Today’s Footnotes on Friday post is by Regina Jeffers. Welcome, Regina, and congratulations on the new book.
Could an illegitimate son inherit during the Regency? Or should we say could the illegitimate son inherit his father’s property, and not necessarily his peerage/title? First one must realize that there is actually a rule against perpetuity (which is a restriction saying the estate cannot be taken away from or given away by the possessor for a period beyond certain limits fixed by law) which addresses an entail lasting more than the three lives (generally the grandfather who is the holder of the entailed property, his first born son, and his first born grandson) plus twenty-one years. Keep in mind that an entail can be renewed when the original owner’s son (meaning the first-born son), as described above, becomes the grandfather, the original grandson becomes the father, and there is a new grandson.
The rule against perpetuities
The common rule against perpetuities forbids instruments (contracts, wills, and so forth) from tying up property for too long a time beyond the lives of people living at the time the instrument was written. For instance, willing property to one’s great-great-great-great grandchildren (to be held in trust for them, but not fully owned, by the intervening generations) would normally violate the rule against perpetuities. The law is applied differently or not at all, and even contravened, in various jurisdictions and circumstances. Black’s Law Dictionary defines the rule against perpetuities as “[t]he common-law rule prohibiting a grant of an estate unless the interest must vest, if at all, no later than 21 years (plus a period of gestation to cover a posthumous birth) after the death of some person alive when the interest was created.” At common law, the length of time was fixed at 21 years after the death of an identifiable person alive at the time the interest was created. This is often expressed as “lives in being plus twenty-one years.” (Wells Law Blog http://wellslawoffice.com/2011/05/remember-the-rule-against-perpetuities/)
Property and peerages followed different rules
Another point to keep in mind is that property and peerages followed different rules of inheritance, so customarily matters were set up so that the family seat went along with the title.
Property was disposed of through deeds, marriage settlements, and wills. Trusts were established to hold property for the benefit of the real owners. The rules of descent and distribution of these trusts could be set up any way one wanted-—within reason, of course. If property was disposed of by a settlement that was in force for the three lives in being + 21 years (as described above), at the end of that time it would need to be resettled by creating a new entail. That is what many did. If the property was not resettled, or dealt with in a will, it descended through PROPERTY LAWS, not by LAWS GOVERNING PEERAGES. As long as the property went from father to son or from grandfather to grandson along with the title, all was well. However, if there suddenly was no male heir in the direct line, other provisions were established for disposing of the property. The title might go to a cousin twice removed, but the property could even go to a daughter or the offspring of a daughter. [If there was no male heir, i.e., Mr. Collins, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s property could have been left to his daughters or the eldest son of one of the Bennet sisters. Interesting idea…]
Male heirs were preferred only because males, especially of the gentleman class, did not want the property to go to another family. Though daughters have as much family blood as a son, when a daughter married (at least, by law up until the 1870’s) her property came under the control of her husband. Her son would belong to a different family then.
The laws of descent and distribution and inheritance of real estate are complex. It should be remembered that property and peerage have different rules of descent. The family seat can be separated from the title. Property cannot be extinct, though titles could be. Property was rarely forfeited to the Crown due to lack of heirs. Usually it was due to a criminal action.
Illegitimate sons who inherited
For example, Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, died without legitimate issue. In 1871, his illegitimate son, Richard Wallace, inherited all his father’s unentailed estates and an extensive collection of European art, while the title and a country estate passed to a distant cousin. Later, Wallace was made a baronet [not part of Hertford’s titles] for his services during the siege of Paris, when he equipped several ambulances (using his own funds), founded the Hertford British Hospital, and spent lavish sums to bring relief to those afflicted by the clash.
Another example of the illegitimate son inheriting comes to us from Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont, who was the eldest son and heir of Sir William Wyndham and Catherine Seymour, daughter of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. He succeeded to the Orchard Wyndham estates as 4th baronet on his father’s death in 1740, and in 1750, he succeeded by special remainder as 7th Duke of Somerset, 1st Earl of Egremont and received his share of the Seymour inheritance, the former Percy estates, including Egremont Castle in Cumbria, Leconfield Castle in Yorkshire, and the palatial Petworth House in Sussex. Charles’ son George, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, inherited in 1763, but after the 3rd earl’s death in 1837, his son inherited all but the title due to illegitimacy. How so, you may ask?
George Francis Wyndham, 4th Earl of Egremont was the son of William Frederick Wyndham (youngest son of Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont and Frances Mary Hartford, the illegitimate daughter of Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore. George’s father’s eldest brother, George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont of Petworth House, Sussex, died without legitimate male issue and so George Francis Wyndham as the male heir succeeded him as Earl of Egremont, as well as Baron Wyndham and Baron Cockermouth. Unfortunately, George Francis Wyndham did not inherit the Petworth estate or mansion, which was inherited by the 2nd Earl Egremont from the Percy family). Instead, the 3rd Earl of Egremont bequeathed that property to his natural son, Colonel George Wyndham, who was created Baron Leconfield in 1859.
