Vermin of the State: Bachelors of the Regency Era

Courtship and Marriage5Spinsters of the regency era did not have it easy, but neither did the bachelors.

Regency society organized itself around marriage and family. Adults were identified by their place, or lack thereof, in a married, family unit. Married women were ranked higher and more respected than the unmarried. Married men were perceived as having come into their own and given the esteem and authority that went with such an accomplishment.

Today, most believe that bachelors of the era enjoyed the same social position as married men, free from the prejudice spinsters experienced. However, they too were touched by the societal bias toward the married.

This is not to say, though, that they were in any way as put upon as spinsters. The scarcity value of men in the era gave eligible bachelors the power to act as connoisseurs, holding off until the ‘right’ situation came along. (Jones, 2009)  For younger sons of gentlemen, whom primogeniture denied substantial inheritance, marriage was likely to make him significantly less well off, unless of course he could find himself an heiress or woman with an excellent dowry. So, these men typically waited for marriage, often until their early thirties. But this time, they would have worked long enough to have established themselves in their profession and have the means to support a family (or attract a woman with money, which would always be an attractive alternative.)

Nonetheless, like upper-class women, one out of four younger sons remained lifelong bachelors. (Jones, 2009) While bachelorhood was seen as a natural (and possibly necessary for wealth-gathering) phase of life, the lifelong bachelor was a different creature altogether. Though not subject to the vicious ridicule heaped on spinsters, bachelors were subject to degradation as well.

In marriage, a young man took up the burdens (and the dividends—don’t forget those) of patriarchy, and became a fully realized man. In a very real sense, a man achieved political adulthood when he could support his dependents and represent their interests in the public forum. Failure to marry was often seen as being unrealized in masculinity, at the mercy of impulses and negligent in the duties to society.

“Perpetual bachelors were the ‘vermin of the state’ pronounced The Women’s Advocate …  ‘They enjoy the benefits of Society, but Contribute not to its Charge and spunge upon the publick, without making the least return.’” (Vickery, 2009) The strength of this sentiment led to punitive taxes being placed upon bachelor households.

 In 1785, employers of one or two male servants paid an annual £1, 5 shillings for each of them. All bachelors over 21 (the ae of majority) had to pay an extra £1, 5 shillings for every male servant they employed. Female servants were taxed at a lower rate, but bachelors had to pay double the amount. (Horn, 2004) And of course, as taxes go, the rates only increased as time went on.

Unless they were able to set up housekeeping with an unmarried female relation, sister, niece, aunt, etc. (Not a cousin mind you as they were considered marriageable and living with them unmarried would have been unacceptable.) a bachelor would have also had to pay for services usually rendered by female labor. The top four occupations for women in London 1200-1850 were washing, charring (cleaning) nursing and the making/mending of clothes, reflecting the needs of bachelors. Few women noted prostitution as their occupation, but that was a thriving trade as well. So, not did bachelors pay for their choice not to settle down and make legitimate babies in loss of social status, and taxes, but basic domestic comforts cost them dearly as well.

So, unmarried men may not have been leading apes in hell, according to regency standards, but being considered selfish social vermin was hardly desirable either. The attitude was hardly surprising though when the fundamental unit of society was the male-headed, conjugal household.

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Baird, Rosemary. Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses, 1670-1830. London: Phoenix, 2004.

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson’s Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David&Charles, 2006.

Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum, 2009.

Horn, Pamela. Flunkeys and scullions: life below stairs in Georgian England. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.

Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.

Shoemaker, Robert Brink. Gender in English Society, 1650-1850: The Emergence of Separate Spheres? London: Longman, 1998. Pearson Education Limited

The Woman’s advocate or The baudy batchelor out in his calculation: Being the genuine answer paragraph by paragraph, to the batchelor’s estimate plainly proving that marriage is to a man of sense and oeconomy, both a happiner and less chargeablo state, than a single life. Written for the honour of the good wives, and pretty girls of old England. London: Printed for A. Moore, near St. Paul’s, 1729.

Vickery, Amanda. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.




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    • J. W. Garrett on January 27, 2018 at 7:22 am
    • Reply

    Wow! I can see a miserly household skimping back on servants in order to keep from paying the taxes. However, in that scene from the ’95 P&P movie of Lady Catherine’s dining room, she had numerous footmen circling the table. For some it would be a status display that ‘hey, I can afford the tax’ and, therefore, can have all these servants. Thanks for sharing this post. I really enjoyed it.

    1. I had the same sort of thought about that scene, JW!

    • Teresa Broderick on January 27, 2018 at 2:14 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. I have your book Maria and love dipping in and out of it.

    1. Thanks, Teresa! Glad you enjoy it!

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