Primogeniture

W-ReadingLady4MA13757517-0004 Pat here:

So many Regency romances tangle with the laws of primogeniture—the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn male child to inheritthe family estate–that I thought I should expound a little on the topic.

In today’s world, it’s obvious that leaving entire estates and titles to the oldest son is grossly unfair to everyone concerned, including the son who doesn’t want—or is too incompetent to take on—the enormous responsibility of running a sheep farm and sitting in parliament. But the laws were established in medieval times when large expanses of land meant protection and power. The king granted lands in return for service, and his lords expected the same of their sons. To divide the land would be to divide families and the armies serving king and country and weaken defenses.

To accomplish this establishment of power, the entail was created. This is a legal Castledocument signed by the earl or baron to whom the land was granted that allows him to retain ownership interest in the estate, not actual ownership. Can you see the benefit to the estate if there’s a dissolute title holder? With an entail, he cannot sell it or surrender it or gamble it away. The land and all attached to it will go to his heir intact—so it behooves the heir to take good care of it and go out and fight his father’s battles.

Originally the entail was attached to the title granted by the king, but the custom benefited the entire estate and continued through the descendants. The document specifies which property is entailed—the grant from the king, certainly, but if the earl Downtonabbeypurchases other lands, he can choose if he wants those entailed to his heir. It also specifies what type of entail is involved. Normally, the entail would specify the next eldest male descendant and the heirs male of his body (legitimate biological children). There are other versions if you want to get into how the entail can be broken when there are no male heirs and why the Rule Against Perpetuities complicates everything. Here’s a great blog at proromantica.com explaining in terms of Downton Abbey. 

The interesting part to me—and I used this in This Magic Moment—is that to avoid the ThismagicmomentsmallRule Against Perpetuities, most entails needed to be signed and agreed to by the eldest son. In fiction, we seldom see anyone giving up wealth by not signing that entail. Since it protects the land from being gobbled up by debtors, it would most likely be foolish not to sign it. In Magic Moment, the signed entail was never filed and the estate became the target of debtors. The new duke was faced with being the Duke of Nothing—one can see why the entail continued through generations, especially as land owners borrowed heavily against the land to pay taxes.

There are no end of variations historical romance writers can play with when it comes to inheritance. Because I’m so aware of the injustice and inequality of the laws, I’m Rice_FormidableLordQuinton_200always flinging my characters into opposition with it. In Formidable Lord Quentin, I came at it from two different directions at once. When my heroine’s husband, the Marquess of Belden, died, his title and the northern land to which the title was attached, went to a distant cousin he despised—because of the entail and because they were childless. But the wily marquess used the coal he squeezed from those lands for investments that were not entailed. So when he died, his will left all his wealth to his widow—and his despised cousin inherited nothing but barren land.

Then on the other hand, Lady Belden, his wealthy widow, is the daughter of an Irish earl who ran off to the Americas to avoid debtors. She had no control over her father’s lands or his property or the horses she had raised from childhood. When her younger siblings—including her father’s six-year-old legitimate male heir—are abruptly returned to her safekeeping, she isn’t about to let them go. Except her father couldn’t leave her the boy’s guardianship because she was female—and thus her husband’s despised heir inherits the responsibility.

Really, luckily for me, sometimes the law creates more conflict than it resolves! Do you have any favorite books where part of the conflict develops from the laws of inheritance? Why do you think we enjoy them?

And as a special bonus for Word Wench readers, I'm announcing that Formidable Lord Quentin is on special now until 3/31 at $2.99. Take a look at the excerpt on my website and there should be buy links to your favorite retailer right there: http://patriciarice.com/

 

 

55 thoughts on “Primogeniture”

  1. Pat, I don’t have a lot of problem with primogeniture in context. Agricultural societies that divided the land equally (usually between sons, but sometimes between all children) ended up with people sitting on scraps of land that couldn’t support them.
    I read about one interesting society that took the opposite approach. The youngest son inherited. The idea was that by the time the father died the older ones should have made a life for themselves, knowing they’d not inherit, but the younger one wouldn’t have to hang around forever waiting. Wish I could remember where it was.
    A side benefit of British primogeniture was the younger sons who were sent out to fight for their country or make their fortunes and explore, administer, and develop trade links. It’s generally credited with creating the Empire.
    However, as you say, having estates fall into the hands of the useless or idiotic was bad. And the whole situation throws up lots of lovely plots.

    Reply
  2. Pat, I don’t have a lot of problem with primogeniture in context. Agricultural societies that divided the land equally (usually between sons, but sometimes between all children) ended up with people sitting on scraps of land that couldn’t support them.
    I read about one interesting society that took the opposite approach. The youngest son inherited. The idea was that by the time the father died the older ones should have made a life for themselves, knowing they’d not inherit, but the younger one wouldn’t have to hang around forever waiting. Wish I could remember where it was.
    A side benefit of British primogeniture was the younger sons who were sent out to fight for their country or make their fortunes and explore, administer, and develop trade links. It’s generally credited with creating the Empire.
    However, as you say, having estates fall into the hands of the useless or idiotic was bad. And the whole situation throws up lots of lovely plots.

