Smuggling in Regency England

Naomi here. We’ve talked quite a bit this month about taxes and money, both current and Regency related. But one thing we haven’t looked at was how the people of Regency England felt about those taxes, and even more importantly, how the people thwarted those taxes.

Isn’t it rather interesting to know that people have been evading taxes for hundreds of years? The concept is hardly new, though the methods and means have changed through the centuries.

So, now you’re asking, how did the English population avoid all those hefty taxes? Well, not all of them could be avoided (here’s a little list of some of the more odd Regency taxes). But duties or import taxes could be easily avoided through:

Smuggling.

That’s right. Smuggling, that dastardly century-old business. England being an island and therefore surrounded by water, imported and exported all its taxable goods via shipping. There are lots of places along the English coast where sailing vessels could harbor and unload their goods away from the watchful eye of the revenue agents.

What was smuggled?

Anything that was taxed–which was pretty close to every purchasable good imaginable. Tea and brandy were two of the biggest items, but that list would also include salt, leather, soap, chocolate, fabric, and cigars.

Furthermore, during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, French imports were banned from England. And France made things craved by the British upper class, like silk from Lyons and lace from cities such as Alencon and Arras and Dieppe and Le Puy.

And of course brandy.

If there’s one constant in smuggling throughout the annals of history, it’s this: smugglers always deal with spirits.

Where were the goods smuggled?

Though the whole of the English coast was subject to smuggling, smuggling occurred in greatest concentration along the English Channel. A quick little jaunt to France and back allowed for smuggling en masse in this region. The County of Kent, which lies nearest France and at it’s easternmost point is separated only by a few miles of water, was a smuggling hotbed. In the 1780s, the English government burned all the sailing vessels in the town of Deal, located just north of Dover, claiming there wasn’t a single sea-worthy vessel in the harbor that didn’t engage in smuggling.

Once on land, tea and brandy and cigars and the like easily made their way to the markets in London, and the overland smuggling was so elaborate that the English people had no way of knowing whether the tea they purchased had been smuggled in. In fact, some estimate that 75% of the tea in England was smuggled in during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

How did the smugglers operate?

Answering this question gets fun and creative and more than a little interesting. The British government did try to prevent smuggling, but keep in mind, the crown needed sailing vessels (most commonly cutters) and sea-worthy men to do this. And while fighting wars with America and France, the crown didn’t exactly have the personnel and vessels to shut down smuggling operations. In fact, it’s often said that the sailors on the kings cutters were people unfit for naval service. There are all kinds of stories of sailors sleeping on duty, and being hired despite old age and missing limbs and a host of other ailments that would make fighting off quick, able-bodied smugglers rather impossible.

The crown did have a preventative service in place, with enough revenue agents that smugglers couldn’t bring a large vessel directly into a harbor and unload illegal goods in broad daylight. Smuggling vessels were often painted black with black sails, making them invisible in the night. Often times smuggling cutters and sloops would drop barrels of brandy into the channel just off the shore, and then “fishermen” would take their smaller crafts out to retrieve the brandy and send it off to London. Sometimes these smuggling cutters would have a rendezvous time and place set up, and the smaller vessels would come and unload the cutter, then return to port under the guise of fishing.

In some towns along the coast, such as Hastings and Dover and the smaller towns in between, the smugglers almost acted like a modern day gang. The smugglers looked out for one another and engaged in illegal activities with each other. Even if the law abiding citizens of the town knew of the smugglers, they’d never turn the smugglers in for fear that their houses would be burned and their families killed.

And yes, sadly, such things did happen.

In other instances, there are stories of smugglers acting out of line and hurting a good, upstanding citizen, after which, the inhabitants of the local village got mad at the injustice and called down the law.

All in all, the topic of smuggling is much too involved to delve into with a single blog post. If you’re interested in further reading on this topic, you could try King’s Cutters and Smugglers: 1700-1855 by E. Keble Chatterton. (The ebook is free.) Or Smuggling in the British Isles by Richard Platt. Platt has a great smuggling website with a lot of information as well.

And you might be interested to know, I’m going to have a rather nefarious French smuggler and his gang play a major role in the sequel to Sanctuary for a Lady. Oh the fun we writers get to have as we explore the dastardly deeds of ages past!

