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Mr. Darcy, even those who have never read or watched Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice recognize his name. Mr. Darcy is handsome, dashing—and world-renowned for being incredibly wealthy. But have you ever wondered, why is he so rich? How did he get all that money? Let’s answer those questions and talk about some Regency economics.
Jane Austen’s characters love to talk about money. As soon as Darcy walks in the room, Elizabeth Bennet hears how much he’s worth—10,000 pounds. When calculated into today’s rates, he’s worth millions.
So, why is Mr. Darcy so wealthy? Especially because he doesn’t seem to do much work at all. He hangs out with friends and dramatically dives into ponds all day. In fact, how do any of Jane Austen’s characters get their money when they spend most of their time sitting around drawing rooms?
Good questions. Let’s answer them.
Regency Economics 101: How Darcy Became Rich
But how did he get all that money? The short answer is, like most of Austen’s characters, he inherited it. He was born into the right family at the right time. Darcy is the original form of trustafarian.
But how did Darcy’s family become so wealthy? Using the three main ways most all of Jane Austen’s characters use to get their “livings” or annual incomes.
The key factors of genteel Regency economics are:
2. Inherited Fortunes & Investments
Mr. Darcy inherited land. A lot of it. His family probably acquired this land hundreds of years before, and it’s been making them rich ever since.
His last name Darcy, may have come from the French D’Arcy. This subtle reference gives insight that his family may have acquired their vast estate during the Norman conquest of England.
As a significant landowner, Mr. Darcy rents out plots of his vast estate to tenant farmers who pay him rent to live on and work his land. So basically, he is a landlord who makes money off of rent.
Since being a major landlord requires hard work, gentlemen like Darcy would hire someone else to deal with their tenants for them. That way, they can get all the money but still hit up the party season in London.
Fortunes and Investments
An intelligent, rich family wouldn’t squander all of the rent income they received. Instead, they would invest as much as they could in the bank, slowly amassing a fortune. By the time Darcy inherited the estate, his ancestors’ saving skills mean he inherited a large bank account too.
But he wouldn’t spend the money in that account. Instead, he’d live off the interest.
During the Regency Era, someone could invest their money for “five percent” interest. Which, if their fortune was large enough, the annual interest income alone could comfortably support their household. Several Jane Austen characters, including the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, live solely off the interest of money they inherited.
The Dashwoods have a combined total fortune of 10,000 pounds at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility. They put that in a bank and earn five percent interest, which gives them an annual income of 500 pounds a year they run their household on. Regency wisdom considered 500 pounds a minimal comfortable income that allowed a family to keep a servant or two.
In addition to making money off of interest, gentlemen also had other income sources. In Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny’s uncle travels to check on his plantation in Antigua. Other gentlemen made money off the mineral rights on their land through mining. Especially as the 1800s wore on and the industrial revolution exploded the economy, a gentleman could invest in industries like the railroad.
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So, far we’ve learned two significant reasons why Darcy has a lot of money. First, he gets rent off his land. And second, he invests his money wisely and earns a lot of interest.
Yet, just like today, the people of Regency England are never satisfied. They always want to climb the social and wealth ladder. So how can they get even more money? Marriage.
Often people think of women marrying for money. And, for women in Regency England, marrying rich wasn’t mercenary. It was smart. Women had no way of making money on their own. They couldn’t improve their future, or the lives of their potential children, other than through marriage. If they married a poor man, their life would become one of poverty and body breaking work. And as a mother, they’d have to watch their children cry themselves to sleep hungry every night. So a woman’s whole future depended on making a good match.
Yet, men married for money too. Because during this time, families gave their daughters an inheritance called a “dowry.” As Mr. Bennet says in Pride and Prejudice, dowries are essentially a way to “bribe worthless young men into marrying his daughters.”
So regency men always kept their eye out for a pretty girl with a fortune to boost their wealth even more.
This also fulfilled several essential functions. One was possibly paying off any debts he had incurred, such as we see in Willoughby’s marriage in Sense and Sensibility.
Or a man’s estate might be land rich and cash poor, or he owns a lot of land but not enough money to take care of it. A woman’s fortune could provide the funds needed to care for his family’s property. We see this in Downton Abbey with Lord Grantham marries an American heiress to revitalize the estate.
Since the oldest son in the family usually inherited the estate and the primary bulk of the family’s wealth, younger sons of genteel families especially hoped to marry rich. That way, they could maintain a comfortable lifestyle and not have to get a job.
Of course, Mr. Darcy doesn’t marry a girl with a fortune. Instead, he marries Elizabeth Bennet. Who has a very small dowry and not much to tempt him.
Why Darcy Is So Rich
So, in review, how did Mr. Darcy get all his money? In short, he was born into the right family—a very, very rich family. Yet, as we’ve seen, the Darcys amassed their wealth in three significant ways. First, they owned land. Second, they invested money wisely. And third, they married people with money.
Except for Darcy, he married poor. And by poor, I mean, relatively poor because she still was no street urchin.
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