    Reply
  3. Pat, I don’t have a lot of problem with primogeniture in context. Agricultural societies that divided the land equally (usually between sons, but sometimes between all children) ended up with people sitting on scraps of land that couldn’t support them.
    I read about one interesting society that took the opposite approach. The youngest son inherited. The idea was that by the time the father died the older ones should have made a life for themselves, knowing they’d not inherit, but the younger one wouldn’t have to hang around forever waiting. Wish I could remember where it was.
    A side benefit of British primogeniture was the younger sons who were sent out to fight for their country or make their fortunes and explore, administer, and develop trade links. It’s generally credited with creating the Empire.
    However, as you say, having estates fall into the hands of the useless or idiotic was bad. And the whole situation throws up lots of lovely plots.

    Reply
  4. Pat, I don’t have a lot of problem with primogeniture in context. Agricultural societies that divided the land equally (usually between sons, but sometimes between all children) ended up with people sitting on scraps of land that couldn’t support them.
    I read about one interesting society that took the opposite approach. The youngest son inherited. The idea was that by the time the father died the older ones should have made a life for themselves, knowing they’d not inherit, but the younger one wouldn’t have to hang around forever waiting. Wish I could remember where it was.
    A side benefit of British primogeniture was the younger sons who were sent out to fight for their country or make their fortunes and explore, administer, and develop trade links. It’s generally credited with creating the Empire.
    However, as you say, having estates fall into the hands of the useless or idiotic was bad. And the whole situation throws up lots of lovely plots.

    Reply
  5. Pat, I don’t have a lot of problem with primogeniture in context. Agricultural societies that divided the land equally (usually between sons, but sometimes between all children) ended up with people sitting on scraps of land that couldn’t support them.
    I read about one interesting society that took the opposite approach. The youngest son inherited. The idea was that by the time the father died the older ones should have made a life for themselves, knowing they’d not inherit, but the younger one wouldn’t have to hang around forever waiting. Wish I could remember where it was.
    A side benefit of British primogeniture was the younger sons who were sent out to fight for their country or make their fortunes and explore, administer, and develop trade links. It’s generally credited with creating the Empire.
    However, as you say, having estates fall into the hands of the useless or idiotic was bad. And the whole situation throws up lots of lovely plots.

    Reply
  6. Jobev, I remember learning in an English history course of an old (pre-Norman) inheritance system in which the youngest son inherited. I believe it was called Borough English.
    In Nepal, a very different solution to the problem of dividing the farm between several sons developed — polyandry, in which all the brothers share one wife (and the farm), limiting the children they can collectively produce to a number that can be supported by the property.

    Reply
  7. Jobev, I remember learning in an English history course of an old (pre-Norman) inheritance system in which the youngest son inherited. I believe it was called Borough English.
    In Nepal, a very different solution to the problem of dividing the farm between several sons developed — polyandry, in which all the brothers share one wife (and the farm), limiting the children they can collectively produce to a number that can be supported by the property.

    Reply
  8. Jobev, I remember learning in an English history course of an old (pre-Norman) inheritance system in which the youngest son inherited. I believe it was called Borough English.
    In Nepal, a very different solution to the problem of dividing the farm between several sons developed — polyandry, in which all the brothers share one wife (and the farm), limiting the children they can collectively produce to a number that can be supported by the property.

    Reply
  9. Jobev, I remember learning in an English history course of an old (pre-Norman) inheritance system in which the youngest son inherited. I believe it was called Borough English.
    In Nepal, a very different solution to the problem of dividing the farm between several sons developed — polyandry, in which all the brothers share one wife (and the farm), limiting the children they can collectively produce to a number that can be supported by the property.

    Reply
  10. Jobev, I remember learning in an English history course of an old (pre-Norman) inheritance system in which the youngest son inherited. I believe it was called Borough English.
    In Nepal, a very different solution to the problem of dividing the farm between several sons developed — polyandry, in which all the brothers share one wife (and the farm), limiting the children they can collectively produce to a number that can be supported by the property.

    Reply
  11. In the U.S., agricultural lands often went to the son who actually wanted them. Or if they were divided through inheritance, then the sons who didn’t want them could sell to the ones who did. Of course, these days, no one wants to farm.

    Reply
  12. In the U.S., agricultural lands often went to the son who actually wanted them. Or if they were divided through inheritance, then the sons who didn’t want them could sell to the ones who did. Of course, these days, no one wants to farm.

