A well-born gentleman in Regency England had very few options for earning his way. This held especially true if he were a second or third son, and if the family fortune had been gambled away or lost on ‘Change. This quote from the London Stock Exchange explains, “1801 – On 3 March, <snip> the first regulated exchange comes into existence in London, and the modern Stock Exchange is born.” Called the ‘Change in common parlance, this organization became a way to win or lose fortunes, or both, in rapid time. http://www.londonstockexchange.com/about-the-exchange/company-overview/our-history/our-history.htm
We looked at the clergy last time. The Law also fared well as an occupation for gentlemen. However, the practice of law followed two courses, as a solicitor or as a barrister. Barristers were socially above solicitors, and therefore the only approved legal course for gentlemen.
The practice of a barrister could often be only a matter of research, of knowing the law and the interpretations of it better than anyone. Still, many did actually appear before the bar, which is what they called the railing keeping the riffraff from the judge and other important personages. Only barristers could advance to be a judge, and most often had their goal in a political position.
During the Regency period, how you dressed had a lot of weight in how your were perceived. Barristers wore robes, odd shirts with fabric tabs for neck cloths, and the indispensable horse hair wigs. To this day, British barristers still wear that outfit. Just recently, changes have been considered, but the barristers seem to like the wigs and robes.
No real governing board existed to regulate or standardize the practice of law until 1825. There were some requirements, of course, and expectations, such as civil law and cannon law, but once you were out of Cambridge, you were on your own.
The key thing is, this stood as an acceptable profession for a person of good family, as long as that person was male. Tina Gabrielle has written some Regency romances where the hero is a barrister. In fact, the heroine studied law but could not be taken seriously, so she decided to marry someone who could practice law. Interesting concept.
I chanced upon this great blog, The Barrister’s Blog, and a recommendation on a great book, the Great Defender. Can I use the word great one more time? While the subject of the book practiced law outside of the Regency period, this is a great look at the courts and law that didn’t change all that much in that time. http://timkevan.blogspot.com/2015/07/book-recommendation-great-defender-life.html
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday with a look at the Army and Navy careers.