Royalty often bestowed titles upon their illegitimate children. King William IV, for example, presented his illegitimate son, George Augustus Frederick FitzClarence with the title(s) 1st Earl of Munster, 1st Viscount FitzClarence, and 1st Baron Tewkesbury on 4 June 1831.
For a more modern take on the law of perpetuities, check out this piece from CBS News, dated 9 May 2011. “Millionaire’s Heirs Get Inheritance After 92 Years.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/millionaires-heirs-get-inheritance-after-92-years/
The Earl Claims His Comfort
Hurrying home to Tegen Castle from the Continent to assume guardianship of a child not his, but one who holds his countenance, Levison Davids, Earl of Remmington, is shot and left to die upon the road leading to his manor house. The incident has Remmington chasing after a man who remains one step ahead and who claims a distinct similarity—a man who wishes to replace Remmington as the rightful earl. Rem must solve the mystery of how Frederick Troutman’s life parallels his while protecting his title, the child, and the woman he loves.
Comfort Neville has escorted Deirdre Kavanaugh from Ireland to England, in hopes that the Earl of Remmington will prove a better guardian for the girl than did the child’s father. When she discovers the earl’s body upon road backing the castle, it is she who nurses him to health. As the daughter of a minor son of an Irish baron, Comfort is impossibly removed from the earl’s sphere, but the man claims her affections. She will do anything for him, including confronting his enemies. When she is kidnapped as part of a plot for revenge against the earl, she must protect Rem’s life, while guarding her heart.
Howard’s expression became more serious. “In the beginning, I enjoyed the novelty of the situation. When we called in at the clubs, everyone thought Troutman was you. I knew a few meals would not break your credit, and so Frederick and I considered it amusing. But soon I heard rumors of your accepting invitations to some of the ton’s finest events. I am profoundly grieved, Remmington, that my lack of forethought encouraged Troutman’s deception.”
“So this Troutman fellow learned of my directions and my habits from you?”
“I fear so,” Howard admitted. “I beg you to extend your forgiveness.”
“When we finish our conversation,” Rem instructed, “I will expect you to repeat your story to Sir Alexander.”
Howard nodded his agreement. Rem had not offered his forgiveness, but eventually he would. He learned long ago to keep Howard on a short rope.
“How long did you remain Troutman’s associate?”
“No more than a fortnight,” Howard confided. “I enjoyed his company at first, but over the first sennight his interrogation regarding your comings and goings began to wear thin. In the midst of our second week of acquaintance, Troutman said something that set my hackles on alert.”
“And that was?” Rem asked suspiciously.
A vaguely disturbing smile crossed his cousin’s features. “One day in the midst of a conversation as we reviewed new quarters for my residence, Troutman said if he were the earl, then he would see that I did not go without, and that is was a grave oversight on your part that I was to know less than I deserved. I attempted to explain how my fortune came from a yearly allowance from my revered father, and I was not your dependent, but Troutman was adamant that I was your responsibility.
“Then he said it would serve you right to lose the earldom to a stranger with ties to the title. I explained that, with my father’s poor health, many saw me as your heir presumptive for even if father first succeeded, I would soon follow. I also explained that if another had a right to claim the earldom that it would not lessen your position in Society. Parliament accepted you as Remmington, and even if another proved to be the earl, the fortune and the unentailed lands would remain with you. The claimant would have Tegen Castle and Davids Hall and little else. From what could be salvaged from those properties, your mother retains her widow’s dower.”
Rem wondered if his pretender had aspirations of unseating him as the earl. “Is there anything else that I should know?”
“Yes,” Howard said as he set his glass upon a nearby table. “The remark that caused me to curtail my association with him was when Troutman asked if I thought you were the father of Lady Kavanagh’s daughter.”
Rem lifted his brows in surprise. He wondered who spoke so intimately to Troutman of Rem’s business.
Howard continued as if Rem had not reacted to the remark. “Certainly it is possible that Troutman overheard those awful rumors, but as many in Society thought Troutman were you, I cannot imagine any fool would speak so freely to your face.”
Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep: Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy
Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?
Meet Regina Jeffers
With 30+ books to her credit, Regina Jeffers is an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era-based romantic suspense. A teacher for 40 years, Jeffers often serves as a consultant for Language Arts and Media Literacy programs. With multiple degrees, Regina has been a Time Warner Star Teacher, Columbus (OH) Teacher of the Year, and a Martha Holden Jennings Scholar and a Smithsonian presenter.
Every Woman Dreams: https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com
Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net
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Now for the GIVEAWAY. I have two eBook copies of The Earl Claims His Comfort available to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on Tuesday, September 19.