    Reply
  13. In the U.S., agricultural lands often went to the son who actually wanted them. Or if they were divided through inheritance, then the sons who didn’t want them could sell to the ones who did. Of course, these days, no one wants to farm.

    Reply
  14. In the U.S., agricultural lands often went to the son who actually wanted them. Or if they were divided through inheritance, then the sons who didn’t want them could sell to the ones who did. Of course, these days, no one wants to farm.

    Reply
  15. In the U.S., agricultural lands often went to the son who actually wanted them. Or if they were divided through inheritance, then the sons who didn’t want them could sell to the ones who did. Of course, these days, no one wants to farm.

    Reply
  16. As Elinor notes–Borough English. In Kent the land was divided under gavelkind. Property law is not easy for me to understand especially as it was changed in 1925 and most texts don’t go back to explain how it was earlier.
    I Have found quite a few ideas raised by questions of law as well as real life stories of people affected by law. I just have trouble turning these into a story with dialogue and action and emotions. Guardianship , for instance, was a complicated matter.
    Most authors need to pay more attention to the Hardwicke Act on Marriage because they have minors marrying by license without the permission of a proper ( according to the act) Guardian. I guess if no one asks, no one will ever discover that they weren’t really married.

    Reply
  17. As Elinor notes–Borough English. In Kent the land was divided under gavelkind. Property law is not easy for me to understand especially as it was changed in 1925 and most texts don’t go back to explain how it was earlier.
    I Have found quite a few ideas raised by questions of law as well as real life stories of people affected by law. I just have trouble turning these into a story with dialogue and action and emotions. Guardianship , for instance, was a complicated matter.
    Most authors need to pay more attention to the Hardwicke Act on Marriage because they have minors marrying by license without the permission of a proper ( according to the act) Guardian. I guess if no one asks, no one will ever discover that they weren’t really married.

    Reply
  18. As Elinor notes–Borough English. In Kent the land was divided under gavelkind. Property law is not easy for me to understand especially as it was changed in 1925 and most texts don’t go back to explain how it was earlier.
    I Have found quite a few ideas raised by questions of law as well as real life stories of people affected by law. I just have trouble turning these into a story with dialogue and action and emotions. Guardianship , for instance, was a complicated matter.
    Most authors need to pay more attention to the Hardwicke Act on Marriage because they have minors marrying by license without the permission of a proper ( according to the act) Guardian. I guess if no one asks, no one will ever discover that they weren’t really married.

    Reply
  19. As Elinor notes–Borough English. In Kent the land was divided under gavelkind. Property law is not easy for me to understand especially as it was changed in 1925 and most texts don’t go back to explain how it was earlier.
    I Have found quite a few ideas raised by questions of law as well as real life stories of people affected by law. I just have trouble turning these into a story with dialogue and action and emotions. Guardianship , for instance, was a complicated matter.
    Most authors need to pay more attention to the Hardwicke Act on Marriage because they have minors marrying by license without the permission of a proper ( according to the act) Guardian. I guess if no one asks, no one will ever discover that they weren’t really married.

    Reply
  20. As Elinor notes–Borough English. In Kent the land was divided under gavelkind. Property law is not easy for me to understand especially as it was changed in 1925 and most texts don’t go back to explain how it was earlier.
    I Have found quite a few ideas raised by questions of law as well as real life stories of people affected by law. I just have trouble turning these into a story with dialogue and action and emotions. Guardianship , for instance, was a complicated matter.
    Most authors need to pay more attention to the Hardwicke Act on Marriage because they have minors marrying by license without the permission of a proper ( according to the act) Guardian. I guess if no one asks, no one will ever discover that they weren’t really married.

    Reply
  21. Oh, the Hardwicke Act used to be one of my favorite obstacles for characters to overcome. But it doesn’t affect the Regency era as much. Guardianship is another matter entirely–and it’s great for obstacles and conflicts if you have younger characters. But sometimes, it requires an evil mind!

    Reply
  22. Oh, the Hardwicke Act used to be one of my favorite obstacles for characters to overcome. But it doesn’t affect the Regency era as much. Guardianship is another matter entirely–and it’s great for obstacles and conflicts if you have younger characters. But sometimes, it requires an evil mind!

    Reply
  23. Oh, the Hardwicke Act used to be one of my favorite obstacles for characters to overcome. But it doesn’t affect the Regency era as much. Guardianship is another matter entirely–and it’s great for obstacles and conflicts if you have younger characters. But sometimes, it requires an evil mind!

    Reply
  24. Oh, the Hardwicke Act used to be one of my favorite obstacles for characters to overcome. But it doesn’t affect the Regency era as much. Guardianship is another matter entirely–and it’s great for obstacles and conflicts if you have younger characters. But sometimes, it requires an evil mind!

