A Regency Crime: The Persecution of Mrs Doar

Imagine a world where a married woman could work faithfully for her employer for more than fourteen years, chronically underpaid, yet still be thrown out like garbage because she was pregnant with her husband’s baby. This is exactly what happened to Mrs Dorothy Doar in 1832, which I recently read about in the excellent book The Housekeeper’s Tale by Tessa Boase.

I already had a certain amount of animus toward Doar’s employers, George, Marquis of Stafford and Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, because they were prime movers in the iniquity of the highland clearances, the forced evictions of families from land that they had lived on for decades (if not centuries) so theat the landowners could make more money from sheep. The highland clearances were an inexcusable, unmitigated evil made even more nefarious by the fact that the Sutherlands were already filthy rich.

'Elizabeth,_Duchess-Countess_of_Sutherland'_by_George_Romney,_Cincinnati_Art_Museum

The Sutherlands had an income that translated into that of a modern billionaire, but they STILL wrote to their estate manager, James Loch, to order their factor, Patrick Sellar, to crack down harder on getting those icky tenants off of proper sheep land. Lady Elizabeth literally dripped diamonds, and yet she was stroppy about how slowly the evictions of were going because there was money waiting to be made. So what if some of evicted Scots crofters starved and froze to death? They were only poor Catholics; not worthy of life at all.

The Duchess of Sutherland, on seeing the starving tenants on her husband’s estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England, “Scotch people are of happier constitution, and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals.”

While the Sutherlands crapped in gilded chamber pots, “between 1811 and 1820 fifteen thousand crofters were removed from the inland to the seacoast districts” to live in destitution. Moreover, “The manner in which the evictions were carried out could be exceedingly harsh [on the Sutherland estates], particularly in the valley of Strathnaver. An eye witness, Angus Mackay, commented that “It would be a very hard heart but would mourn to see the circumstances of the people… you would have pitied them, tumbling on the ground and greeting, tearing the ground with their hands.” People were actually burned alive when their cottages were set on fire in order to force them out. As many as 2000 crofters per day were evicted from their homes, forced to go to the cities to try and find work in hellish factories.

Patrick Sellar

So you can see why the Sutherlands and Lock were already on my shit list before I read about the way they treated Mrs Doar. Just think about how much I liked the whole pack of vile jackals after!

Thanks to the ‘right to work’ dystopia of the Regency period, there was no such thing as job security. Unions were still a thing of the future, and the capitalist elite could put a crushing heel on the necks of every laborer at a whim. Thus, the long and devoted service of Lady Elizabeth’s housekeeper, Mrs Doar, could be rewarded with cruel dismissal without any means of address when the unfortunate woman revealed her pregnancy in 1832.

-regency-dress-regency-era servant

Lady Sutherland, who had carried on numerous affairs and whose youngest son was believed to be the offspring of her own brother-in-law,  decided that Doar would have to be let go when her housekeeper confessed to the pregnancy.  Having a pregnant housekeeper would set a bad example for the maids – even though the housekeeper in question was married and there was no doubt the baby was fathered by her husband, Mr Doar. The new moralism of the age demanded that no female servant ever, EVER have a baby. It was proof she had gotten laid, and that was simply forbidden to women of that class

Elizabeth Leveson-Gower Countess_of_Sutherland

Mrs Doar was devastated. She had been hired by Lady Sutherland while married and already had a daughter a decade earlier, whom she had immediately put out to nurse as a newborn in order to keep her job.  Doar had then spent every dime of her salary getting her child the best care, and then into the best schools. Doubtlessly poor Mrs Doar had hoped that after so many years of excellent service, and having committed no ‘crime’ against decency in sleeping with her husband, she would be kept on as housekeeper if she promised to send the new baby away ASAP like the last time. No such luck. The mania for ‘propriety’ had become an obsession. Even if the church condoned a serving woman sleeping with her own husband, the lady of the house would not.

wanton servant turned away

Doar wrote the most agonizing letter to James Loch, begging him to please try to convince Lady Sutherland not to fire her.

“I assure you at this time my heart is almost broke … it grieves me very much indeed to leave … indeed Sir to describe to you the distress I am in would be impossible … I hope and trust Sir you will be my fiend and prevail on my Lady to allow me to stay if its only for a short time as God knows what will become of me … I hope by leaving me case in our hand who I had always concidered my friend that you will be able … to dow something for me.”

Sadly for Doar, her supposed friend, James Loch, who had himself fathered half a dozen children on his wife while employed by the Sutherlands, agreed with her ladyship. It was his opinion that “a Housekeeper who has Maids to look after should not be bearing children even to their husbands,” and it was “quite impossible in such an establishment” as Trentham Hall “to permit of her breeding”.

James Loch

Lady Elizabeth, whom Doar had waited on hand and foot and had taken care of with such attention to detail, apparently felt a little guilty about firing Doar when the woman was 8 months pregnant, stricken with illness, and responsible for the support of a sick husband, as well as a daughter in school. So did Loch, who openly acknowledged that Doar had been grossly underpaid for more than a decade. They decided that they would assuage their consciences by setting Doar up in a little shop, from which position she could hopefully continue to support her family. If not, well – that wasn’t their problem was it?

That all fell apart when the heavily gravid and desperate Doar loaded a few things into her moving boxes that she wasn’t supposed to. Doar tried to claim them as the “perquisites” of the job, and certainly these ‘perks’ – hand-me-down linens and other supplies – were so common as to be considered part of a servant’s salary. However, there were things in her boxes which were less likely to be perquisites. These things – tea, sugar, coffee, soap, candles, cleaning gear, and some of the linen – she confessed were the rightful property of the house.

Rather than having any mercy on Mrs Doar, who was due to deliver her baby any day and so sick she could barely walk, the new would-be housekeeper, Mrs Cleaver, and the house steward, Mr William Lewis, ratted her out as harshly as possible. Mrs Cleaver got in good with her new employers and with Mr Lewis by being such a heartless tattle-tell, but Mr Lewis only got the satisfaction of feeling morally superior. Lewis, from atop his high horse, proclaimed himself to be exceedingly bent out of shape about the “depravity” of Doar having attempted to purloin the goods, and wrote that Doar was a “Devil” hidden in the household the whole time.

Not a desperate, unjustly dismissed pregnant woman taking things which may have bought her food during the lean times of her recovery, mind you. Nope. A veritable Devil. A sly, malignant “wretch” who stole things worth less than ONE of the cups her mistress drank tea from in the mornings.

The Sutherlands and Loch agreed whole heartedly with Lewis. Doar, who had been so lately described as “a most excellent and zealous and faithful person … who did her duty fully, amply and consientiously,” was now a disgusting ingrate that the Sutherlands, Loch, and Lewis felt justified in shooing out of the house like an unwanted cur that had soiled a good carpet.

Actually, they would have probably been nicer to a stray dog. 

On the day that Doar’s world was falling apart, Elizabeth Sutherland attend King William IV’s birthday wearing “a dress of rich white satin, elegantly embroidered in gold lama … [with] ornamental vandyked stomacher, with gold, enriched with diamonds and emeralds, very superb … [and] Head dress, gold, with plume of feathers and costly diamonds.”

Lady Sutherland would have really been hurting for that mop that Doar was smuggling out of the house, wouldn’t she?

The author of the book, Ms Boase, couldn’t find out what happened to Doar and her family after the housekeeper was tossed out on her ear. Did she survive the birth? Did she and her husband and her children starve to death? Go into workhouse? Did her oldest child have to go to work in a factory? Did the family immigrate to America or Canada or Australia? No one knows.

Worst of all, no one cared.

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