It's a living... but WHAT it?
July 22, 2010 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm dipping back into Jane Austen for some comfort reading, as one does, and I'm reminded that I still haven't figured out what exactly a "living" is.

On the surface it seems straightforward: a clergyman is offered a living which amounts to a home and salary, and for which he ministers to the population. My assumption here is that the house and salary come from the lord or what-have-you of that patch of land, as a fulfillment of his obligation to provide "his" people with a clergyman.

But in Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas finds himself short of cash and as an economy has to give the family living away to someone not of his choosing. If a living worked as I thought it did, then he'd be paying either way - so how does he save money by having a different person take the position?

For bonus points, does a living refer to any other sort of essential position, or only specifically the position of village clergy?

The living was hereafter for Edmund; and, had his uncle died a few years sooner, it would have been duly given to some friend to hold till he were old enough for orders. But Tom's extravagance had, previous to that event, been so great, as to render a different disposal of the next presentation necessary, and the younger brother must help to pay for the pleasures of the elder.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Embarassment! The title should have been "It's a living... but WHAT is it?"
I used up all my literacy writing the post and had none left over for the title, it seems.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:08 PM on July 22, 2010

I always took it to mean the annuity stream that the landed folks received in the form of rents paid to the estate by the farmers and so on in the surrounding area.
posted by jquinby at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: Here's the definition of what the Church of England considers a living. I haven't read Austen, but by your context, I think it is what you're referring to.
posted by griphus at 3:18 PM on July 22, 2010

Mansfield Park is the one Austen book I haven't (yet) read, so I'm approaching this from a position of ignorance. But I wonder if the lord doesn't pay for the living, but the Church of England does. Therefore the living has value, and Sir Thomas has to give it to someone he doesn't prefer because that person was able to purchase the living for more money?

This is speculation only, based on reading a lot of Austen and other nineteenth century English novels of manners.
posted by jeoc at 3:24 PM on July 22, 2010

As I always understood this, the term 'living' didn't just refer to the clergy who were granted a parish, but to many administrative positions, government and elsewhere, where the fee (or salary) was dependent upon income from certain taxes or land.

The reason that the higher level gentry and nobility would have these livings to grant was because, when the Crown took over the Church(appointment of bishops, and much more), the land holders got control of the local parishes. The reason that was valuable was because tithing was enforced at law and many parish churches had glebes (farm land) attached to them. (This came to North America too. Drive around NoVa and try to follow all the Glebe Rd.s)

The reason Edmund and his father ran into trouble, was because they couldn't supplement a priest's income enough to make him willing to be a place holder, but also some of those who held the rights to a parish would try to hold on to as much of the parish income as they could (by taking clergy that wouldn't actually minister to the congregations, or would only take a small amount of the tithes because they were poorly qualified.)
posted by Some1 at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: I can't summarise it better than this:
If you were the local landowner you had the power to appoint the local clergyman. This meant that it was possible to buy the position of the parish parson. When you were appointed as the vicar of a parish, whether you had bought the right, had it bought for you, or were presented with it as a favour, the position was yours for life. With the job went the parsonage house, rent-free and the glebe, i.e. some farmland that you could farm yourself or rent out. You were also entitled to tithes from the parishioners. When you died the parsonage and any lands that went with it reverted to the local landowner who would appoint your successor.
So while the living itself entails a stipend from the Church and the revenues from land and tithes, the right to bestow it served as an asset to the local landowner that could be bought, sold or bestowed.
posted by holgate at 3:34 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Or, to be more precise, the right remains with the local landowner, but if said landowner is in need of cash when the position becomes vacant, the new appointment can be sold, akin to commissions to the armed forces which were the other big source of patronage in Georgian England.
posted by holgate at 3:38 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: From Daniel Pool's "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England":

"The local representative of the church was the parish "priest," as the vicar, rector, or perpetual curate of a parish was known. He conducted the services in the local parish church, tended to the sick, officiated at baptisms, christenings, funerals, and so on. His post was officially known as a "benefice" or a "living" and it could be used to maintain a handsome life-style. The minister was entitled to all or part of the local tithes, the mandatory annual payments by parishioners to sustain the church...Naturally, as we learn in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, these were sought-after positions, especially since the only formal obligation was to preach one Sunday sermon each week... In later years, such livings generally passed into the hands of large landowners..., and then people might curry favor with the patron to get the post, since the church would not usually ordain someone a full priest unless he had a living to go to.... In 1830, some 7,268 of the 11,342 livings in England and Wales were in the control of private parties... Since they carried a nice steady income with them, however, such livings... were widely bought and sold- just like annuities - as well as simply given away... " (source).
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:39 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ha! I just read all about this in Bill Bryson's new book At Home last night:

"A clergyman's pay came not from the Church but from rents and tithes. Tithes were of two kinds: great tithes, which came from main crops like wheat and barley, and small tithes, from vegetable gardens, mast and other provender. Rectors got the great tithes and vicars the small ones, which meant rectors tended being the wealthier of the two"

Ok, I'm going to start paraphrasing now.

