In many Regency novels, either the hero inherits an estate/title that is deep in debt, not of his making, or the heroine’s father has died and left his family destitute, due to his gaming debts or his poor investments. Both situations play well into the hands of a skilled author of Regencies, and, although they are somewhat cliché, that does not mean a reader will not enjoy the twists and turns all over again. However, of late, I have noted on several of the Facebook groups that people are confused about a particular plot point that mentions a debt-ridden inheritance. Therefore, I am taking on the topic today.
Property could be tied up by entails, previous wills, marriage settlements, deeds, and other conditions accompanying a deed—we usually speak of all of these as being “entailed” property, but each could have a different line of descent. For quite a long time real property could not be devised by a person’s last will and testament, but had to be done by deeds or other means of transfer.
Only registered debts like mortgages and those on which the stamps and fees had been paid were legally enforceable. The law of the time said an heir was only liable for debts to the sum of the assets he inherited. Most mortgages could be continued, just by paying the interest. As I said above, much of this depends on whether the land was settled or not—deeded to another, entailed, passed by settlements—as to what happened to it. If the man inherited by entail, then he was stuck with the property and the debt. If by will and deed, he could refuse to accept the inheritance and let it be as though the man had died intestate. Then the solicitors would be involved and go looking for the heir while the executor dealt with the creditors.
In my latest Jane Austen Fan Fiction tale, before his death, Mr. Bennet has invested in a mine, which supposedly has gone bust. He meant to present his daughters decent dowries so they might marry, but because the mine did not prove what he had hoped, Longbourn has been mortgaged. All would be well in Bennet’s mind, because after his death, the debt would be Mr. Collins’s responsibility. Yet, Fate has a way of wagging her finger at those who mean to tempt her. Mr. Bennet meets an untimely death due to a heart spasm, and Mr. Collins is brought down by the pox which took many lives in the neighborhood, including Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty. Now, the debt falls on Elizabeth’s most honourable shoulders, and she agrees to auction off the household items to offset the mortgage debt.
Enjoy this scene from Chapter One of Amending the Shades of Pemberley, and then comment below to be a part of the GIVEAWAY. Today, we have another 2 eBook copies of the tale available for the chosen winners. Remember, Amending the Shades of Pemberley is currently on preorder on Amazon. It will release on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.
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Amending the Shades of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
“You have willfully misunderstood me, Miss Bennet. You have no worry of my releasing you, for I do not wish you to perform as a governess to my daughter, but rather as my wife and the mistress of my hereditary estate.”
Elizabeth Bennet had thought the stranger quite handsome; yet, she had ignored those first tendrils of interest, for she was in no position for the gentleman to pursue her. She and her sister Mary were all who remained of their family. Moreover, Longbourn and its furnishings were to be sold. They were destitute, and, if fortunate, headed for service in some stranger’s household.
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal of marriage would save both Mary and her, for her sister had agreed to assist with the gentleman’s young daughter. But what of the man’s tale of having corresponded with her father and of Mr. Bennet having purported a marriage between this stranger and her? Elizabeth knew nothing of the arrangement nor of the man’s existence. Though their marriage would solve all her troubles, what if the man’s tale was not completely truthful? Would Mr. Darcy become her enemy or a man she could learn to love?
Excerpt from Chapter One
Early Autumn 1814
“How might I be of service, Sister Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth looked up to view the solemn face of Mr. Bingley. Today was the first time he had made an appearance at Longbourn since Jane’s untimely passing. Sadness still marked the man’s features, and Elizabeth reached out to take his hands in hers. “Thank you for coming. I know all this is difficult for you.”
“No more so than it is for you and Miss Mary,” he said kindly. “Have all the arrangements been made? What of you and your sister?”
“Mary will stay with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. The Phillipses have offered me a home, but I could not remain in Meryton and view Longbourn in the hands of another,” she admitted. “Aunt Gardiner’s second eldest brother is a vicar in the north. Her eldest brother passed at the same time as her father. Mr. Ericks has agreed to take me in until I can claim a position as a governess or a teacher at a girls’ school.”
“There is no need for either you or Miss Mary to enter service. You are my sweet Jane’s sisters. You will always have a home with me,” he declared.