    Reply
  25. Oh, the Hardwicke Act used to be one of my favorite obstacles for characters to overcome. But it doesn’t affect the Regency era as much. Guardianship is another matter entirely–and it’s great for obstacles and conflicts if you have younger characters. But sometimes, it requires an evil mind!

    Reply
  26. Patricia, maybe you can answer a question that has always bothered me. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed to his distant cousin, Mr. Collins. Why do they have different surnames? Thanks!

    Reply
  27. Patricia, maybe you can answer a question that has always bothered me. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed to his distant cousin, Mr. Collins. Why do they have different surnames? Thanks!

    Reply
  28. Patricia, maybe you can answer a question that has always bothered me. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed to his distant cousin, Mr. Collins. Why do they have different surnames? Thanks!

    Reply
  29. Patricia, maybe you can answer a question that has always bothered me. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed to his distant cousin, Mr. Collins. Why do they have different surnames? Thanks!

    Reply
  30. Patricia, maybe you can answer a question that has always bothered me. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed to his distant cousin, Mr. Collins. Why do they have different surnames? Thanks!

    Reply
  31. One of my favorite Georgette Heyer book, The Quiet Gentleman, was about primogeniture. A certain member of the family hoped the earl and his heir would be out of the way, so that he could inherit.

    Reply
  32. One of my favorite Georgette Heyer book, The Quiet Gentleman, was about primogeniture. A certain member of the family hoped the earl and his heir would be out of the way, so that he could inherit.

    Reply
  33. One of my favorite Georgette Heyer book, The Quiet Gentleman, was about primogeniture. A certain member of the family hoped the earl and his heir would be out of the way, so that he could inherit.

    Reply
  34. One of my favorite Georgette Heyer book, The Quiet Gentleman, was about primogeniture. A certain member of the family hoped the earl and his heir would be out of the way, so that he could inherit.

    Reply
  35. One of my favorite Georgette Heyer book, The Quiet Gentleman, was about primogeniture. A certain member of the family hoped the earl and his heir would be out of the way, so that he could inherit.

    Reply
  36. wow, that’s a fabulous question! I’d never really thought about it. But there are various kinds of entails–some can descend through the female line if there are no direct male heirs. So it sounds as if this would be the case here. Entails aren’t the same as the laws binding titles–they’re legal documents that can be set up as necessary.

    Reply
  37. wow, that’s a fabulous question! I’d never really thought about it. But there are various kinds of entails–some can descend through the female line if there are no direct male heirs. So it sounds as if this would be the case here. Entails aren’t the same as the laws binding titles–they’re legal documents that can be set up as necessary.

    Reply
  38. wow, that’s a fabulous question! I’d never really thought about it. But there are various kinds of entails–some can descend through the female line if there are no direct male heirs. So it sounds as if this would be the case here. Entails aren’t the same as the laws binding titles–they’re legal documents that can be set up as necessary.

    Reply
  39. wow, that’s a fabulous question! I’d never really thought about it. But there are various kinds of entails–some can descend through the female line if there are no direct male heirs. So it sounds as if this would be the case here. Entails aren’t the same as the laws binding titles–they’re legal documents that can be set up as necessary.

    Reply
  40. wow, that’s a fabulous question! I’d never really thought about it. But there are various kinds of entails–some can descend through the female line if there are no direct male heirs. So it sounds as if this would be the case here. Entails aren’t the same as the laws binding titles–they’re legal documents that can be set up as necessary.

    Reply
  41. My first answer to the question was “not really; I find it interesting but not important.” Then Barbara Kuterbach mentioned “The Quiet Gentleman” one of my all-time favorite Heyer novels. So, of course I do — and Barbara nailed. it. Thanks Barbara for the reminder.

    Reply
  42. My first answer to the question was “not really; I find it interesting but not important.” Then Barbara Kuterbach mentioned “The Quiet Gentleman” one of my all-time favorite Heyer novels. So, of course I do — and Barbara nailed. it. Thanks Barbara for the reminder.

    Reply
  43. My first answer to the question was “not really; I find it interesting but not important.” Then Barbara Kuterbach mentioned “The Quiet Gentleman” one of my all-time favorite Heyer novels. So, of course I do — and Barbara nailed. it. Thanks Barbara for the reminder.

    Reply
  44. My first answer to the question was “not really; I find it interesting but not important.” Then Barbara Kuterbach mentioned “The Quiet Gentleman” one of my all-time favorite Heyer novels. So, of course I do — and Barbara nailed. it. Thanks Barbara for the reminder.

    Reply
  45. My first answer to the question was “not really; I find it interesting but not important.” Then Barbara Kuterbach mentioned “The Quiet Gentleman” one of my all-time favorite Heyer novels. So, of course I do — and Barbara nailed. it. Thanks Barbara for the reminder.

    Reply

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