A feature of the Irish tontines was the large-scale involvement of investors from Geneva, who were learning how to “game” the system. In 1777, they tied their combined £50,000 investment to the life expectancies of 50 young girls, aged three to seven, from families known for longevity. The plan worked well. Forty years later, 64 per cent of the nominees were still alive, compared with 42 per cent of their age cohort in the rest of the tontine.Smaller investors in 1777 included the founder of the Presentation Sisters, Nano Nagle, whose £100 share nominated the life of a younger nun, to whom she later bequeathed it. Another £100, from persons unknown (at least to me), was tied to the fate of Marie Antoinette. Aged 21 in 1777 (although it says 20 on the tontine list), she must have seemed a safe bet.In Reflections on the Revolution in France, a saddened Burke recalled his enchantment at having seen the future queen at Versailles in the mid-1770s. Her country was then “a nation of gallant men,” he said, in which he thought “ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult”. Alas, he now knew, “the age of chivalry is dead”.
ShareIn fact it wasn’t quite dead in Burke’s native Ireland, where in 1792 a plot was hatched to free the queen from prison and get her out of France on a wine-merchant’s ship. (Read more.)