Elizabeth wrapped her arm through his. “You are wonderfully generous and caring, and Mary and I are honored by your kindness; yet, we cannot accept. First and foremost, you do not require a constant reminder of your loss. You must eventually begin again, for you owe it to your family name to do so. I know you cannot yet think of taking another to wife, but you must some day act accordingly, and such would be quite awkward if your late wife’s sisters resided with you. No woman wishes to share her house with ‘reminders’ of another, especially a woman of Jane’s angelic beauty and kindness.”
Elizabeth knew Mr. Bingley’s sisters would not approve of his attentions to Jane’s family. Although Jane’s being a gentleman’s daughter had raised Mr. Bingley’s status in society, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had never approved of their brother’s marriage to the woman he loved and was dearly loved in return. The sisters wanted their own tickets into society, riding their brother’s coattails into the haut ton.
“There must be something of significance I may do for you,” he insisted.
Elizabeth led him to a small sitting room. She purposely avoided her mother’s favorite drawing room. She and Mr. Bingley each had too many memories associated with the room. It was the room in which Bingley had proposed and in which her dear father had taken his last breath. “Would you like tea?” she asked. “Or something stronger?”
Mr. Bingley shook off the offer. “All I require is for you to speak to me honestly,” he instructed.
Elizabeth heaved a weary sigh. “The news from Mr. Birkhead was worse than I initially thought,” she began without looking directly into Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “The area lost so many to the pox. Some saw whole families wiped out. Despite the passing of Lydia and Kitty and Mama, Papa was certain we could go on. I should not say this, but you will understand: Neither Mr. Bennet’s thoughts nor mine were meant to be malicious. Yet, with Mr. Collins’s passing and Charlotte delivering forth a daughter, Mr. Bennet believed he had been presented a reprieve. He could, assuredly, after a period of mourning, marry another and, perhaps, produce a son to keep the entailment alive.”
“Who is to inherit now?” Mr. Bingley asked.
“If I understand it properly,” she began, “the entail will end, but a thorough search will be conducted to learn if another can make a claim. There are no male heirs coming from Mr. Bennet’s line, but perhaps that of another cousin.”
“Could not you and Miss Mary inherit through some sort of common recovery? Or, perhaps, though not what you wish, even Mr. Collins’s daughter? Was not Collins’s claim through a female line some four generations removed?” Mr. Bingley asked.
“I am not as well versed in Mr. Collins’s lineage as I should be, but Mr. Birkhead says otherwise. Moreover, I have spoken to Charlotte, and she will make no claim on the estate. In fact, it is my understanding, the gentleman who will replace Mr. Collins at Hunsford has requested to court Charlotte once Mrs. Collins’s mourning period has ended. It seems Lady Catherine de Bourgh believes Charlotte would be a good influence on her ladyship’s new rector.”
“Then why cannot you and Miss Mary remain in Meryton?” Mr. Bingley asked.
Elizabeth swallowed hard. “There is not enough money.”
“I could . . .” Mr. Bingley began.
However, she signaled for him to swallow his words. “It seems Mr. Bennet planned some sort of sweet revenge on Mr. Collins. As you may have concluded, my dear father greatly despised Mr. Collins’ father. When Mr. Bennet thought he held no chance of seeing his own line succeed, my father mortgaged Longbourn in order to invest in a mine. If the mine succeeded, Papa meant to provide all his daughters with enticing dowries and simply enjoy his final years in some luxury. According to his correspondence with Mr. Birkhead, if the investment failed, it would be Collins’s debt of honor. Unfortunately, when Mr. Collins passed, along with Mrs. Bennet and my younger sisters, Mr. Bennet’s prospects changed, but the gold mine vein was too weak to sustain the debt. My father’s revenge on Mr. Collins turned its ugly head on its server. The realization of his gambling away his heritage was enough to drive Mr. Bennet into a fit of anger and a spasm with his heart, one strong enough to kill him.”
“How much?” Mr. Bingley asked.
“Nearly ten thousand. Everything must be sold or else Mary and I will each inherit a debt we can never repay, no matter how many years we labor in service. Uncle Gardiner has offered to assist us, but neither of us can permit his family to suffer because of our father’s messy revenge on another claiming his beloved Longbourn.”
Mr. Bingley appeared not to agree with her assessment, but he said, “In your note, you asked for my assistance: If I am not to see you well settled elsewhere, then I must return to my initial question: How might I be of service?”