A Jane Austen Devotional

My husband and I were in a bookstore one day, where he was looking for a devotional. We were eyeing the shelves full of them in the Christian section when he spied a gem, A Jane Austen Devotional. “That’s the one,” he said. That’s why I love him, he’s an Austen devotee like me! Jane Austen devotional
This devotional compiled and written by Steffany Woolsey and published by Thomas Nelson is not divided by days but by subject matter. A listing includes: Being Generous, Christ’s Unconditional Love, Vanity’s Folly, Faithfulness, Unhealthy Friendships, etc..
Under each section, an excerpt from one of Jane Austen’s novels is included and then a commentary on the spiritual theme gleaned from her writing, since Jane Austen lived in a time when the Bible was the standard of moral authority in Great Britain. Any educated person such as Jane would be well-versed in Scripture, especially as the daughter of a rector in the Anglican church. Her writing reflects her Christian beliefs, even when she pokes fun at certain clergy (remember Mr. Collins?)
In A Jane Austen Devotional under the heading “Being Generous” for example, a segment from Sense and Sensibility is used in which Mr. Dashwood discusses with his wife how much he should give to his bereaved stepmother in order to fulfill his deathbed promise to his father to take care of her. Throughout their conversation he allows his wife to talk him out of giving her anything he originally had decided upon. The author uses this illustration of mean-spiritedness to contrast with Biblical teaching, citing Matthew 15:18 where Jesus talks about the things that defile a person—those that proceed from the heart. The teaching of Jesus regarding generosity is then shown using Mark 12:42-44 in which Jesus compares the poor widow who leaves two small copper coins in the offering box in the temple to a richer person who gives out of his abundance.

Jesus calls us to imitate the widow, who gave so generously out of her poverty. As Woolsey sums up in this segment, “When we choose this route, He [Christ] can begin to develop in us qualities such as generosity, kindness, and compassion.”

For anyone who appreciates Jane Austen’s irony and wit, this devotional is full of snippets of her scenes with a parallel from Scripture on each facing page. My husband and I have enjoyed every entry we’ve read.

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Ruth Axtell hasRuth Axtell (2) written several Regency romances. Her latest series is called London Encounters. Book 2, A Heart’s Rebellion, came out in March. The Rogue’s Redemption, set in both Regency London and frontier Maine, came out in December. She also writes novels set in Victorian England and late 19th century Maine.

The Steward ~Guardian of the Noble Estate (farm), by Susan Karsten

Do we. as regency readers, fully understand how, and from where, the wealth of the average wealthy nobleman arose? Mostly, from farming. Yes, there were those who had ships, investments, mines, you name it, but farming the family land was the most common way to wealth that I am aware of. Some lords were good managers of their estates, but even the good managers needed stewards, especially when they owned multiple agricultural estates and spent much time in London.

Picture an estate of as large as 11,000 acres. For the owners to have any leisure-time, they needed to employ a ‘right-hand man’ to look after the management of the estate. The man in question was the agent or land steward.

 Duties: The estate had a number of heads of departments, such as the head gardener, head gamekeeper, etc. The agent was responsible for all of these departments, paying the wages of the workmen and keeping regular logs and accounts of work done. He kept a detailed set of books recording repairs to buildings, fences or roads, as well as information regarding game, livestock and crops. He was also in charge of collecting the rent from the estate’s tenants, and for this reason he could be an unpopular figure.

The agent  spent a lot of his time touring the estate on horseback, dealing with tenants and estate workers face to face. He was required to keep a terrier, a book recording the boundaries and tenancies of the land, which included the rent roll. A good agent needed a head for figures, meticulous record-keeping skills, an all-round knowledge of farm work and land maintenance, and an aptitude for dealing with people. That the job could be dangerous is clear from records of assaults on agents by tenants, and at least one steward murdered on an estate.

A steward’s house near the main gate of an estate.

The most important position on an estate was the steward, who was the chief administrator and, in earlier times, the lord of the manor’s deputy. The steward wielded considerable executive authority.  He transacted all the legal and other business of the manor estate, kept the court rolls, etc.

The steward was usually resident on the Estate.  The steward was responsible for finding tenants for farms, negotiating leases, recommending and supervising improvements, and collecting and disbursing estate revenues His influence certainly also extended into the domestic realm of the estate.

Those of us who write, or read regencies, can easily see how the dishonest steward often crops up as a plot element in our fiction.  They can be made into a convenient villain.

For the most part, however, they were honest men, working for a living, surely taking pride in the nurturing of the property.

Have you ever read a regency with a lordly hero disguised as a steward? Any regencies with wicked stewards? Please respond in the comments. Thanks, Susan

How to Have an American Duke

Ah, titles. They are one of the most fascinating things about the Regency period, I think. It’s no secret that people are enamored with the idea of royalty. (Have you seen the one year William and Kate Wedding Dollsanniversary dolls of William and Kate?) The fascination with titles and everything that comes with them is part of the draw of the Regency time period. Right before the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class, the power and prestige that came from sheer luck of birth was still riding high at the beginning of the 19th century.

