For the Verneys, family position and power were dependent upon a wide range of interacting variables. Power within the family was affected by one's strength, health, ambition, intellect, and proximity to the family head. The position of wives varied according to their age, wealth, social skills, and family connections. Life's fortunes were extremely varied for widows, gentlewomen companions, wives, and daughters, with or without portions. Both male and female dependent kin found survival precarious. But many used political, business, or social skills as downpayments for future annuities. This study suggests that as society grew more urban, younger sons were important agents of change. Their professional skills advanced Britain's power and saved financially strapped families like the Verneys. Elder sons had more power, wealth, and status but sometimes paid a heavy price for their privileges.
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