“Mary and I discussed it. We hoped you might organize some sort of auction of the household goods. Surely my father’s books must be of interest to collectors. He has many first printings, and there is the china and artwork. I realize Longbourn is not a stylish house in Town, but, according to Mr. Birkhead, we should not simply walk away from all inside. The gentleman says we could greatly reduce the debt if we sold the household in ‘parts,’ rather than a whole. I thought with your import and export business . . .”
“Your uncle’s business could serve you equally as well. Mayo’s is larger than mine in that manner,” Mr. Bingley argued.
“Uncle Gardiner already holds several such obligations for others,” she explained. “Moreover, I thought it would be difficult for him to be required to see his youngest sister’s belongings sold to another, especially if someone offered less than the true worth.”
Mr. Bingley smiled comfortably. “I have viewed more than one ‘heated disagreement’ at an auction, but never between those overseeing the sale and those bidding.” He sighed in regret. “Naturally, I will arrange it all. Leave it in my hands. It will be part of my debt to Jane. I will bring my staff from Netherfield to assist Mr. and Mrs. Hill in preparing the rooms. Once we have a list of the furniture and goods, I will have adverts printed and posted along the roads between here and London and throughout the neighboring shires. You should know,” he said in hesitation, “I have decided not to renew my lease at Netherfield. It is simply too hard.” He broke off with a sigh of grief.
“I am greatly remorseful for not being in a position to offer you the necessary comfort you required with Jane’s passing,” she said in true sympathy.
“You had your own hardships,” he returned. “All of Meryton had their own hardships.”
“We all thought you and Jane would be together forever,” she assured.
“So did I,” he said as tears misted his eyes. “If I had known having a child would steal away the woman I so dearly loved . . .”
“Each of us thought when you sealed off Netherfield from the rest of the community all would be well. It was quite a task to keep Mama from visiting Jane, but once she, too, took sick, Mrs. Bennet praised her own sensibility in protecting your child.”
Mr. Bingley said with renewed sadness, “In the end, all our protections proved worthless. The pox did not take my Jane, but, rather, the gift with which God had blessed us did the job. I lost both Jane and my first child in one fell swoop. I cannot think upon how empty Netherfield appears without her within.”
“You should have come to us,” Elizabeth declared, although, instinctively, she knew he could not, for Longbourn was in total chaos.
“You had too much sorrow of your own,” he countered, “and I required time to permit my dear wife her leave-taking. I am not quite there yet, but, with God’s grace, I have reached some peace. It will do me well to serve Jane’s family.” He reached across to her and caught Elizabeth’s hand. “You must make me a promise, if your plans become too much for you as a genteel lady, you will send me word. I will come for you immediately. Inform Miss Mary of my offer. Anytime. No matter the circumstances. I will be your gallant.”
IF YOU WISH A LONGER AND MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION OF A DEBT-RIDDEN INHERITANCE, CHECK OUT MY PIECE HERE.
Please don’t enter me in the giveaway. I preordered so will be starting this later, I don’t suppose Mr Bennet would have taken such risks if he’d known Mr Collins would perish before inheriting? I also imagine that with Elizabeth in charge and no Mrs Bennet, Lydia and Kitty spending on luxuries, the estate could have been made profitable! It all seems very complicated though. Inheriting an estate was maybe not the joyful thing as imagined!
Just like nowadays, the tax man cometh around to count windows and footmen and carriages, etc. There was no free ride, but you are correct in some ways (but I haven’t told you quite everything at the beginning of the book). What fun would that be?
As with all of your books, you have us intrigued from the very beginning! I almost needed a box of tissue with just this excerpt! I have my preorder set, and I so look forward to reading this one! I believe it will be your best work!
It should be in your inbox today, Jean.
I can see I will need to keep the tissues handy for this one. What sweet revenge this would have been if not gone so horribly wrong. I can just see Mr Bennet plotting.
There are happy moments intermixed with the chaos. Darcy knows something of Elizabeth’s personality, but she knows nothing of his when they marry.
Regina, you must be excited now that Amending the Shades of Pemberley is released. Congratulations to you!
I quite like the excerpt and how it sets up the story. But I feel bad for Elizabeth and Mary who have to shoulder the burden of their father’s debt. And it is sad to hear that Mr Bingley lose Jane and their child too. Hope they all get their happy ending.
I am all about the HEA, Sylvia. I am not built to write complete tragedies.