Kristi here, with a look at how all that power and prestige makes its way down the family tree. On the surface, inheritance is simple. But the intricacies can get very complex.

I read a completely made up statistic once that more fictional English dukes have been created than have ever actually existed. If you type “duke” into Barnes and Noble’s search bar you won’t find that hard to believe.

But, just for kicks, I’m going to make up another one to use in this example. Introducing the Duke of Handsomeshire (because, really, what good is a fictional duke if he doesn’t look good?)

The Creation of the Duke of Handsomeshire

Sometime back in history, the king thought someone deserved great honor and bestowed upon him the title of Duke of Handsomeshire. He was given some land and possibly some money and a whole bunch of other favors because the king liked him.

Now the First Duke of Handsomeshire  feels very responsible for this new title. He gets himself a wife and sets about having an heir and a spare or two. Or five or six because children died way too often back then. We’ll call his sons Adam, Benjamin, Charles, and Edward. (D was Deborah and she’s a girl, so sadly means nothing in this article.)

Fictional duke with four sons and a daughter.

The Progression of the Dukedom

Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House, seat of the Duke of Devonshire, via Wikimedia Commons

The title, property, money, and all of that other fun stuff pass down to son number one, Adam. He becomes the second Duke of Handsomeshire. All the other kids? Well, good luck to them. If Adam is feeling generous he might help the others, but really he doesn’t have to. All Adam has to do is manage the estate, find him a wife, and make lots of little heirs of his own.

This  continues down the line for several generations. As long as the Duke of Handsomeshire has sons, there’s little question of who inherits. However, years go by and the sixth Duke of Handsomeshire is blessed with lovely, talented, beautiful daughters. Who can’t inherit squat as far as the title is concerned.

By now the family tree of the original duke looks like this:

Fictional duke's family tree extending out six generations
Click the picture to see it in full detail

The Rerouting of the Direct Line

Once the sixth Duke of Handsomeshire dies, the powers that be start tracing the tree backward. Since women can’t inherit, they can immediately be ignored.

Hopefully the sixth duke had a younger brother. If that younger brother is dead, then hopefully the younger brother had little boys of his own. But, alas, it’s a generation of skirts, so up the tree we go.

If, as I have made the case here, there aren’t a whole lot of male progeny, they have to trace quite a good distance back to keep it in the direct male line of the original title holder. In this case we have to go all the way back to the 1st duke’s fourth son, Edward. Benjamin had lots of daughters and Charles sadly died without any offspring. You can make his death as tragic as you like. It really has no bearing on the inheritancy.

What you end up with is this:

Fictional duke's extended family, showing 7th and 8th dukes
Click to see the picture larger

The 8th duke isn’t going to inherit until his father dies, of course. He’s just labeled to show the continuation of the line.

The Ramifications of the New Line

Now over six generations, the family is going to spread out. With no tie to the title or the family money, descendents of younger sons have had to make their own way in life. It’s feasible that somewhere along the line these men moved. Possibly even out of the country. Not expecting to inherit, and indeed possibly not even knowing there was a duke back in  branches of the family tree, they’ve gone about their lives.

Suddenly a guy shows up with a complicated diagram and a whole lot of legal papers stating you’ve inherited something from your sixth cousin. And this is how you could end up with an American (or French or German) Duke of Handsomeshire that actually knows how to farm or run a business or some other such un-aristocratic skill.

The Case of No Male Descendants

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. When a peerage was made, there could be provisions set that allowed certain titles to descend through the female line. Probably the most famous exception was the Duke of Marlborough. His family looked like this:

The Family of the First Duke of Marlborough
By John Closterman (1660-1711) via. Wikimedia Commons

But neither of the lads in the picture survived, leaving him with only daughters. This meant that the brand new title had nowhere to go. So provision was made for the title to pass through the female line down to the next male heir.

Knowing this, it now makes a lot more sense why so many second and third cousins could be found hanging around and reminding everyone of their connection to the peerage. One never knew when one might inherit.

Learn More

If you’re looking for more information about the details of exceptions to this male-inheritance rule as well as pesky things such as entails and what happened to a title if there were no male sixth cousins hanging around, you can read this article from ChristianRegency.com.

Now just for fun, go trace your family tree and see how far you are away from a title. Unless you’re female.  Then you can see how many people would have to die for your brother or husband to inherit. Should only take you a couple dozen years or so.

Strange Taxes of the Regency Era

Kristi here. If you live in the United States and you’re reading this article it means either A) you’ve already finished your taxes or B) you’re avoiding doing your taxes by perusing the internet. If the latter I suggest you hop to it because Tax Day is right around the corner.

