The National Trust – at least in theory – exists to preserve the glories of our history which the modern day finds of little to no use. Thus the grand old houses – and the not so grand too – get sent off into those charitable hands as we simply don’t have large families with armies of servants living off their estates any more.
We can trace the killing of that estate economy back to the railway and the steamship. The 1870s saw the American west open up as a grain supplying region for Europe, the 1890s the Ukraine. The first it was the steamship which enabled the transport, the second the railway. At which point the income from growing grain in Britain collapses, the rents, therefore the economy of the estate. That abolition of the Corn Laws allowed it to happen.
OK, so, what’s wrong with this?
National Trust should stop ‘privileging heterosexual lives’ in family histories at stately homes The National Trust should stop emphasising the role of families in the history of stately homes because it “privileges heterosexual lives”, one of its most senior curators has said. Rachael Lennon, the Trust’s national public programmes curator, said that “inherited and partial” narratives about family estates meant that “same-sex desire and gender diversity have generally been given little space”. Her comments prompted a row over revisionism, with one prominent conservator suggesting the Trust would “jar with the realities of history” if it tried to play down the role of families who have looked after stately homes for centuries, without whom they would not exist.
The essential feature of that English estate economy was primogeniture. That’s what held together those land holdings over the centuries. Sure, it’s not essential that the inheritor be heterosexual and as often as is true in the general population they weren’t. But that idea of primogeniture does rather go hand in hand – perhaps gonad with gonad- with that idea of families and heterosexuality. It is, after all, a method of preserving that estate in that family line.
Yes, we do know that people knew this. Napoleon insisted that real property must be divided among the children, something deliberately done to break the power of the land holding families. We English made the same insistence about the Catholics of Ireland. Again a political power thing.
The National Trust looks after the remains, the remnants, of a socioeconomic system dedicated to the idea of family and family line. So now it must de-emphasise it because buggery?
We might have a little too much emphasis on modern nostrums here.