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 duty to continue the line made him too valuable to waste on a battlefield where life was cheap. His obligation 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 and served in Britain 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? As an example, albeit fictional and somewhat later, Dorothy L. Sayers's detective Lord Peter Wimsey, second son of the Duke of Denver, served as a major in the army in World War I. He almost died in an artillery shelling that buried him alive. Into the 21st century, Prince Harry served in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot.
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 them all 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 actual 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.
Of course, there were always exceptions. As an example of both the standard and the exception, we have Earl Spencer, ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. He made his heir enter Parliament, sent his next two sons into the navy, and the fourth became a clergyman. Why the navy? Earl Spencer was Secretary of the Navy. None of the boys had any choice. The second son hated the navy, but the fourth son at least was bookish. The second son in Mansfield Park became a clergyman, and many younger sons entered politics, especially if their fathers had money and connections.
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.
In A Similar Taste in Books, the hero, Justin, is the third son of a gentleman. The church holds no allure for him, so he studied law at Oxford. Finance appeals to him, so he works in a bank.
In Gifts Gone Astray, hero Stephen, a baron's third son, lost his job as a teacher at Cambridge. He secures another (awful!) job as tutor to an earl's bratty son. But he won't suffer for long!
An Inheritance for the Birds, Blurb and excerpt here.
Available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.
A Similar Taste in Books, Book 1 of Love and the Library (Book 2, A Mutual Interest in Numbers, coming soon!) Blurb and excerpt here.
Gifts Gone Astray, blurb and excerpt here. Available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.