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What Darcy paid to induce Wickham to marry Lydia

One of the ways that Darcy displays his love for Elizabeth is when he tracks down Lydia and Wickham following their elopement and pays the expenses for their wedding. We don’t know how much exactly he had to spend, beyond Mr. Bennet saying Wickham would be a fool if he took less than ten thousand pounds in chapter 49.[1] However, I think that the actual amount that Darcy paid out would have been less than to 3,500 pounds based on the calculations and assumptions below.

What is known:

  • Wickham’s debts amounted to considerably more than 1,000 pounds[2]
  • Darcy provided 1,000 pounds to be settled on Lydia.[3]
  • Darcy purchased Wickham’s commission, an ensigncy in the Regulars.[4]
  • Commissions for the rank of ensign officially cost between 400 or 600 pounds depending on if it was a regular infantry regiment or the more prestigious Foot Guards.[5]
  • Mr. Bennet was to provide the Wickhams with 100 pounds a year during his life and to provide Lydia with a 1/5 share of the 5,000 pounds settled on Mrs. Bennet following both the deaths of both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.[6]

What is known or can be supposed:

  • Darcy had to bribe to Mrs. Younge in order to find out where Wickham Lydia were hiding.[7]
  • Darcy likely had to pay a premium to obtain a commission so quickly.[8]
  • Mr. Bennet paid Wickham’s Meryton debts or made arrangements to do so before he found out Darcy was involved. [9]
  • Darcy paid for the marriage license at a cost of 10 shillings.[10]
  • Darcy paid for the express that Mr. Gardiner sent Mr. Bennet.[11]
  • Darcy paid the cost of moving Mr. and Mrs. Wickham from London to Newcastle, for which I will budget 100 pounds. [12]
  • Wickham would have attempted to get an additional amount for himself. [13]

How this all adds up:

Darcy paid:

  • 1000 pounds to be settled on Lydia
  • 1500 pounds to pay off Wickham’s debts (I’m estimating)
  • 400 pounds to pay for Wickham’s commission
  • 100 pounds to bribe Mrs. Younge (note: I think the amount was probably smaller)
  • 10 shillings for the marriage license
  • 100 pounds for travel costs.
  • 200 pounds for all other costs[14]

For a total of 3,300 pounds and 10 shillings.

Mr. Bennet paid:

  • 100 pounds per year until his death
  • 1000 pounds after his and Mrs. Bennet’s deaths
  • Wickham’s Meryton debts.

So, in conclusion, based on the evidence in the text and my own historical research, I would say that Darcy did not pay out anywhere near 10,000 pounds in order to bring about the Bennet-Wickham wedding. Which isn’t to say that the amount that the amount he did pay wasn’t significant. It was considerably more than many a gentleman’s yearly income and certainly more than the Bennets would have been able to afford.

[1] In Chapter 50 Mr. Bennet later writes to Mr. Gardiner, begging him to tell him how much was actually spent, indicating that Mr. Bennet didn’t know and was just throwing out a number.

[2] Chapter 52, Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth, it is unclear whether that number is all of Wickham’s debts or just his non-Meryton debts (note 9), either way I would say that the sum of his debts would be less than 2,000 pounds or Mrs. Gardiner would have used that number in her letter.

[3] Chapter 52, Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth.

[4]Chapter 50, a letter from Mr. Gardiner to Mr. Bennet and Chapter 52, Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth states that the commission was purchased.

[5]Brian Southam, Jane Austen in Context, ed. Janet Todd (Cambridge University Press, 2005) 373. According to this source, the standard fee for an ensign’s commission in an infantry regiment (which had the least expensive commissions) was 400 pounds, followed by the Foot Guards where an ensign’s commission cost 600 pounds. Calvary regiments cost more (between 735 and 1600 pounds) but do not have the rank of ensign. I will also note that in times of war it was not always necessary to purchase a commission if you were not picky about which regiment you entered.

[6] Chapter 49, a letter from Mr. Gardiner to Mr. Bennet.

[7] Chapter 52, Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth, complete supposition, but it seems likely that a person who would be friends with Wickham would be willing to betray him for money. I cannot say how much would be a reasonable bribe, but my guess is that it would be less than 100 pounds (which was a very large sum back then).

[8] My research hasn’t turned up exactly what amounts the premiums were, since it does indicate that during the Peninsular War (1808-1814) most young officers were able to get their commissions for free, I will make the assumption that the premium was no more than the difference in cost between the official cost of Wickham’s commission and the next most expensive commission; this was 200 pounds in the case of infantry to Foot Guards, 135 pounds in the case of Foot Guards to Dragoons (whose lowest rank was a cornet).

