Elizabeth Leveson-Gower

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Reproduced with permission.[1][2]

As funny and talented as Jane Austen was as a writer, her writings still are decidedly and unequivocally the writings of an upper class woman about upper class women. Yes, there were gender expectations. And women who did not meet them could expect a few indignated looks and a stern "Tsk Tsk Tsk." and maybe even a wag of the finger by their upper class peers. Seeing now how today feminists cite her as examples of how oppressed women were leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

Because you need to compare it to the reality of most men in that age and how their gender roles were enforced. It was the time of the greatest expansion of the British Empire and the cruelest and most savage age of European capitalism and the industrial revolution.

A serious daily concern for most men and boys was to be kidnapped and gang pressed into navy or army service [3] or even into factory or new world slavery. Yes, this story of Solomon Northup in "12 Years a Slave", it was a reality not only for free blacks in North America. It was a real concern for millions of men all over Europe. And once in their new situation, it was no secret how discipline was maintained: the naval punishment hand books speak of keel hauling, plank walking, cat o' nine tails and rape was rampant. In the army you had to run gauntlets, there was caning and the knout.[4]

And don't think normal factory or mining work was any better. Far from it. The reason the British houses finally agreed to introduce age restrictions and and restrictions on the daily hours was because conditions for the every day man and boy were so bad that they couldn't find enough healthy bodies for the army and navy to go kill brown men in the colonies. While women had to fear gossip, men had to fear for life and limb and had to deal with real most brutal violence every day to enforce their gender roles. Men had to risk drowning, starving, being buried alive in mines, malaria, scurvy and all those other niceties that come with running a global capitalist empire, so that women could afford to worry about their handkerchiefs and parasols in Austenland.

And even that wasn't a role imposed on them, it was a choice for the most part. Then as now women rather not get their hands dirty when they can get men to do it for them.

And the perfect example to demonstrate how all those social restrictions of women were rather self imposed privileges, and how upper class women were rather a central driving force of the injustices and cruelty and brutal exploitation of this age, is the biography of Elisabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland.

It is funny how this name is nearly forgotten today. She was after all, in her time and at the time of her death, the richest person in the world. The second richest person at that time was Queen Victoria by the way. Two very interesting data points. But if her story was widely known, it would call into question two central pillars of the mythology today's establishment likes to perpetuate about itself and the world: Namely the historic oppression of women by a patriarchy that needs to be rectified, and that the uplifting forces of capitalism reward the good and honest work of virtuous men with a great fortune.

Elizabeth was born as the youngest child into the wealthy privilege of pedigree Scottish nobility in 1765, shortly after Britain established world dominance in the seven years war.[5] Her parents died shortly thereafter of typhus, one of the diseases one might catch in the cramped conditions of ships filled with men pressed into service and slaves. Nevertheless she was very well cared for by her estate and educated in all the fine arts and leisures and etiquette available to and required of aristocratic women of her age. She showed an aptitude for painting especially and was to be come a skilled landscape painter and continue to practice the art throughout her life.[6] But also piano and all these other womanly crafts. Yes, piano was considered something for women, in fact throughout the late 18th and the 19th century the vast majority of piano players were women. Teaching the daughters of wealthy families piano was the main source of income for most of those composers you still hear of today.

A big question in her early childhood was the inheritance of her parents estate, which was of course highly contested. For some reason this bastion of the patriarchy, the House of Lords intervened and declared her sole heir of titles and estate over all the male members of her family.[7]

It is very likely that this happened because it was already planned she was to marry into another very wealthy family to join the two estates. And so she was married to George Leveson-Gower when she was 20. They remained married for the rest of his life, and she was to become the unquestioned head of the household, the matriarch over the years. Even before that, in her early teens, she was already charged with raising "volunteer" regiments for the army, as Britain was deep into many colonial wars, most notably the American Revolutionary War and the Siege of Gibraltar. She would do so again later to suppress Irish Rebellion.[8] This strange trajectory of her early life already seems to suggest she was, as an orphan, groomed to be a spy and agent for British imperialistic interests.

