The Elite Class

In Wuthering Heights, the subject of property and titles is an important one. The hereditary land-owning class was made up of aristocrats and the gentry. In the case of the aristocrats, the title and land usually went to the oldest son. With nineteenth century moral reforms coming to the forefront, the upper-class life of leisure and enjoyment lost favor. During this period, when the oldest son received the land, he was expected to actually do something besides just mulling about, as it seems the characters Wuthering Heights did. He was expected to sit in Parliament, have a hand in local affairs, and use his influence in a charitable cause, even though he did not do any paid work. The younger sons might have inherited some of the estate, but they were prepared to enter a profession, especially as military officers, clergymen, or colonial administrators. As a whole, the aristocracy formed a separate class under law. The children of aristocrats were also aristocrats with special rights.

Aristocrats made a lot of money off of their land. The wealthiest aristocrats made about 30,000 pounds per year. Others made about 10,000 pounds per year. To put this into perspective, people in the lower classes such as farm laborers and soldiers only made about twenty five pounds per year. The aristocrat put aside 150 pounds per year for his sons from the day that they were born in order to send them to Eton to become gentlemen. Likewise, he put away 100 pounds per year for his daughters so that their social expenses could be accounted for.

Upper class incomes were stated in terms of land, rather than money. Usually, land brought one pound per acre, per year. Estates were most often protected by wills and deeds requiring them to be passed to the oldest son. This sytem was known as primogeniture. Also, there were further deeds which restricted what a landowner could do with his inherited property. This assured that the estate would be passed on properly to the next generation.

The head of a titled family had responsibilities and privileges. He couldn't be arrested for debt, and if he was charged with a criminal offense, he would be tried by a "jury of his peers", made up of other noblemen, in a special court held in Westminster Hall rather than in an ordinary criminal court.

Aristocrats spent half the year in London attending to business in the Parliament, and were nationally important. Most important however, were the landed gentry. A landed estate included a hall or manor house, a home farm that was managed by a bailiff, several farms that were occupied by tenants, and a village or two in which farm laborers lived. The landed gentleman usually did not have a house in town. He spent most of the year on his estate, taking an active position on local issues. Generally, he was called "Squire", which is a customary term for the most influential local landowner. During this time period, there were about two thousand squires with estates of between one thousand and three thousand acres. The was expected to be a justice of the peace and to take interest in the countryside, and also to promote local charities. 

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996. 

The Middle Class

The Working Class

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