A few days ago Maria Grace has released a new book entitled A Less Agreeable Man which is the 3rd book in her series The Queen of Rosings Park, and today, she brings to From Pemberley to Milton a cut scene from it and a guest post about land stewards.
It is always a huge pleasure to receive Maria in my blog because she always creates very interesting guest posts that teach me a lot about regency. In fact, she has also written some non-fiction books on the Jane Austen Regency Life collection that I consider very interesting, and would suggest to anyone who likes this era, they are: Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World and A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions.
But I’m starting to digress as usual, so I will only wish Maria all the success with her new book and thank her for another interesting post before leaving you to read the blurb, the cut scene and the guest post 🙂
Dull, plain and practical, Mary Bennet was the girl men always overlooked. Nobody thought she’d garner a second glance, much less a husband. But she did, and now she’s grateful to be engaged to Mr. Michaels, the steady, even tempered steward of Rosings Park. By all appearances, they are made for each other, serious, hard-working, and boring.
Michaels finds managing Rosings Park relatively straight forward, but he desperately needs a helpmeet like Mary, able to manage his employers: the once proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh who is descending into madness and her currently proud nephew and heir, Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose extravagant lifestyle has left him ill-equipped for economy and privation.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had faced cannon fire and sabers, taken a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the thigh, stood against Napoleon and lived to tell of it, but barking out orders and the point of his sword aren’t helping him save Rosings Park from financial ruin. Something must change quickly if he wants to salvage any of his inheritance. He needs help, but Michaels is tedious and Michaels’ fiancée, the opinionated Mary Bennet, is stubborn and not to be borne.
Apparently, quiet was not the same thing as meek, and reserved did not mean mild. The audacity of the woman, lecturing him on how he should manage his barmy aunt. The fact that she is usually right doesn’t help. Miss Bennet gets under his skin, growing worse by the day until he finds it very difficult to remember that she’s engaged to another man.
Can order be restored to Rosings Park or will Lady Catherine’s madness ruin them all?
Land Stewards: Professional help in running an estate.
We often hear about gentlemen employing stewards to help manage their estates. Who were these men, though, and what did they do?
Small estates, like Longbourn of Pride and Prejudice, could be managed by the master of the estate with the assistance of a non-professional man, called a bailiff. Typically a bailiff would be one of the major tenants on the estate, hired to act as a go-between to collect tenants’ rents. In the era, it would have been considered vulgar for a gentleman to collect the rents himself.
Larger estates, like Darcy’s Pemberley or Lady Catherine’s Rosings Park, were major economic endeavors that necessitated professional help in the form of a steward.
Where the bailiff simply collected rents for the master of the estate, the steward was responsible for actually running the business of the estate and thus was integral to its success. He had to be an educated man, often the son of clergy, a smaller landowner or a professional man. He needed a head for numbers, scrupulous record-keeping skills, an exceptional knowledge of all aspects of agriculture, and excellent people-skills. Typically he would be university trained as a solicitor, necessary because of his dealings with contracts. A steward was not considered a servant, but rather a skilled professional with a higher status than the family lawyer.
For these reasons, a steward was addressed as ‘Mister’. Not long after the regency era, the term ‘steward’, with its servile connotations, was dropped in favor of the more professional term ‘land agent.’
Stewards were tied to the estate and did not travel with the master of the estate. They managed all the activities associated with making the estate profitable, including record and account keeping, managing contracts, and overseeing the agricultural aspects of the home farm.
A good steward kept meticulous accounts and records of everything—seriously everything. In addition to the expected accounting that would go with such an enterprise, he kept logs of work done, including repairs to buildings, fences and roads, as well as records of the parkland, game animals, livestock and crops. He also maintained a rent roll of tenancies and records of the farm boundaries. Further, an estate employed a number of department heads, such as the head gardener, head gamekeeper, and the like. The steward kept records for all these departments and paid the wages of their workmen.
Beyond these duties, stewards also spent a lot of time touring the estate on horseback, dealing with the people of the estate face to face. He collected rents, found new tenants when necessary and leased land, supervised the tenantry, directed any work and improvements done on the land, settled squabbles that arose among the tenants or workers, purchased animals, seed and so on. (Shapard, 2003)
A steward’s salary related both to the size of the estate and his expertise. Typically, a steward’s salary would range from £100-300 annually. In addition he would have use of a private house on the estate. For reference, Austen’s Longbourn had an income of about £2000, which probably put hiring a steward out of their range.