[9] In chapter 50, Mr. Bennet writes to Mr. Gardiner and begs him to tell him how much money Mr. Gardiner spent in bringing the marriage about so that Mr. Bennet could know the extent to which he was indebted to his brother-in-law to whom Mr. Bennet feels an obligation to repay. Mr. Gardiner doesn’t send this information but later in the chapter asks Mr. Bennet to make assurances to Wickham’s Meryton creditors that they would be repaid soon. Due to Mr. Bennet’s feelings on the matter of being in debt to Mr. Gardiner, I think it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Bennet assumed those debts himself.

[10] Joan Elizabeth Klingel Ray, Jane Austen for Dummies (Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2006), 144. Jane Austen for Dummies states that an engaged couple “could purchase a [common/ordinary] license from a clergyman for about 10 shillings.” While this is not explicitly mentioned as a cost in chapter 52, Elizabeth receives a letter from Mrs. Gardiner which states that “[n]othing was to be done that [Darcy] did not do himself[.]” I am assuming that the marriage license fee counts as something.

[11] See note 10, though this is something which I think it is slightly more likely that Mr. Gardiner paid for himself without telling Darcy at the time as Darcy was not necessarily present when Mr. Gardiner wrote the letter.

[12] Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2002), 404.
Deirdre LeFay, Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2002), 58.

See note 10, this is another cost which I think it is likely that Darcy covered mostly because I think Wickham at some point whined “But how will I get to Newcastle?” LeFay states that traveling post would cost at least one shilling per mile while Family Fortunes puts the amount at one shilling nine pence, Newcastle approximately 283 miles from London and extrapolating that the Wickhams would end up with their costs being closer to 1 shilling nine pence I came up with 24 pounds, 15 shillings and 3 pence. As tolls and the cost of overnight lodging would be extra, I rounded up to 25 pounds and multiplied by 4 to get 100 pounds, though I would guess that for a reasonable person in the Wickham’s situation, less would be entirely adequate.

[13] This one is pure conjecture on my part, but I do think that it is likely that Wickham attempted to weasel a small amount for himself, though my guess is anything like that he received would fall under an aggravated “here is some money for your travel expenses.” If there was anything else that Darcy did, I think it would be more likely to be a (written) promise that Darcy would later purchase Wickham a promotion or would provide the Wickhams with an additional 50 pounds per year following Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s deaths.

[14] Again, I picked a number that seemed excessive to me, particularly when you consider that most people in Regency England lived on less than 100 pounds per year. This amount would include Darcy’s travel costs, and the legal costs associated with the marriage settlement, etc.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Thanks for the details! Sue from the Regency Encyclopedia also came with a much smaller sum than 10,000. I think, like everything in P&P, we're supposed to see that first impressions/assumptions tend to be misleading.

    Among the "other costs" I'd include the press announcement. I'm also not sure if Mr. Bennet paid for Lydia's trousseau. I only recall him not wanting to.

    The yearly percent from 1,000 would be 40 pounds. Only really huge money could bring 5% a year. Mr. Bennet though calculated that with what were his normal costs of keeping Lydia, he'd be only 10 pounds shorter.

    It's said that Darcy continued helping in Wickham's promotion for his wife's sake, so I don't think that he promised anything else prior to the marriage. Most likely Wickham was desperate enough. 😉

  2. You are welcome. I hadn’t seen Sue’s analysis and will have to head over to the Regency Encyclopedia to check it out. I’m not certain that Lydia got a proper trousseau. She wasn’t permitted to leave the house when she was with the Gardiners and they went to Longbourn immediately after the wedding, so anything purchased would have had to have been done in or around Meryton and within a short time frame. Lydia probably already had a large wardrobe and while I would imagine that Mrs. Bennet probably gave her some things, she didn’t get much and since Lydia wasn’t part of the negotiations and I doubt Wickham would have cared much, I don’t think Darcy paid for it.

    As for the interest on 1,000 pounds, I was basing my assumption on Mr. Bennet’s statement in chapter 49 following his being told that Lydia would receive “an equal share” of the five thousand pounds settled on Mrs. Bennet, he tells Jane and Elizabeth “I mean that no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life, and fifty after I am gone.”

    I definitely agree that Wickham was desperate, his being willing to marry Lydia shows just how desperate. I was trying to include all possible expenses that I could think of (should have thought of the announcement), partially to show that you just don’t get to 10,000 pounds.

