Regency Duty (Noblesse oblige)
Duty was the watchword in the Georgian and Regency eras. Everyone had his or her place, and every place had its duties. Even noble families were not exempt. A nobleman’s duty was to his line, his country and his church. His sons fulfilled these obligations.
The duty of the first son, the heir, was to his family. His obligation was to protect and increase the estate and to marry and produce a legitimate male successor who would inherit everything. All those Regencies that have the heir buying an army commission and going off to war are anachronisms. The social pressure for the heir to join the armed forces has existed for only about the past one hundred years. Two hundred years ago and earlier, the first son’s obligation to continue the line made him too valuable to waste on a battlefield where life was cheap. His duty was to survive and procreate.
The second son fulfilled the family’s duty to the country. He joined the army, usually as an officer by buying a commission. While some second sons bought places in the militia where there was little chance of dying, others lost their lives on various battlefields. I always wondered why a nobleman would go to great lengths to assure an heir and a spare, and then earmark the spare for such a perilous occupation. Regency England was already a dangerous place. In a world with poor sanitation, no antibiotics, few painkillers, and no understanding of germs, an infected cut could kill you. Why court death in war?
A nobleman also had a duty to the church, which the third son fulfilled by joining the clergy. A man did not necessarily have to be religious to become a clergyman. If this son’s family was rich and titled, his father likely controlled several livings, and he could give all of them to his son. (Note, the giving of multiple livings to one clergyman would be declared illegal later in the nineteenth century). The son could hire curates to do the work, and he could take the money from the livings and do as he chose. If the spare died in battle, the third son, with a relatively safe profession, was the spare spare, and could inherit. But only if there was a third son and the heir had no sons.
Any more sons were superfluous and were on their own. Their father may or may not have given them allowances. If not, they were likely on the lookout to marry heiresses. If they couldn’t snag one, or were modern and forward looking, they sought that dreaded of all things to a gentleman–work.
While the Regency was still a time of tradition, the era was also the time when our modern world began. Not every son played the game according to the rules. In my Regency comedy, An Inheritance for the Birds, the hero, Kit, is the second son of a baronet. He loves the land, and wants to work as a land steward. He worked with his father’s steward, and plans to take over when the older man retires. But at the old steward’s retirement, Kit’s father, a traditionalist, hires a new one and cuts off Kit’s allowance, thinking to force him to join the army. Instead, Kit’s older brother, who had wanted him as steward, finds him a job as a nobleman’s secretary. That job sounds fairly good until Kit finds out what he has to do. And then he receives the letter informing him about his chance to win his great-aunt’s estate. Maybe he can still fulfill his dream of caring for the land.
Make the ducks happy and win an estate!
Mr. Christopher “Kit” Winnington can’t believe the letter from his late great-aunt’s solicitor. In order to inherit her estate, he must win a contest against her companion, Miss Angela Stratton. Whoever makes his great-aunt’s pet ducks happy wins.
A contest: What a cork-brained idea. This Miss Stratton is probably a sly spinster who camouflaged her grasping nature from his good-natured relative. There is no way he will let the estate go to a usurper.
Angela never expected her former employer to name her in her will. Most likely, this Mr. Winnington is a trumped-up jackanapes who expects her to give up without a fight. Well, she is made of sterner stuff.
The ducks quack in avian bliss while Kit and Angela dance a duet of desire as they do their utmost to make the ducks–and themselves–happy.
Yawning, he shut the door behind him. Enough ducks and prickly ladies for one day. After dropping his satchel by the bed, he dragged off his clothes and draped them over the chair back. He dug a nightshirt from the valise and donned the garment before he blew out both candles.
Bates had already drawn back the bedclothes. The counterpane was soft under Kit’s palm, and covered a featherbed. He grinned. By any chance, had they used the down from the pet ducks to stuff the mattress and pillows?
After tying the bed curtains back, he settled into the soft cocoon and laced his fingers behind his head. Tomorrow, he would have it out with Miss Stratton about the steward’s residence, but that was tomorrow. He fluffed up his pillow and turned onto his side…
A bundle of flapping, squawking feathers exploded from the depths of the covers and attacked him. Throwing his arms over his head for protection, Kit fell out of bed. He scrambled to his feet and bolted for the door, the thrashing, quacking explosion battering him. A serrated knife edge scraped over his upper arm. “Ow!” Batting at the avian attacker with one hand, he groped for the latch with the other.
The door swung open. Miss Stratton, her candle flame flickering, dashed into the chamber. “Esmeralda, you stop that right now!”
The feathered windstorm quacked once more and, in a graceful arc, fluttered to the floor.
Kit lowered his arms and gave a mental groan. A duck. He should have known.
An Inheritance for the Birds, part of The Wild Rose Press’s Love Letters series, is available from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other places ebooks are sold.
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