Sir William Lucas, Regency Mayors, and Royal House Fires
What exactly was Sir William Lucas’ role as the mayor of a small market town? What’s the difference between The Palace of Westminster, Saint James, and Buckingham? And why should the monarchy invest in fire insurance? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin. Season 2 – episode 05.
Welcome back to another episode of My Cousin Jane. Each week, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books.
This week, we’re going to talk about Pride & Prejudice Chapter 5.
In this chapter, we are once again discussing the recent ball, the charming behavior of Mr. Bingley, and the infamous behavior of Mr. Darcy.
Just to set up the timeline a bit, the ball happened in the evening in Chapter 3. Later that night, Chapter 4 finds Elizabeth and Jane discussing the ball. Chapter 5 opens the next morning when the Lucas family drops by for a visit.
There are a lot of names mentioned in this chapter. Sir William Lucas is the head of the family, married to Lady Lucas. They have several children, but the only one that’s important to the story is Charlotte, she’s 27 years-old and a close friend of Elizabeth.
Speaking of Elizabeth and names, she gets called a lot of things in the novel, and while this might be obvious, I think it’s worth mentioning her nicknames, just to clear up any confusion. As we mentioned last week, she is addressed as Miss Elizabeth or Miss Elizabeth Bennet by people outside of her family. She is also called Lizzy by her parents and sometimes by her siblings, and Eliza by her friends.
She’s referred to by Elizabeth, Lizzy, and Eliza all in the course of a single page in this chapter. On one hand, that’s a great example of differentiating character voice, but it could be confusing to new readers.
Also in this chapter we have a few minor characters discussed, such as Mr. Robinson and Mrs. Long. The latter we already heard about in the first chapter, and who will be mentioned again, but neither of these characters are important to the story.
There are two things I want to talk about today regarding Sir William Lucas, but let’s start by listening to this clip about his rank, courtesy of Karen Savage and LibriVox.org:
For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous.Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5
So first of all, Sir William was presented to the king for knighthood at Saint James.
One interesting pattern you see with the homes of British monarchs is that they get destroyed by fires relatively frequently.
Up until the 1500s, the main resident of English royalty was the Palace of Westminster. But after a fire destroyed the royal apartments in 1512, Henry VIII moved to the nearby Palace of Whitehall. Which was also destroyed by a fire in 1622.
Fortunately, in the 1530s, Henry VIII had purchased an old hospital from Eton College that had been dedicated to Saint James (As an aside, this was not James the son of Zebedee, but the other apostle named James, sometimes known as James, son of Alphaeus).
He had the hospital torn down and built a palace in its place, which was called St. James. After Whitehall burned down, it became the principal residence for the monarchy until 1762 when the newly married King George III decided that it was just too cramped, and purchased a large townhouse called Buckingham House.
Through a series of improvements and additions, this gradually became Buckingham Palace, and though St. James was still the site of many official ceremonies (and is still the official site of the royal court today), but Buckingham gradually became the center of the monarchy.
Then in 1809, the royal apartments at St. James were destroyed by, you guessed it, another fire, and the royal family began living at Buckingham Palace full time. When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, she made Buckingham Palace the official residence of the monarchy, which it remains to this day.
However, St. James is still used for many official functions, most notably the Accession Council, a ceremonial group that formally proclaims the successor to the throne upon the monarch’s death. Several members of the royal family have also lived (or currently live) in various apartments associated with St. James.
We can only hope that Buckingham Palace has good fire suppression.
Let’s listen to one more clip about Sir William from this chapter:
Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty.Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5
From this clip we learn, aside from the fact that Sir William earned his fortune through trade, that he was previously a Mayor of a small market town. But what exactly does that mean? How did one become a mayor in Regency England, and what would your responsibilities be?
One thing to note is that until around the year 2000, there were no directly elected mayors in England. The first time a mayor was directly elected was when Ken Livingstone became the first Mayor of London. (Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have followed in that office).
Since then, several smaller municipalities have adopted the idea of having mayors directly elected by the people.
I should point out that the directly elected office of Mayor of London, created in 2000, is different from the office of the Lord Mayor of London, which has been around since the 1200s.
The Lord Mayor is elected through a secret ballot process carried out by the Livery Companies and the Court of Alderman. It has a long and colorful history that began with King John (of Robin Hood fame), and if you are interested in British history or political intrigue, I encourage you to read about it.
During regency times, every municipality had a slightly different way of handling local government. Sometimes, local councils (village councils, city councils, borough councils, etc…) had representatives elected by the people. Sometimes those offices were for fixed terms, other times they were life appointments.
The council members would sometimes appoint a mayor to chair the council. Sometimes this post was called “mayor”, sometimes “alderman”. Sometimes the councilors themselves were called aldermen, and sometimes there were a mix of councilors, one or more aldermen, and possibly a mayor.
For example, in Ipswich, local government consisted of Bailiffs and Burgesses; meanwhile, Leeds had a Mayor, Alderman, and Burgesses; and Louth had a “Warden”, assistant warden, and a Court of Six Assistants.
If that sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone.
There were some changes to the old system in the mid 1800s. The first was the Representation of the People Act in 1832, which brought about two major changes.
First, it expanded the right to vote to small landowners, tenant farmers, shopkeepers, and anyone paying rent above a certain amount. Though unfortunately women were still explicitly excluded from voting.
The act also abolished the so-called pocket boroughs (also called “rotten boroughs”). These were small municipal areas that for historic reasons had a right to send two MPs to the House of Commons.
The problem was that some of these boroughs didn’t actually have anyone living in them, and the MPs were essentially selected uncontested by the land owner (and were thus, in his pocket).
Then, in 1833, Lord Grey (who everyone believes Earl Grey tea is named for), had a committee formed to survey the existing systems of local government across England.
The commission found not only large variation in systems, but widespread corruption and dereliction of duty.
Their final report to the King included this fun quote:
… the existing Municipal Corporations of England and Wales neither possess nor deserve the confidence or respect of Your Majesty’s subjects, and that a thorough reform must be elected, before they can become, what we humbly submit to Your Majesty they ought to be, useful and efficient instruments of local government.Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations, 1835
Now, there is some debate about whether this report was completely objective and honest, as most of the members of the committee were part of a specific political group known as the Radicals, who sought widespread reforms in a variety of areas.
But objective or not, the report resulted in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which brought about a complete reformation of local government. Local municipalities would be governed by local councils elected by their taxpayers.
There were to be annual elections, and each year one-third of the council seats would come up for election. The council members elected aldermen to serve on the council for six years.
This system has been modified several more times over the years by subsequent legislation.
The point of all of this municipal history is that if you want to understand exactly what Sir William Lucas’ duties were as mayor of a small market town in Regency England, it’s pretty impossible to say.
Not only were there widespread reforms rolling out across England throughout the 1800s, but prior to that reform, there was little uniformity in the various systems of local government.
So for all we know, could have been doing anything, or, if Lord Grey’s committee is to be believed–possibly doing nothing.
That wraps up episode 5 of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to help us out, please consider supporting us by heading over to MyCousinJane.com and clicking on the little donate button.
Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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