  3. Even if Wickham didn’t care for the trousseau, Darcy might, because it wasn’t so much about new things, as about Lydia’s respectability. Trousseau meant that she was married properly and accepted by her family and friends. After all Darcy wants it all to look well. He wouldn’t want people to say that his wife’s sister didn’t even have new wedding clothes. He must have paid for her wedding ring though.

    Oh, you’re right about the quote and 50 pounds. I forgot about it. Mr. Collins speaks of “one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents” when he proposes to Lizzy, and from what I know he’s right. Perhaps Mr. Bennet is earning more now, because he has a larger sum invested, and typically forgets that things will change when he dies? There was some bottom limit of the money one could invest at 5%. I don’t remember what it was now, but it was much higher than 1,000.

    Sue posted her analyses years ago at HG or HG BuB, but it wasn’t as detailed as yours. In any case, you’re both right, it’s nowhere near 10,000.

  4. Just a thought—when Mr. Bennet said Wickham would be a fool to settle for less than ten thousand pounds, could he (at least in part) have been making a joke at Lydia's expense?

    (Also, I just discovered and am loving this blog. Thanks for all the information!)

  5. Brilliant! You must be the one who puts those ridiculously-thorough annotations at the ends of Penguin classics.

    About the “Wickham would be a fool if he took less than ten thousand pounds” quote: I’d never understood that figure to mean the expense of setting the new couple up with a clean slate, but as the personal bribe needed to induce Wickham to actually *marry* Lydia instead of continuing to pursue £10,000+ heiresses like Mary King. Considering what his eligibility could be worth, a it would take _very_ large bribe to make him give that up, and that bribe is what Mr. Bennet would be considering.

    I’ve always hoped for Lydia’s sake that Darcy paid it in installments.

  6. Thank you, but I am not the person who annotates the Penguin classics. Personally, I really don’t think Darcy paid out that much money. Wickham was in a desperate situation, and in many ways thinking ahead doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. I also think that if he had managed to weasel 10,000 pounds from Darcy, Wickham would not have felt the need to join the military, which would require him to do actual work rather than live a life of leisure.

  7. This is a really great discussion. I think that if Mr Bennet or Mr Gardener were to have tried to get Wickham to marry Lydia it would have required a large bribe. Possibly $10,000. They were wealthy men by the standards of the time but had no real influence. Darcy however could make Wickham’s life a complete misery if he chose to. Wickham was lucky that due to Darcy’s private nature and his desire to protect his sister’s reputation, he had left him alone. When Wickham ran off with Lydia he would not have thought Darcy would become involved and he would have been forced to be reasonable.

  8. Common licenses could be had from bishops or their representatives– like archdeacons but not every clergyman. There was a seven day waiting period. Money had to be paid for a bond of £100 to be paid if they lied on the license. A special license cost £5 and could only be had from the Archbishop of Canterbury at Doctors’s commons in Town. I think Darcy must have bought a special license for the pair because there was no waiting and the couple could be married anyplace and time they could get a clergyman to perform the ceremony..
    Very interesting blog.

  9. I assume that Wickham joined the army following the end of the Napoleonic wars – at least I don’t remember any concern expressed that he might get himself killed.
    Following Waterloo and Napoleon’s exile to St Helena the British army was massively demobilized (leading to an economic hardship and societal turmoil when literally hundreds of thousands of men were dumped on the labor market that was already overcrowded with the cancellation of war supply contracts. What was left was, and I quote (but I’ve misplaced the citation – a retired Metropolitan Police detective is all I can remember):

    The British landed Gentry of the 19th Century all attended Public Schools (Public, meaning Private) – they knew each other therefore, on both a school basis and on a social one. When they left school it was to join a social network that extended throughout business, politically and in the Military and Navy. When you were Commissioned you did not just get allocated to a Regiment – well, not a top one. You went before boards of officers from the Regt. you wished to join – and this was one of the reasons for Hon. Colonels. Your background, title, available money – these were all important. An officer had to be able to keep-up with the social events of a top regt.. Some Regts. would only accept young officers from titled families.
    Whilst they were taught to maintain and look after their commands – it is a fact that most officers left the running of things to the senior NCO’s. They were the professionals.

    A 10,000 pound “dowry” from Darcy might have persuaded the officers of a regiment that Wickham was fit to be one of them. After that the hardest thing he’d have to do is mind his social graces – and Lydia’s – and not run through the money. Officers who couldn’t pay their bills were expected to resign.

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