This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 23 July 2021. Enjoy!
We often hear about Mr. Darcy’s fortune of “ten-thousand a year.” But where did all that money come from? In doing research for my current work in progress, I have been exploring what industries the Darcy family might have built their fortune from.
While the Darcy family certainly owned plenty of land in Derbyshire and would have reaped a share of the profits from the tenant farmers that worked it, I began to wonder if their fortune might have also come from another major industry in Derbyshire: lead mining.
Since the 1200s, and possibly even dating back to Roman times, the Derbyshire region has been home to some of the world’s oldest and most profitable lead mines. In the Regency era, lead was used for everything from roofs, to water storage and pipes to the glazing on windows (remember Rosings Park and its expensive glazing? Probably made of lead!). All of the ammunition used by the army and navy was made from lead as well, so you can see why it was one of the largest industries in the country.
Most of the mineral rights in Derbyshire belonged to the Crown under the Duchy of Lancaster, and the land was subject to a “free mining” arrangement.
“Any man who could demonstrate to the barmaster that he had discovered a significant amount of ore was allowed to open a mine and retain the title to it as long as he continued to work it, and, secondly, mining took precedence over land ownership.” 
Land owners could not prevent miners from working mines on their land, as long as the mineral rights were part of this free-mining region controlled by the duchy. This allowed many poor families to prosper through lead mining and rise up into the middle classes. They paid royalties to the Crown for the minerals they mined, but were able to sell the rest at a profit.
But not all the mineral rights were subject to the Crown and to this act. The Gell family had purchased Griffe Grange near Brassington from the Crown Commissioners during the time of Henry VIII, and they collected the dues for all the lead that was mined on their land, instead of it belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster.. Also, the Manners and the Cavendish families, two of the largest landowners in the county, held a claim over the mineral rights and ownership of the region known as the High Peak. While the Manners family employed labourers to work in their mines, the Cavendish families eventually adopted the same rules as the Gells and allowed free miners to work the land in exchange for dues.
You might recognize the name Cavendish. It’s the same family that owns Chatsworth House near Bakewell, in Derbyshire. Chatsworth is believed to be one of the great houses that Jane Austen took as her inspiration for Pemberley , and in fact, Chatsworth was used as the filming location for Pemberley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film. While Mr. Darcy may have a noble title like the head of the Cavendish family, who holds the title The Duke of Devonshire, when you consider the Cavendish family’s prominence in Derbyshire and their vast land ownership and mining rights, it’s not too big of a stretch to suppose that the Cavendish family might have influenced Jane’s creation of the Darcy family.
Lead mining could certainly have contributed to the Darcy family’s vast annual income if they owned the mineral rights to any ore-rich land in their holdings, whether the Darcy family would have allowed free miners to open mines on their land and pay dues like the Gell and Cavendish families, or whether they owned the mines themselves and employed miners like the Manners family.
So what do you think? Could Mr. Darcy’s income have been augmented by lead mining? What other industries do you suppose the Darcy family might have built their wealth from? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!
Media credits: Wikimedia Commons