 “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

How true, how true. Taxes are a way of life if you want to have a funded government. During the Regency, with the American Revolution having just wrapped up and the Napoleonic Wars raging, not to mention a Prince Regent with an eye for expensive decor, the English government taxed the citizens in every way it could think of. Newspapers, soap, tea, pins, sugar, coffee, even horses and dogs were taxed. By the time the Regency rolled around the English government had gotten very good at taxing people in unique ways.

The Window Tax

Bricked In WindowProbably the most infamous of the taxes was the window tax. It was doubly bad because there was also a Glass Excise tax. So you got taxed when you bought the glass for the window and then taxed for having the window.

Any portal that allowed you to see outside of the house – even a small ventilation hole – counted towards a home’s total number of windows. Homes were classed into three groups: less than 10 windows, 10-20 windows, and more than 20 windows. The rates were occasionally raised, coming to their peak during the Regency, before slowly decreasing until the tax was eradicated altogether in 1937.

While some people, particularly poor people, did brick up certain windows to avoid the tax, false windows were also a popular architecture feature. This was awfully convenient if you did want to brick up a window because it kept it from looking out of place.

The Servant Tax

Next time you’re reading (or writing!) a Regency novel, pay attention to the number of people running around performing services for all the characters. All of them drew a tax from their employers. Footmen, butlers, valets, game-keepers, grooms, and gardeners all added together to make money to fund wars on the American and French fronts. The scale was as difficult to figure out as their money.

Families were charged different rates than bachelors. Eventually a sliding scale, based on the number of servants you employed, was applied to the rates.

Originally the law applied only to male servants working in homes or on estates. By the time Prinny came to power, women servants, waiters, book-keepers, clerks, stewards, and even factory workers and farm laborers were being taxed. The rates had also been risen to their highest point in history, making the sheer effort of making a living and running a household an expensive endeavor. While things did get better after 1823, the tax was not entirely repealed until 1889.

The Church Tax

Yes, the Church of England was also in the game of raising funds. At the time the church was responsible for much more than religious education, fellowship, and Godly worship. They also cared for the roads, the poor, and upkeep of certain public buildings – including the place of worship.

This was separate from the tithes expected from farmers and craftsmen which paid the living for the clergy. Also, while not a requirement, it was expected that people pay pew rental fees to the church to secure their seats for worship services. One would also have to tip the person who opened your pew box for you to sit down.

 

Tax stamp on wallpaper
Tax stamp on a piece of wallpaper, proving the tax had been paid.

All of this taxation served to make the poor poorer and the rich a little irritated. The poorest of people lived in houses without ventilation and didn’t wash because of the tax on soap. This made them sick and unable to care for themselves, in which case they had to rely on the church which meant the church had to collect more in taxes as well which led the rich to go to great lengths to drive the poor to another district. What a vicious circle.

Sadly, things haven’t changed much. Between income tax, property tax, sales tax, ad valorem tax, and other things like estate and capital gains taxes, just about everything we touch is taxed as well. I guess Ecclesiastes is right… there’s nothing new under the sun.

 

Sources:
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Godly Mayfair
English Historical Documents 1660-1714
Regency Redingote
Regency Redingote

 

Money Changers: Working out Regency Money

Money was undergoing a change during the Regency. It began during the early part of the Napoleonic wars, in 1797 to be exact, when the guinea was discontinued officially. Guineas were still in circulation, though, and people spoke in terms of items costing X number of guineas.

So what was a guinea? 21 shillings.

Clear as mud?

Let’s break this down to the simplest terms possible.

1807 Farthing
1807 Farthing

Farthing (as in “I don’t give a farthing for that.) ¼ pence

Hapenny or half penny: ½ penny or pence

Penny: a penny or pence shown as amount in numbers with a d.

Tuppence: two pennies

Thrupence: three pennies

Sixpence: six pennies or half a shilling

1816 Shilling

Shilling: 12 pennies r pence and shown as amount in numbers with an S

Half Crown: 30 pence or 2S 6D

1819 Crown Piece
1819 Crown Piece

Crown: 60d or 5s

Pound: 20s

Pony: Slang term for 25 pounds

Monkey: Slang term for 500 pounds.

Sovereign: In 1816, Great Britain went on the gold standard and issued the sovereign, which was a pound in a gold coin.

South facade of Bank of England, London
South Facade of Bank of England, London, 19th Century

Although bank notes were issued for convenience, they were not legal tender as we think of paper money nowadays. That didn’t occur until a little over a decade after the Regency ended. Bank notes were promissory notes saying that the bearer could exchange it for the face value of the note in gold coins. This was one way in which money passed from bank to bank.

To explain the banking system and how it worked before even telegrams could be exchanged to verify accounts is a complicated subject that will have to wait for another post.