Although not nearly as hazardous as many professions of the era, working as a steward was not without risks. Although employers relied heavily upon their stewards for their efficient management of their estates, that did not prevent employers from doubting their honesty, especially as the large sums that many of them handled offered opportunities for speculation. Accusations of wrongdoing could ruin a man’s reputation and (wrongful) conviction for the same could result in prison time or worse, depending on the amount of money involved.
Since the steward was also in charge of collecting the rent from the tenants, he could be an unpopular figure. Historical records show assaults on stewards and in one case, the murder of one. So, in a very literal sense, his people-skills could be a life-saver.
Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
Karsten, Susan. “The Steward: Guardian of the Noble Estate (Farm).” Vanessa Riley’s Regency Life. Accessed May 26, 2014.
Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.
LeFaye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Abrams, 2002.
Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen for Dummies. Chichester: John Wiley, 2006.
Schmidt, Wayne. “Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale.” This and That. Accessed May 26, 2014. http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm
Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007.
Cut Scene: Dinner with the Collinses
The brass inlaid mahogany bracket clock on the parlor mantle chimed five o’clock and Charlotte instructed the maid to set the table for dinner. The Collinses and Mary gathered in the parlor to await their dinner guest. Weak rays of daylight streamed through the windows, but they had lost the warmth of afternoon, leaving a faint chill in the air. But it was too early for candles or a fire, so the room hovered between day and night far earlier than necessary.
Mr. Collins paced from the fireplace to the old fashioned portraits on the far wall, between the sofa where Charlotte sat and settee where Mary perched, dodging around the leather armchairs placed a little too close to walk between. In time with each footfall, he pontificated on Lady Catherine’s opinions regarding the virtue of timeliness. It would have been annoying enough had those been his own opinions. But they were only Lady Catherine’s, and that made him insufferable.
The floorboards under the worn carpet squeaked and groaned with each step, as if to agree with every word. They were the only things in the room that did.
The clock chimed six times, and Mr. Collins excused himself to his room where he could watch the lane from his windows as though that might make their guest appear sooner.
“I am sorry, Charlotte.” Mary studied her hands. Her fingernails had become rather ragged. How unladylike.
“There is nothing for you to apologize for. Truly, I am not offended. I am well aware of the situation. Truly, I do not mind.” Charlotte’s voice dropped to a whisper as she glanced at the parlor door. “The situation at Rosings Park is so unpredictable now. It is not at all surprising that Mr. Michaels might be caught up there.”
“I know you are right, but still…” Mary sighed and picked up her book once more, squinting and holding it very close to make out the words in the failing light.
A loud rap at the parlor door made Mary jump.
Mr. Collins trundled in a candlestick in hand, Mr. Michaels just behind.
“Please forgive my delay. It was difficult to break away from Colonel Fitzwilliam.” He glanced at Mary.
Something about the look in his eye suggested that there was a great deal more that he needed to tell her. At least his excuse of service to the colonel had to be acceptable to Mr. Collins.
“Shall we to the dining room?” Charlotte did not wait for an answer, shuffling past them and out the door.
The quaint, cozy dining room could easily accommodate more than twice their number, though the oblong oak table was really too large for the space making them edge awkwardly around it as they tried to seat themselves. Decorated in a manner befitting their station, all overseen by Lady Catherine’s hand, it had the flavor of Rosings all over it. Not so much Rosings, but a stripped-down impoverished version of it that Lady Catherine saw fitting for those beneath her.
No crystal glittered in the candlelight. The pewter candlesticks muted rather than reflected the candles glow. Few mirrors graced the room, only those that could be excused as economies—reflecting the light so as to reduce the necessary number of candles. Deep burgundy paint covered the walls, paintings—mostly apprentice-effort florals and landscapes—hung in odd places covering up scratches and spots the paint had chipped away. The chairs all matched, but the seats were covered in serviceable dirt-colored fabric. Only the one at the head of the table had arms.