In 1836 things were changed from a portion of a crop to a fixed annual sum based on land value, which meant farmers might have bad years, but vicars always had good years. Jane Austen grew up in what she considered an embarrassingly deficient rectory that had 7 bedrooms. The richest "living" of all was worth about 7 million pounds a year in today's money. In 1851 a country rector with only 250 parishioners earned 500 pounds a year, as much as quite a senior civil servant.
posted by pseudonick at 3:43 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: There's a good discussion of livings in one of the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, that really cleared up for me the vagueness of Austen. Aubrey has two livings in his possession to give, and offers them both to Martin, a friend of Stephen's, and Martin obsesses for half a book about which one to take--or could he take both?--and in the process says a lot about what a living in.

A living is part of the estate of a gentleman; Aubrey inherited his. The estate includes things we think of--like the manor house--but also might encompass a whole village, including its church. The lord (or baron, or whatever) has the power to appoint a clergyman to the church, usually for life though occasionally temporarily to hold it until a minor it has been promised to comes of age and is ordained. (Do I remember right that this was Edmund's situation? Someone had been holding the living for him in Mansfield Park?) The land that comes with the church might include gardens for produce, or even fields that could be rented to farmers for incomes; the clergyman's income would also include tithes from parishioners.

So it was possible to say that so-and-so had a living in his power to give that was worth 500 a year because rents and tithes could be counted on to be that much. A patron could give a living to someone he thought was worthy or in need, but he could also sell it--parents, for instance, could pay a certain amount for "the next presentation" of a living, meaning that their son would have the right to it when the incumbent died or left.
posted by not that girl at 3:46 PM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, Joec is on the right track.

The village church used to be run by specific tithes laid out in advance: good year or bad year for crops, the local farmers had to pay the church so many bushels of wheat and so many head of cattle per year. The householders might owe beer or money or food. This was "the living"

Some churches were headed by Vicars. They were paid a salary.
Some churches were headed by Rectors. They got all the tithes.
Some churches were run by curates who were asistants paid a salary and under the supervision of the Vicar or the Rector. So a really wealthy Rector might have a large number of churches that he gets the income from but does very little work in-- all of the day to day stuff being carried out by the curate.

What has this got to do with the landed gentry? They sometimes had a living in their possession-- it was theirs to give away to whomever they chose (usually for the clergyman's lifetime) and it was usually given to a relative (keeping the money in the family.) A more concientious landowner would want the people on his lands to be happy and well cared for so would provide a good minister for his flock, however, for a fee they could confer the living on an outsider. Look on it as buying an annuity-- depending on the yearly set tithe, the fee could be a good investment that paid for itself in a few years.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:53 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sir Thomas Bertram is the lay patron of Mansfield, which means he has the right to appoint the clergyman. In legal terms, he is the owner of the advowson. In other words, he can bestow the appointment, which comes with a house and a guaranteed income for life, on any clergyman he chooses. As this is a valuable appointment, he wants to keep it in the family. Last time it became vacant, he gave it to his brother-in-law Mr Norris, and when Mr Norris dies, he intends to give it to his son Edmund (or, if Edmund is too young, give it to some friend of his who will obligingly step aside to make room for Edmund when he is older).

However, things don't go according to plan. Sir Thomas finds himself unexpectedly short of cash because of the extravagance of his older son Tom. To raise money to pay Tom's debts, he has to sell the right of next presentation, meaning that although he is still the legal owner of the advowson, someone else now has the right to make the appointment next time it becomes vacant. So when Mr Norris dies, he is succeeded by a stranger, a Dr Grant, who moves into the parsonage house. When Dr Grant dies, the right of presentation will revert back to Sir Thomas or his heirs, but unfortunately for the Bertrams, Dr Grant is 'a hearty man of forty-five' who seems likely to live for many more years. So, for the time being, the living has passed out of the family.

Many aspects of this system still exist today. There are still some local gentry and landowners, like Sir Thomas, who have the right to appoint the parish priest. Here, for example, is the patronage register (pdf) for the diocese of Peterborough, which lists a number of lay patrons, including Lord Spencer (Princess Diana's brother) and the wonderfully named Sir Hereward Wake. However, the Benefices Act of 1898 made it illegal to sell the right of next presentation, and the Patronage (Benefices) Measure of 1986 gave the diocesan bishop the right to veto any appointment made by a private patron.
posted by verstegan at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: not that girl, Thomas Jr.'s profligacy required the living to be sold rather than held by a curate (one of the two livings in Lord Bertram's gift -- Edmund did get the other one).

In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon writes "It is a rectory, but a small one; the late incumbent, I believe, did not make more than 200 L per annum, and though it is certainly capable of improvement, I fear, not to such an amount as to afford him a very comfortable income." This suggests that a living didn't necessarily have a fixed value, but could vary based on the actions of the rector.
posted by katemonster at 5:16 PM on July 22, 2010

As an aside, I love the book referenced in the post by MonkeyToes, above. It is a great thing to reach for when I'm not quite sure what Austen, or Dickens, or even Sayers, is referring to.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 9:47 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the fantastic replies - I knew I could count on mefi for this one!
And a few books have been added to my purchase queue, particularly the fabulous-looking "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England" and the whole of Bill Bryson.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2010

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