Today I want to talk about the relationship between the nobility, and their servants. In my books, we have touched on the lives of servants a few times, especially in Book Three, and I am sure that it is obvious to you that the gap in wealth between the common people and the nobility was enormous. What may not be so obvious is the way that the economics and social structures worked, around that.
In everything that you read about the period, you will see mention of noble families with huge houses and huge numbers of people employed to maintain them. Whilst, obviously, it does take a lot of people to keep homes like the mansions of the aristocracy in immaculate condition (just imagine the dust, when most roads were not paved and the passing traffic was all horses, whose hoofs stirred up the dirt with every step!), there were often more staff employed than absolutely necessary. Why?
Because creating employment was a responsibility of the aristocracy, that came right along with the title and the properties. Titled persons (of the landed nobility, to be precise, we could get complicated here, but that is for another day), had a number of properties which were ‘entailed’ to the title – went with it regardless and could not be sold or willed to anyone else. The wealth of the noble families came from the crops and animals raised on the land attached to their properties (or resources mined from their land), which were raised by their tenant farmers. The villages in their lands survived because the nobles maintained the tenant farmers houses, in return for their labour, and because the nobles employed a large percentage of the villagers in their houses, stables, dairies etc.
Where the lands were large, and productive, and had been so for generations, it was not uncommon for the nobles to employ more staff than needed, as part of their obligation to their dependants – and often whole families worked for the nobles, for generations. This was not always the case though – the aristocracy were not immune to human failings, or the fickle effects of nature. Where crops failed multiple years ain a row, times were hard for villagers, servants and nobles alike. Equally, if the nobles were not so noble, and wasted their money in gambling, or unwise investments (yes, there were plenty of scam artists then too!) then times were hard. But under those conditions, the nobles could often live on credit for many, many years, but it was their servants, tenant farmers, and those businesses that supplied them (and were not getting paid!) that suffered.
The economic effect of a noble family falling into debt and poverty went far beyond their own suffering – it caused a wave of economic disaster which rolled out from them through hundreds of other people, whose livelihoods depended on them. Not too different from the effect when a big corporation fails today. If you had lived in the Regency period, what do you think that you would have done, to support your servants?