Would I have wanted to be Lady Mary?

It takes me an hour to drive to my monthly EBWC meeting. I use that time productively to consider what I might say in my one minute. I know that I am supposed to have prepared this well in advance of the meeting, but I like to link my words of wisdom to current events, trying desperately to make Financial Planning interesting and relevant to my ladies!

Last month coincided with a resurgence in the debate on equal pay for men and women, something we have discussed quite animatedly at several EBWC meetings, as you can imagine. Now, I am very proud of my profession, although it does tend to be rather dominated by the male of the species. During a career of almost 27 years, I have been fortunate not to have encountered this type of discrimination and have managed to raise my children whilst remaining financially independent, something that would have been unthinkable to my grandmothers, let alone my great grandmothers. As I looked into this further I realised that this was not just because of the circumstances that they were born into but also legal restrictions preventing them from grabbing the opportunities that we take for granted today. What a difference just 100 years can make!

Whilst I like to think that I come from aristocratic stock, I have to remember that one of my ancestors recorded her occupation on the census as “Pauper”, so I guess that is enough of a clue! If I had been lucky enough to have been born into the fictional Earl of Grantham’s family and lived at Downton Abbey at the beginning of the 1900’s however, I may have had a comfortable and privileged life, but would I have had the financial independence that I so value today? It seems not. The Earl only fathered daughters. The eldest, Lady Mary was unable to inherit his title, due to the system of Primogeniture, as it could only pass to, and through, men. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, she was also unable to inherit her Fathers’ estate on his death. This was because of an entail, a form of will, that ensures a lord or landowner leaves his house and land to his son “and the male heirs of his body”, in this case a distant cousin.

The Earl had married a rich American, Lady Cora, however her fortune had been added to the entail on their marriage so even their mothers’ money was lost to the girls.

Whilst the entail was outlawed in England in 1925 male only Primogeniture for aristocratic titles does still exist.

Bringing us a little bit more up to date, and perhaps more relevant to those of us not born into an aristocratic family, the Marriage Bar prevented many women from staying at work after marriage. I worked for over 25 years in NatWest Bank, I find it incredible to think that, until the 1950’s the position for women was quite simple – banks did not employ wives, so for a female bank worker, an engagement was always followed by a letter of resignation!!
It was assumed that a married woman would rather be at home looking after her husband and children and would not be properly committed to her job – it’s a good job my husband isn’t reading this!!

Discrimination does still exist, but we have come a long way – I wonder what life will be like for our granddaughters and great granddaughters?
So, would I have wanted to be Lady Mary? I have to admit it’s tempting – no bills to worry about, servants on hand to tend to my every need and do all the housework, a lovely big house to live in, and, of course, I do end up marrying the very handsome distant cousin who inherits my Father’s estate!

The reality for the ladies in my family in the late 19th and early 20th century would have been much different, they may have lived a life more comfortable than that of my pauper ancestor in the 1841 census, but I do tend to take for granted the freedom that being in control of my own finances affords me and I wouldn’t change this, not even for Lady Marys’ life of leisure!

Blog contributed by Tracy Savage – Chartered Financial Planner