Posts Tagged ‘entail’

Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:

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The Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother, 1821, depended on an annuity and jointure after her husband's death.

The Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother, 1821, depended on an annuity and jointure after her husband's death.

The laws of primogeniture were clear: In order to keep lands and estates intact, the bulk of the inheritance was handed down to the eldest son. Other much smaller claims to the property went as follows:

  • Jointures: Provision for an annual income for the wife after her husband has died and arranged at marriage. The amount is typically based on the assets the wife brings to the union. Elopements had dire consequences, for a woman forfeits this protection when she runs away to be married.
  • Marriage Portions: Lump sums paid to the bride, which she brings to the marriage.  Mrs. Bennet brough £5,000 to the marriage, and her daughters’ portions from her estate will be £ 1,000 each. Portions obviously vary. Princess Anne, the eldest daughter of George II, received an £80,000 marriage portion, voted by Parliament in 1733.
  • Cash Settlements: Passed on to younger sons, but often these monies were not enough to sustain them. Most younger sons had to find employment or marry well.
  • Entails: Property that is entailed on the male heirs cannot be inherited by females. This practice ensures that the succession of the title, property, and lands remains within the family, although a clause could be inserted to describe what would happen if there are no males left to inherit.  Mr. Bennet’s property is entailed and will go to Mr. Collins, the next male in line.

  • Annuities: Annual moneys donated by other members of the family for support.  Several of Jane Austen’s brothers provided an annuity of £50 to their sisters and mother. In Sense and Sensibility, Fanny and John Dashwood discuss the amount of an annuity for John’s stepmother and sisters before selfishly discarding the idea. The conversation begins with John:

“That is very true, and, therefore, I do not know whether, upon the whole, it would not be more advisable to do something for their mother while she lives, rather than for them–something of the annuity kind I mean.–My sisters would feel the good effects of it as well as herself. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable.”

His wife hesitated a little, however, in giving her consent to this plan.

“To be sure,” said she, “it is better than parting with fifteen hundred pounds at once. But, then, if Mrs. Dashwood should live fifteen years we shall be completely taken in.”

“Fifteen years! my dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half that purchase.”

“Certainly not; but if you observe, people always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them.”

More on English Inheritance Laws:

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The Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice were considered gentlewomen because their father, having inherited money, did not have to work for a living. In Jane Austen’s era, families with inherited money were considered to have a higher class and social standing than a family that lived on an income gained through hard work and labor. However,

The squire of a great country house, in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, standing on his terrace looking out across his broad acres, was rarely the owner of his land or even his house. He was the life tenant, in possession of the family capital but unable to deal with his estates as if he owned them outright. His interests were subordinate to those of the family, and the family was of more importance than he was. He was the king in check, his freedom of manoeuvre limited by a peculiarly English system of inheritance, the strict settlement (English & Saville, 1983, p. 11).

As the plot of Pride and Prejudice unfolds, one starts to sympathize with silly Mrs. Bennet’s determination to marry her daughters off to practically any eligible (and unknown) man who happened to stop by the neighborhood. Due to the stipulations of Mr. Bennet’s will that only a male heir can inherit his estate, none of the Bennet girls will receive any of their father’s money. Unless they married well, they will be left destitute. For Mrs. Bennet the situation was made even more galling knowing that Mr. Bennet’s cousin, a man the family had never met, would also inherit Longbourn House, their family home.

Mr. Bennet to Mrs. Bennet:

“About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.”

“Oh! my dear,” cried his wife, “I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason; and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

“It certainly is a most iniquitous affair,” said Mr. Bennet, “and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself.” – Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 13

As it turns out, Mr. Collins, a ridiculous and self-important man, had good intentions. He arrives at the Bennet’s doorstep determined to ask for one of the Bennet daughters’ hand in marriage. In his mind, his generous act would make up for the unfairness of the will’s stipulation. Mr. Collins tells Mrs. Bennet about his desire to court Jane, the eldest daughter. When Mrs. Bennet informs Mr. Collins that Jane is practically engaged to Mr. Bingley, he quickly turns his attentions to Elizabeth, providing one of the most memorable marriage proposals in literary history, and one that I relish reading over and over. Learn more about entails from Wikipedia below:

Pride and Prejudice contains a particularly thorny example of the kind of problems which could arise through the entailing of property. Mr. Bennet, the father of protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, had only a life interest in his property, known as Longbourn. He had no authority to dictate to whom it should pass upon his death, as it was strictly arranged to be inherited by the next male heir. Had Mr. Bennet fathered a son, it would have passed to him, but it could not pass to any of his five daughters. Instead, the next nearest male heir would inherit the property; in the course of the novel, this was revealed to be Mr. Bennet’s cousin, William Collins, a minister in his mid-twenties. The inheritance of the Longbourn property completely excluded the five legitimate Bennet daughters. Such entails typically arose from wills, rather than from marriage settlements, which usually made at least some provision for daughters.

Read more about the topic here: The British Aristocracy, Capital and Income, and Nineteenth Century Company Accounting, Christopher J. Napier

Illustration by C.E. Brock. In the novel, I recall the proposal scene occurring after breakfast. I do not recall Jane describing Lizzie at her sewing table as Mr. Collins proposes.

Update: Read more about the entail as explained by a British lawyer named Henry in a post I titled: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Entail in Downton Abbey and More.

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