Eight platters—china, earthenware and pewter, all plain and sturdy—held fragrant offerings. The most notably, a joint of roast pork that made her mouth water. Mr. Collins carved the it, a larger cut of meat than they usually enjoyed. But now that Lady Catherine was less likely to countermand her orders at the butcher, Charlotte exercised greater freedom at her table.
“Are things well at Rosings?” Mr. Collins piled sliced pork on his plate and sat down.
“They remain in the state that they have been for some time.” Mr. Michaels used that special, patient tone that belied great impatience with the conversation.
“So then your news from London was favorable?” Did Mr. Collins think himself so subtle that none could tell he was hoping for more intimate news from the manor?
“It was as expected. I have discussed it at length with Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Mr. Michaels took a large mouthful of stewed spinach, one which would take a long time to chew.
“We have had some news of our own.” Charlotte caught Mary’s eye briefly.
Bless her gentle ability to shift the conversation. She was truly a social asset to her husband, even if he did not realize it.
Mr. Collins sat up a little straighter. “Yes, indeed we have. I received a most interesting letter yesterday. As you know, I have been blessed as the recipient of the entail to an estate in Hertfordshire. We have been waiting for news of the birth of the current owners’ new child. A son, of course, would be the heir to the estate.”
“Was the mistress of the estate safely delivered of her child?” Mary took a tiny bit of pease pudding, one she could swallow quickly if she needed to respond—or redirect the conversation—quickly. The peas had not been cooked quite long enough and the cook and skimped on the bacon, leaving them just a touch mealy and lacking in salt. Edible, but not entirely pleasing.
“A son was born, but did not survive the week. Sadly, his mother was succumbed to childbed fever as well.” Did Collins really have to talk through a mouthful of pork?
No wonder Charlotte was contemplating disaster.
“Tragic,” Mr. Michaels murmured.
“The story becomes sadder, yet.” Somehow Mr. Collins’ voice did not match the sentiment. “The owner of the estate, overindulged in drink and was found drowned in a pond on the estate several days later.”
“An interesting turn of events to be sure.” Mr. Michaels’ eyes darted up and a little to the right. He was thinking, perhaps planning. “So now the estate goes to you?”
“So it would seem sir, so it would seem. I was wondering, if your duties at Rosings do not require all your time, is it possible for you to assist me with some of the official business regarding in this matter?”
There was an ulterior motive to today’s invitation after all.
“I shall be pleased to assist, sir. I offer my condolences and congratulations to you at the same time. How ironic that such a tragedy for part of your family can become such a blessing to another.”
“It is interesting how the hand of Providence comes to work.” That was not humility in Mr. Collins eyes.
“What then will become of Hunsford Parish?” Mary’s stomach roiled.
“That is a quandary to be sure. I must go to attend the estate. They cannot function, at least for the first few years without a master in attendance. After that if I can, I might hire a bailiff to manage the property and rent the house to a worthy tenant. But, at the very least, I will be unable to fulfill my duties here during that time. I suppose a curate would be the ideal solution, however, I fear that Lady Catherine would be highly opposed to my hiring someone of my own choosing. She is ever so particular, as she well should be in her position, about who will tend the parish flock.”
In the past, Lady Catherine would insist on hiring the curate herself or hiring a bailiff for the estate and managing that to her satisfaction. As it was now, she would probably just throw a fit. A long, protracted one, that someone how Mary would be called upon to manage.
Collins set down his knife and fork and leaned in against the table. “In truth I am uncertain what to do. I fear upsetting her ladyship with the news. She is so fragile. Even if I tell her that I will stay at my post, she may take it very badly.”
“That is very likely.” Mr. Michaels rubbed his chin. “Perhaps, I should broach the subject with the colonel. At the very least, he should know before Lady Catherine finds out. Might I discuss it when I meet with him tomorrow afternoon?”
“Would you like me to go with you, to talk of how Lady Catherine might be … comforted during this time?” Mary whispered. Mr. Collins probably would not like the implication that Lady Catherine required management.
“I would very much appreciate your assistance. With all the other concerns weighing upon him, the colonel has little patience for Lady Catherine. I think your calm input would be of great value.” Mr. Michaels’ sharp glance silenced Mr. Collins before he could offer his opinions on the matter.
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
She can be contacted at: