It occurred to me that it’s always helpful to know exactly who is in the ton (pronounced tone) and who is not. As well as some other niggling details.
I found this definition, that pretty much explains who is in the gentry:
Members of the ton came from the aristocracy, the gentry, and of course, royalty and monarch(s). Jane Austen, for example, was part of the ton.
There are several misconceptions concerning what the gentry consists of, so let’s get them cleared up.
Gentry, in its widest connotation, refers to people of good social position connected to landed estates (see manorialism), upper levels of the clergy, and “gentle” families of long descent who never obtained the official right to bear a coat of arms.
This is probably the best time to mention and “lady” and “gentleman” were ranks. They were both of gentle-birth. If they needed to work, suitable occupations for a lady would be governess, and companion. Not a lot of choice. No matter how well your heroine sews, engaging in making gowns was engaging in trade, and not acceptable. Gentlemen, which will not surprise you, had a much larger pool to choose from, including, clergyman, tutor, military officer, government work in the Foreign or Home Offices as an example; physician, but not surgeon; barrister, but not solicitor; and writer were the most common.
The next problem I find is misuse of the word “commoner.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a commoner is any one below the rank of a peer. A peer is the title holder, his wife, a peeress has many of the same rights and privileges. The children, even the eldest son who may have a courtesy title of, say, Marquis of Hawksworth, is not a peer. They were all commoners. Before Lady Diana Spencer married, she was a commoner.
Not very thrilling stuff, I know, but lets look at is another way. Since all gentry were pretty much descended from peers, even a rector’s daughter could have some very interesting and high ranking connections or relatives. Now things can begin to get interesting. In Lady Beresford’s Lover, the secondary love story is about a rector’s daughter and an earl.
This snippet comes after Nicholas, the new Earl of Beresford makes Vivian, his late cousin’s widow, one of the worst proposals imaginable.
Vivian’s cup rattled. She was that close to throwing cup, saucer, and pot at him all at once. The next thing she knew, the delicate china was taken from her hands. Silvia put her arm around Vivian’s shoulders and sat next to her.
Beresford jumped to his feet as if a bee had stung him. “What are you doing here?”
“Why am I not surprised?” Silvia replied in a voice of icy distain. “Apparently you have forgot I am Lady Beresford’s companion. Now, my lord”—her tone took on the manner of a queen—“I believe you’ve said quite enough, and it is time to take your leave.”
He flushed as he stood, strode to the door, opened it, and fixed his fierce look on Silvia. “You may leave. I wish to speak with her ladyship alone.”
“Over my dead body,” Silvia mumbled just loudly enough for him to hear.
He opened his mouth, and Vivian decided to step in before all-out war could ensue. She knew nothing about his lordship’s manner, but, as much as she appreciated her companion’s championship, she’d never seen Silvia so exercised or rude.
In a calm but unapologetic tone, Vivian said, “I asked Miss Corbet to remain with me.”
He glared at Silvia as if he’d argue.
“However,” Vivian continued firmly, “I do not believe I need to hear any more of your proposition, my lord. My answer is no. I have no desire to wed you. In fact, I have no desire to marry anyone ever again. Once was quite enough, thank you.”
As he stalked out of the parlor, he glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll speak to you again when you are in a better frame of mind, my lady.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Silvia hurled at his retreating form.
His shoulders hunched, then the door snapped shut behind him.
“What gall!” Vivian picked up her tea-cup and took a sip of the now tepid liquid. “That was as unexpected as it was unwanted.”
“He’s an impossible, arrogant man.” Silvia fumed. “And always has been. He hasn’t changed at all. Having inherited the earldom has probably made him worse.”
“I’d forgot you and he were acquainted.”
“Unfortunately.” She scowled at the door.
Now I’d like you to harken back to what I said about connections.
Oh, pray forgive my manners.” Not that Vivian had had much of a chance to use them in the past six years. “Cousin Clara, this is Miss Corbet, who has been acting as my companion. Silvia, my cousin, the Dowager Marchioness of Telford.”
Silvia curtseyed. “I’m so glad to have finally met you. Vivian tells me you have great plans for her for the Little Season.”
“And for you as well.” Lines fanned out from Clara’s eyes as she smiled. “I understand that without your company, this past year would have been unbearable for Vivian.”
“I don’t know about that.” Silvia glanced at Vivian. “We’ve always got along well, and I was happy to help her. Since my father’s remarriage, he was pleased I was out of the house.” Silvia’s fine dark brown brows furrowed. “Yet, I cannot accompany you to Town.”
Clara’s eyes opened wide. “Whyever not? I sincerely hope it is not because of your father. I already have his permission, and now that Vivian’s year of mourning is completed, you are no longer acting as a companion. Therefore there is no reason you should not have a come out.” She waited a moment for the news to sink in. “Besides which, I’ve made all the arrangements. We shall have such fun. I’ve never had the opportunity to bring a young lady out. Sons are not at all the same.” She removed her bonnet and sat down on the same sofa recently vacated by Lord Beresford. “I wish to leave in two days’ time.”
“That soon?” Silvia gasped. “I don’t even know what to bring with me. I’ll require new gowns—”
“There is nothing to worry about.” Clare picked up her dog, placing the small animal on her lap only for the dog to jump down and duck under her skirts. “From what I see, both you and Vivian need new wardrobes. In fact, I think we shall leave in the morning. There is no need to waste time. Besides, Perdita is ready to be home. All this traveling has upset her nerves.”
Or, Vivian thought ruefully, no need to give her former companion time to find an excuse not to go. She, on the other hand, was more than happy to quit Beresford as soon as possible.
Vivian didn’t know how her cousin had arranged everything or why, but she was happy Silvia would finally have the Season she’d never had. Her younger sisters were already married. One to a wealthy young man of good lineage and fortune and the other to his friend, the heir of a viscount. Although Silvia’s sisters had offered to sponsor her for a Season, she had declined, stating that someone must remain with Papa and take care of him. An excuse she no longer had.
More tea arrived, and she busied herself fixing a cup for Clara. Vivian’s thoughts turned to Lord Beresford’s reaction to her companion and Silvia’s behavior in response. Sparks had definitely flown, and he had seemed not only angry but embarrassed that she was present. Was there something between them other than childhood animosity? If so, why had he proposed to Vivian?
Perdita remained close to Clara, peeking out every once in a while from under her skirts. “Cousin Clara, when did you get a dog? I’ve never known you to have one before.”
Clara stroked the small animal. “We always had hunting dogs, but one of my nephews brought her back from the Peninsula and asked me if I wouldn’t mind keeping her until he found a new owner. They stayed with me for a few weeks while he sorted out his business. She and I just took to each other. I don’t know why I never had a house dog before. She’s an excellent companion.”
“I hope she likes cats. You know I’ve had my Gisila for years and cannot go anywhere without her.” Speaking of her cat, Vivian glanced around and found Gisila under the desk.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine. Perdita normally remains under my skirts. It’s amazing I don’t trip over her.” She turned her attention to Silvia. “Miss Corbet, as you will be residing with me, I believe I would prefer to address you as Silvia, and you may call me Cousin Clara.”
Silvia appeared slightly startled, not a state that happened often or easily. “Yes, ma’am.”
“You may think this is a strange start on my part.” Clara smiled gently. “But I knew your mother when she was a child and your grandmother was a close friend of mine.”
I am giving away a copy of Lady Beresford’s Lover, or any other of my books from The Marriage Game to one of you who tells me what you think of a rector’s daughter or a governess marrying a peer.