Thursday, January 30, 2014

Maria Grace: Vicars and Curates and Livings...oh my! C.C.and King GIVEAWAY!

What a fabulous week this has been, featuring:

We have been spoiled with brilliant Guestposts that I'm sure have tantalized you even more in wanting to read this book.  
Today, to end the event, we have another excellent article by Author Maria Grace!
 p.s. You gotta read her bio (at the end of article)- this lady is incredible!!

'I am probably the odd one out. I actually love the research process. It is probably one of my favorite things about writing historical fiction.  As a kid, I loved to read reproductions of old cookbooks and collections of letters from historical eras—honestly I still do.  I love those glimpses of life in those periods; I feel a little transported to that era myself.
That is the crux of world-building, a skill every writer must have whether they are creating their own fantasy world, or recreating an historical one. I frequently find myself researching out little details that I could otherwise gloss over, since, really, they aren’t THAT important to the story. Things like specific items served at meals or teas, what did they taste and smell like. Were they just place on the table, or was there some particular way they were presented? Were there special serving vessels used or just everyday dishes and did those dishes communicate anything about the host or hostess.  These are little things which don’t necessarily carry the plot, but they can transport the reader into the story world and that is important to me.
 Sometimes you can more or less fudge your way through details, though readers often notice and object anyway, but in my recently completed series, Given Good Principles, one set I could not gloss over were the details about the lives of clergy in the Regency era.  Through the four books, I had three significant characters who were vicars and curates and I had to get those details right.
Once I sorted all those details out, I had the privilege of writing a piece for the Castles Customs and Kings anthology explaining what I’d learned. I would love to share that here with you as well.

Vicars and curates and livings…oh my!

In the 1800’s the English laws of primogenitor, intended to preserve the integrity of large landed estates, made it a challenge for younger sons of the landed gentry to establish themselves in life. If their family did not possess an additional estate for them to inherit or they lacked some other relative to provide an inheritance, younger sons had little choice but to make their own way in the world. The question was how.

Traditional ‘learned’ professions: the church, the law and medicine had a respectable character as ‘liberal professions’ befitting gentlemen. So these, together with the armed forces formed the primary options for gentlemen’s younger sons.  The church was a particularly attractive option if a family had a living they could bestow as they chose. A living meant a guaranteed income and home for the lifetime of the clergyman lucky enough to be appointed to one.


To qualify for a living, a man had to be ordained. The process started with a standard honors degree from Cambridge or Oxford since o specific degrees in theology were offered. Afterwards, the candidate needed a testimonial from his college vouching for his fitness for ordination. He then presented the testimonial to a bishop and made arrangements for an examination to prove his competency in Latin, knowledge of the Scripture, and familiarity with the liturgy and church doctrine. 

After passing his examiniation, a man was Japanned (slang for ordination referring to putting on black cloth, from the color of black japanware)  and considered qualified to administer the sacraments of the Church. His career would begin at age 23, as a deacon, assisting an ordained priest. At 24 he could be fully ordained and eligible to be in charge of a parish and obtain a living of his own.

Obtaining a Living

For all but the luckiest young men, the real challenge began at this point.The surest way of procuring a benefice was to be related to the patron. A well-placed relative might allow him to walk into a living immediately after ordination. Less well-connected individuals could wait ten or twenty years for the opportunity.

Approximately 11,500 benefices or livings existed in England and Wales at the end of the 18th century. This sounds like a sufficient number; however, over half the ordained clergy never received a living. 

Oxford and Cambridge colleges controlled nearly 5% of benefices, presenting them as gifts to fellows and masters who wished to marry and leave academic pursuits. Another 10% or so belonged to the Crown,to be presented to government supporters. Bishops and cathedral chapters possessed about 20%. The gentry and aristocracy held the largest share, on the order of 60%. Most great families had at least one or two livings at their disposal. 

The value of a living

Having a living, did not guarantee the holder a life of wealth and ease. An 1802 figure suggests a third of the benefices brought in less than £150 a year and some 1,000 of those less than £100. (£50 a year was more or less equivalent to our minimum wage.)  A clergyman needed an income £300-400 per annum to be on the level with the lesser gentry. 

Incomes might be increased by serving more than one parish, but this seldom resulted in real wealth.Additional income might also be found through teaching or cultivating gardens and the glebe (acreage provided by the parish.)

Enter the curate

In the Regency period, once installed in a living, a man was there for life. No one less than the bishop could remove him for cause. A vicar could resign his duties to a curate once he obtained the permission of his bishop. Many hired a curatefrom the beginning of their incumbency. Others only did so when they had to retire.

A curate was usually a young man just recently ordained, who assisted or sometimes performed the duties of a clergyman. A curate’s wages would be paid from the vicar’s own pocket and typically were very low, as little as £50 per year. Moreover, a vicar did not have to give up the parsonage house to the curate. He might continue to live in it himself and leave the curate to find his own living quarters somewhere within an easy distance of the church.

Even at trifling wages, a curacy was not easy to obtain. In the early 1800’s curates made up close to half of the clergymen. Even with a position, their future was not secure. The death of the incumbent did not imply the curate would ascend to the living. Moreover, there was no guarantee that the successor would even continue to employ the curate.

As members of the clergy, curates were regarded as gentlemen. Even so, the subservient nature of their position and their paltry incomes caused some of the gentry and peers to hold them in disregard.

Parish duties

The clergyman’s duties in the church included holding service on Sundays and hold Holy Communion at least three times a year. Midweek duties included baptisms, marriages and funerals and visiting the sick.

Outside of the church, the clergyman officiated at parish meetingsto discuss local affairs including charity, parish employment, care of the poor, repair and maintenance of the church and election of the churchwardens. The parish was responsible for the administration of the poor laws and elected Supervisors of the Poor who collected the Poor Rate taxes from the wealthier parishioners. The parish also appointed two Surveyors of Highways to supervise the maintenance and repair of the roads. Thus, whether vicar or lowly curate, the clergyman played a major role in the life of his parish community.

Author Bio:

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:
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  1. I have really enjoyed all the posts this week, but I found this one esp. interesting. Perhaps because I didn't know much about the clergy. Thanks for the posts and the giveaway. This is a book I am anxious to own and read.

  2. Fascinating post! Thank you. Maria sounds interesting too .
    Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  3. a definite 'add' to my WishList!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  4. Great post, Maria! I do love your historical articles! I'm with you in loving to do all the research. :-)

  5. Thank you for explaining the difference between a vicar and curate. I always wondered, what, exactly , a beadle was too? Thanks to Dickens of course.

  6. Wow! I learned so much from that post. I had no idea of the differences between the various English church roles. Very interesting, thank you!

    lafra86 at gmail dot com