Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Question from Vera - Inheritance of daughters of barons

In Tudor era, if baron had only one child, a daughter, would she inherit a barony, or would it go to baron's other male relatives?


Laura said...

Generally speaking, women didn't inherit titles. A duke's daughter, for instance, wouldn't be a duchess unless she married a duke. If there were no direct male heirs, it could be handled a number of different ways, depending on contracts and monarch's approval. A distant male heir (think nephew, cousin) could inherit the title, lands and money or just the title in some cases. In some cases, the inheritance of lands and title would be written into the marriage contract of the daughter giving her husband and their male heirs inheritance rights, while she retained the right of her "marriage portion."

Inheritance laws weren't really standardized in Tudor times, and many different circumstances made up the end result for noblemen who died without male heirs. But generally speaking, no, a woman would not inherit her father's title upon his death. She could be used as an avenue for other male heirs (her husband or sons) but she wouldn't inherit the title in her own right.

PhD Historian said...

With all due respect to Laura, I am going to have to disagree with several things she said in her answer. Apologies in advance, but this is going to be another of my very longer answers.....

While it is true in the most general terms that women could not usually inherit titles of nobility, the issue depended entirely upon the terms of the initial creation. When a person was newly ennobled, letters patent were normally issued by the Crown. Those letters patent ordinarily spelled out in considerable detail both the title or titles and the acceptable avenues of inheritance of those titles. It is true that in most cases, inheritance was restricted to “heirs male.” And as Laura said, if the individual had no surviving male children or grandchildren, the title might then pass to a brother, nephew, or male cousin. Whether the landed estates went with the title depended entirely upon, first, the initial letters patent (if the conferral of nobility included estates, as they often did prior to the sixteenth century) or, second, the creation of any entail by any holder of the title (entails often placed the estates in a trust that irrevocably tied the lands to the title, so that inheritance of one meant inheritance of the other).

It was entirely possible for the initial letters patent of creation explicitly to allow for female inheritance, or “heirs general.” This is seen, for example, in the Barony of Dacre of the South, when Margaret Fiennes Lennard inherited as 11th Baroness Dacre in her own right (suo jure) from her brother Gregory Fiennes, 10th Baron Dacre. Margaret’s husband Sampson Lennard did NOT become Baron Dacre through his wife. Likewise the Barony of Willoughby de Eresby was inherited by Katherine Willoughby Brandon in her own right (and her last husband Richard Bertie did NOT become Baron Willoughby de Eresby). And the current holder of that title is herself a woman, the sixth woman to hold the title since the thirteen century. It was also possible for the letters patent to allow for inheritance of one of the secondary titles. For example, Henry Grey was created 1st Duke of Kent in 1710 and granted the secondary title Marquess Grey in 1740. When the secondary title was granted, a “special remainder” was included that allowed his eldest granddaughter, Jemima Campbell Yorke, to inherit as 2nd Marchioness Grey in her own right. When Henry Grey died, the Dukedom of Kent became extinct and granddaughter Jemima became Marchioness Grey. Jemima’s husband Philip Yorke did NOT become Marquess Grey (though he was later created Earl of Hardwicke in his own right).

Inheritance by “heirs general” is far more common among baronial titles, and is seldom if ever found among the higher titles of viscount, earl, marquess, or duke. It is also far more common among very old titles dating back to the Norman period, in which the titles were created by “writ of summons” for an individual to sit in the House of Lords and in which no letters patent were recorded.

PhD Historian said...

Inheritance of title was never written into a marriage contract, at least not in England. No husband could ever automatically inherit a title from his father-in-law by means of a marriage contract. Perhaps Laura has misunderstood the concept of inheritance “in right of the wife.” There were occasions when a titleholder died without male issue and the Crown intervened to amend the original conferral of nobility to literally “re-create” the title for the son-in-law. But those instances are usually recognized as “new creations.” Thus Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, was newly created FIRST Duke of Suffolk in 1551 as a nod to his wife having been the senior female heir to the lands (but not the titles) of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk in his own right. A glance at Wikipedia (a “reference” work I am usually loathe to cite, but in this one instance it serves the purpose) reveals any number of titles with multiple creations for husbands of heiresses of noblemen with no surviving sons.

Inheritances laws and customs definitely WERE very much standardized in the Tudor period, and long before then as well. But the inheritance of titles of nobility was not a matter of either statute or common law. It was instead a matter of royal prerogative. Disputes involving the inheritance of titles were not addressed by the usual courts of law and justice (Common Pleas, Kings Bench, etc), but were instead addressed by either a special session of the House of Lords or the Crown itself. Even to this day, inheritance of a title of nobility must be recognized and confirmed by the House of Lords before it can become "official."