Sunday, February 26, 2012

Question from Alexandra - Another guardianship scenario

Good afternoon,

I am writing a novel based in Tudor times (1584), and have a slightly convoluted question(s) regarding guardianship, illegitimacy, and inheritance laws.
My research has pointed me here.

I have looked elsewhere on this site, and whilst have found some answers, which have helped a great deal, I am still unsure as to the following points.

I have the following scenario. A young illegitimate child is sent to live with her only living relative – her very rich uncle – on her mother’s death bed.

The child has nothing to her name.
The uncle takes in the child and he becomes her guardian.

The uncle has a wife, a son and two daughters.

Would the uncle have become her guardian immediately, or would he have had to apply to the crown to gain wardship (is this correct term?) over the child?

Could this be done even though the child is illegitimate and the Uncle has no idea who the father was?

Would the Uncle also have to apply for legitimacy for the child?

Would the uncle be able to state in his will that the child is to be provided for, and looked after, by the uncle’s family, after his death? In which case would the guardianship of the child automatically pass to the son? Would the uncle also be able to state if the child was to have a dowry in the same will?

I hope you can help – I imagine this is all very complex – but if you could point me in the right direction, or give me a brief basic outline as to the above, I would be very grateful.

is any of the above likely or am I barking up the wrong tree entirely?

Many thanks in advance.



Mary R said...

Under these circumstances, the uncle would not have had to apply for guardianship. The Queen would not have concerned herself with the wardship of an illegitimate child who had no property. Almost anyone willing to provide for the child would have been allowed to take the her, even if they just wanted a scullery maid.

As far as whether the Uncle would have been able to provide for her, that would have depended on a few things. You state that the uncle is "rich", but you don't say what form his wealth takes. If his wealth is exclusively in land and it is entailed, then the eldest son would inherit everything. In most cases, though, girls were usually provided with a dowry rather than a straight-up inheritance. There would be no reason if the uncle wished to provide a dowry for his illegitimate niece out of unencumbered money or property that he would not be allowed to do so.

So far as making a child legitimate goes, it was not something that was customarily done in any case, much less for a female. Then, too, in the scenario you suggest, the father is unknown, so giving the child her father's name would be impossible.

Basically, with a big enough dowry, the illegitimate niece would have been able to make a very respectable marriage!

kb said...

I agree with Mary R.

As the child is poor, female and illegitimate, everyone, especially her home parish, would be thrilled to have any relative take her into their house. Her position in the house would have been completely at the head of household's whim. As Mary R says, he could take her in for a scullery maid and everyone would be grateful. The crown would not be involved unless the daughter had royal even if illegitimate blood, in which case she would not have been destitute. The only hitch I can imagine to your scenario is if the mother had a will with executors who were directed to dispose of the child in a specific way. In which case, if the uncle was not the designated choice and the executors felt compelled to follow the will's directions, the rich uncle could have paid off the executors (in a variety of ways). The only thing is, there would have to be some compelling back story for this to happen.

If the child was an acknowledged ward,i.e. the uncle publicly takes guardianship for her and she isn't hidden in the scullery, then he could and would have been expected to make some sort of provision for him in his will. The executors, which would most likely not be his son, would be responsible for making sure the provision was dealt with appropriately. Legitimacy would not enter into it except if the provision was unduly large.Yes, to the uncle specifying a dowry although again - it would be the executors, usually friends or eminent acquaintances with a lawyer thrown in for good measure, who would be in charge.

Scarlet said...

A caution as to how large a dowry you're going to have the uncle leave the girl. We would think nothing of giving the girl a sum like, say, £1,000, thinking we're erring on the small side.

We're not. Even £500 would be a lot of money in Tudor times. Even as a lump sum & not a yearly allowance.

And an orphaned waif could certainly not expect to receive the equivalent of the daughters of the house. That could be grounds for the cousins to contest their father's will. (Basically the uncle can leave the girl anything he wants, as long as he's reasonably sure his wife & kids aren't greedy.)

A widow's mite (if the husband died) would be 5% of her dowry. On a £500 dowry, a dead spouse would be worth £25/yr & that low figure would be considered more than sufficient money to live upon. Only the royals lived large enough for that to be a pittance.

I never can recall where I see things, but I think it was a book on Bess of Hardwick that laid out all sorts of monetary values, widow's jointures, sinecures for wardship, betrothal contracts, etc. Worth looking into if you want to get it right.

Wardship isn't an issue in this scenario because the child has no inheritance; therefore, it's not worth it to anyone to get it legalized. The parish poorhouse would just be happy she's not under their roof.

Since there's no wardship, she's just a "poor relation". She could be 50 & the uncle's heir could still be "responsible" for her if she were unmarried.

Children could be "made" legitimate after the fact through adoption by the father, but since he's unknown, that doesn't apply, either. If you meant the uncle wished to adopt her, I don't see why he couldn't. Though again, how greedy are his relatives.

The girl's name could be legally changed if she knew what to change it to, but being a girl who's going to get a dowry & get married soon enough, it's kind of a why bother thing there.