This seems to be confirmed with almost certainty when in 1790 her husband became a Privy Councellor and they both were sent to France as ambassadors right when the French revolution broke out, despite neither of them having diplomatic experience. She quickly became part of the inner circle of Marie "let them eat cake" Antoinette and was never very far from all the major players of that time. For some reason they both left Paris right before the Reign of Terror started.

Back in London she became one of the major pillars of the London social life, where the British and European elites in this highly unstable time all frequented her dinner parties and balls, which suggests she became a major figure in the British intelligence networks.

Up until the fourth coalition in the Napoleonic wars the Leveson-Gowers were very active and central figures in the pan-European alliance networks against Napoleon. After this, with Napoleon at the height of his powers, they chose to retreat from the political spotlight as far as possible.

She still had the vote though, in contrast to most men and women of her time. Women never were explicitly barred, it was a class and property issue, not a gender issue. And she had the property.[9]

While George now fully became a strings puller behind the scenes, she embarked on expanding and managing their estates. They have grown from several inheritances, which are far easier to claim when you have political connections, and those connections in the context of the economic crisis of the time provided ample opportunity to cheaply take over land and assets, particularly in Northern Scotland and Sutherland which they ended up owning in title almost entirely.

What follows is what she became most notorious for, at least in her time. Up to this point most land in Scotland wasn't real private property in the modern sense, but since ancient times the land was communally clan owned, and the head of the clan could levy a limited tax or rent from the people on the land. Those rents rose over the centuries, and by the time our Elizabeth was living mainly in London, Edinburgh and Paris, they were already quite high. But in 1811, laws were changed, and this clan property of centuries became private property in the modern sense.

Which Elizabeth, who had a major hand in those law changes, took as an occasion to actually visit those lands and personally oversee the eviction of the tens of thousands of Gaelic people, whose families lived there for centuries, from it. She took army regiments with her (at a time when Wellington fought at Waterloo), and systematically razed the villages, burned people alive in their houses, and drove them into the sea and just left them to starve or flee. At the peak of this development hundreds or thousands of people were killed every day. The rest mostly fled to America. And she personally inspected the results and painted the desolate burning landscapes,[10] mocking the starving people: "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals".[11]

The development that took centuries in England, the inclosure of the land and turning it into sheep farms, she accomplished it on her estates in a few short years.[12] The normal proven business strategy that was at the very center of the creation of capitalism, she took it and applied it more ruthlessly than most before her. And in doing so she and her husband became the wealthiest people in the world. Their offspring has built some of the most lavish mansions and castles in London and all over the country. Their descendents are still deeply entrenched in the British establishment.

References

  1. https://old.reddit.com/r/MensRights/comments/2qkp1d/elizabeth_levesongower_duchess_of_sutherland_or/
  2. https://old.reddit.com/message/messages/2rdu14
  3. http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/overview/pressgangs-/
  4. http://militaryhistorynow.com/2012/06/29/this-is-gonna-hurt-military-punishment-throughout-the-ages/
  5. http://www.sutherlandcollection.org.uk/people/1-1-1-5.asp
  6. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=V5pFAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA412&ots=V5J9fU2iK9&dq=elizabeth%20leveson-gower%20landscape%20paintings&pg=PA412#v=onepage&q=elizabeth%20leveson-gower%20landscape%20paintings&f=false
  7. http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/s/elizabethsutherland.html
  8. https://sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/the-infamous-duchess-of-sutherland/
  9. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=2V3JAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&dq=Elizabeth+Leveson-Gower+voting&source=bl&ots=V8yrcMggUL&sig=aRG3HPZkGrT_fLwmHH_ShHd68Bw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kCq7VI_4H4H28QW34IDwCw&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=Elizabeth%20Leveson-Gower%20voting&f=false
  10. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sutherland-composition-mountain-landscape-t08630
  11. http://www.highlandclearances.co.uk/clearances/clearances_sutherlandclearances_dutchess.htm
  12. https://sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/the-infamous-duchess-of-sutherland/