabeth’s business, but, if anyone had been foolish enough to ask, she would agree the estate could use a different hand on the helm. Despite the manor house being a true showcase, on her short walk of the grounds yesterday after services, she had noted how the parkland and the formal gardens did not reflect the same style of care as did the house.
Elizabeth instinctively glanced to the window which overlooked the undulating lawn. She would love to claim a long walk in the park, but, if Mr. Collins meant to tend to Lady Catherine’s hysterics, the possibility of doing so was slim. It was not as if she could simply pardon herself and leave for a stroll about the grounds while her cousin was thus engaged. She realized this was an important moment in Mr. Collins’s life, for, if Lady Catherine was no longer in control of Rosings Park, what became of Mr. Collins’s living? Obviously, Lady Catherine had presented Mr. Collins the Hunsford living, but had the diocesan bishop accepted the presentation? If not, Mr. Collins’s position could be called in question.
And what would become of Charlotte’s future? Elizabeth would not like to view Charlotte living in poverty. She could not help but to wonder how much was the living Lady Catherine presented to Mr. Collins worth? Elizabeth knew some vicars lived on as little as thirty pounds per year. She suspected Mr. Collins received more, but how much more? It would take somewhere around one hundred pounds per year for the illusion of a modest lifestyle, which was what Elizabeth observed at Hunsford Cottage. However, it was well understood that the right of presentation could be bought and sold. Was her father’s cousin receiving any of the tithes? She would write to her father and ask him what he knew of Mr. Collins’s position. Like her mother, Elizabeth had made some assumptions regarding Lady Catherine’s presentation of the living; none of the Bennets, perhaps with the exception of her father had thought to question Mr. Collins’s constant praise of Lady Catherine’s generosity. After viewing her ladyship’s lack of care of parts of the estate, Elizabeth thought perhaps having her ladyship as Mr. Collins’s patroness might not be such a blessing, after all. She could not image her father’s cousin had come away his days at Oxford with glowing reports. Perhaps he was acting in the place of another, more in the role of curate, and had not told anyone of the fragility of his position. Elizabeth made a silent promise to remain at Rosings to determine if she might be of service to her friend and mend the gap that had split their friendship nearly a year prior and to learn the truth of Mr. Collins’s role in Hunsford’s future.
Her thoughts were thusly engaged on what she might do to assist Charlotte beyond taking over some of her friend’s duties at Hunsford Cottage when the “play” before her shifted with the entrance of new character.
“The Earl of Matlock, my lady,” the butler announced unexpectedly.
THE MISTRESS OF ROSINGS PARK: A PRIDE AND PREJUDICE VAGARY
ARRIVING FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2021
I much prefer the sharp criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses. – Johannes Kepler
When she arrives at Hunsford Cottage for a visit with her long-time friend Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet does not expect the melodrama awaiting her at Rosings Park.
Mrs. Anne Darcy, nee de Bourgh, has passed, and Rosings Park is, by law, the property of the woman’s husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy; yet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is not ready to abandon the mansion over which she has served as mistress for thirty years. Elizabeth holds sympathy for her ladyship’s situation. After all, Elizabeth’s mother will eventually be banished from Longbourn when Mr. Bennet passes without male issue. She inherently understands Lady Catherine’s “hysterics,” while not necessarily condoning them, for her ladyship will have the luxury of the right to the estate’s dower house, and, moreover, it is obvious Rosings Park requires the hand of a more knowledgeable overseer. Therefore, Elizabeth takes on the task of easing Lady Catherine’s transition to dowager baronetess, but doing so places Elizabeth often in the company of the “odious” Mr. Darcy, a man Lady Catherine claims poisoned her daughter Anne in order to claim Rosings Park as his own.
GIVEAWAY: I HAVE 2 eBOOK COPIES OF THE MISTRESS OF ROSINGS PARK AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY WILL END AT MIDNIGHT ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 7, 2021. THE WINNERS WILL BE CONTACTED BY EMAIL, AND THE PRIZES DELIVERED ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 8.