Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives

Pocket Guide to Edwardian England

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 : Introduction to the Edwardian Era
Chapter 2: Class in Edwardian England
Chapter 3: The Social Round
Chapter 4: London, A Sprawling Metropolis
Chapter 5: The Countryside
Chapter 6: Amusements and Entertainments
Chapter 7: Behind Closed Doors
Chapter 9: Social Transformations
Chapter 10: The Winds of Change


From Chapter 7

The Family
The concept of “family” in English society is rooted in centuries of tradition. Whereas in America, individualism rules—even during the 1900s—it was the complete opposite across the Atlantic. From the bottom of society all the way to the top, the goals, desires, and aims of a person were largely geared towards fulfilling family prerogatives and expectations.

At the top was the paterfamilias—the father. The focus will remain on the aristocracy, and the fictional 8th Marquess of Blankshire a stand-in. Lord Marquess married to Lady Blankshire, and had six children–four sons and two daughters. From birth, the 8th Marquess was raised with the expectation of ruling his home (Blankshire Manor), his land, his tenants, the livings (rector or parish priest), and, to a lesser extent than in the past, the parliamentary seats in his area. The upbringing of his eldest son, the Earl of Blank, was the same. As such, Lord Blankshire was “father” to his bloodline and to his underlings, and took a rather paternalistic view of people. In the countryside, this was respected, and as he met or passed his tenants and villagers, they never fail to doff their caps and murmur “Your lordship” (the type of behavior the urban working classes bucked against).

Marriages in the upper and aristocratic classes were generally based on affection, and sometimes even love, but the structure and insularity of the family within society made sure a man and woman felt affection for or fell in love with the right person! Lady Blankshire brought a dowry and family connections to her marriage to Lord Blankshire, and giving birth to six children not only fulfilled the purpose of marriage, but also established another generation from which to strengthen and build alliances and wealth. Sons were preferred because they brought wealth into the family, but a daughter could make an excellent match and raise the family fortune and/or status (for example, Lord Elcho [later Lord Wemyss] had three daughters—Cynthia, Mary, and Irene. Cynthia and Mary made love matches with upper class suitors, but Irene was pushed into an excellent match with a peer, and on the strength of that, Irene received the largest dowry of the sisters).

Lady Blankshire, as with all upper class women, was supposed to provide the moral foundation of the family and of the estate, and the behavior and prosperity of the children, the servants, and the tenants were supposed to reflect her rule. As the moral foundation, she took a hand in county matters, from the establishment of schools and hospitals, the running of charities, to the health of tenants. The colloquial term for all of this was “Lady Bountiful,” and Lady Blankshire and her daughters took their position quite seriously. The running of Blankshire Manor was of the utmost importance, and a primary reason why young American heiress brides found life in England so uncomfortable was due to their ignorance of how to run a great establishment. When the servants knew you had no clue how to direct them, they lost respect for their mistress and havoc was wreaked in the subtlest manner known only by servants.

The younger sons of the Blankshires were, to be blunt, left to make their own way in life as primogeniture meant that the estate, the land, the income from the land, and the title, went only to their eldest brother. They received an allowance, as did their sisters, but they could not afford to set up their own household and raise a family on that small sum. The traditional fields for younger sons were the army, the House of Commons, and the church because they were another extension of the power exercised by the ruling elite. However, the rising costs of living (in particular the church, whose salaries declined greatly, and the army, where, in the smartest regiments, one was required to own a string of polo ponies, purchase the spiffiest uniforms, belong to the right clubs, and pay for the expensive mess bills!) meant the younger sons needed to obtain a lucrative position.

The expansion of the Empire saw the creation of the civil service, though this soon became competitive when the rising middle classes—educated at the good, but not elite public and grammar schools—clamored for entry, turning the ruling of the Empire into a bit of a meritocracy. However, a good marriage to a wealthy woman would do much for one’s bank account and one’s career—especially in politics, where a wife was expected to help and push her husband into prominence. Woe betide the politician who married an awkward and ignorant girl incapable of shouldering her social duties. Nevertheless, the younger son was raised with the expectation of being yet another arm of his family’s might and power, albeit on a slightly less grander scale than his titled brother.

The daughters of the Blankshires were raised to be wives. As seen in the chapter about the London Season, she was groomed to be the wife of a particular type of man and if the sons were considered an extension of the mother’s rule, the daughters definitely were even more so, and it took a girl of very strong will to defy her mother’s wishes. Lady Evelyn Murray, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Atholl, was one such girl, and after refusing to take part in the Season—instead choosing to visit museums, read books, and attend lectures—her father packed her off to Europe with an allowance and a companion.

In the same way, if a mother did not want her daughters to marry, she could make that happen: though the public adored Queen Alexandra as all that was kind and good, in private she held firmly to her daughters as playmates and servants. Queen Victoria was upset about this, and advised her son, the then Prince of Wales, to push Alix out of this mindset, but the then Princess of Wales turned a deaf ear—literally—to his hints. Ultimately, the two eldest daughters—Louise and Maud—managed to marry, but Princess Victoria was kept as her mother’s companion, single and forever at beck and call, until Alix died in 1925.

When someone stepped out of line, the entire family closed rank to put pressure of them until they were pressed back into conformity. If this did not work, the family member was, as with Lady Evelyn, sent away with an allowance to live in obscurity. The official term was “Remittance Man” and the spread of the Empire created all sorts of nooks and crannies into which an errant son or daughter or cousin could be chucked.

Buy Now

Available as an ebook for Kindle, and available in print from Amazon and CreateSpace.