Monday, June 27, 2016

Question from Arthur - Inheritance scenarios

Hi, I am working on a novel set in 1495. I have a couple of questions that would help me work out a couple of plot details.

First, I read all the previous post on titles in Abeyance and I have a question that wasn't directly covered directly i don't think. In my story there is a baron who knows he is dying, he has 4 daughters, daughter 1 is 19 but is physically and mentally disabled, the youngest 2 daughters are just little 11 and 8 the 2nd daughter is 16. The baron knows he has no sons, so he and his best friend, an Earl with 4 sons the youngest of which the youngest is unmarried, decided to marry their kids together so that the baron can hopefully get a grandson. So that happens, but this baron has a younger brother whom he despises. He does not want the title and/or castle to pass to his brother. My question is that in this situation and assuming the daughter is pregnant when the baron dies would the title be held for the child or go to the barons brother?...

My second question is somewhat related to above...assuming the Earls youngest son is 16/17 when the baron dies would he be allowed to manage any land inherited by his wife, or would an elder male of his family have manage it for him?


History Chick said...

It would most likely go to the brother, but it really depends where the loyalties of the people in power were. Rulers (even low ranking ones) were only rulers because enough important people supported them. If a higher ranking earl supported the unborn grandson of the baron (but how did they know it would be a boy if not born yet?), then it could have gone that way too. But certainly, the baron's brother could have rallied support elsewhere and taken his inheritance by force, regardless of the Earl, especially if the grandchild wasn't born yet and they didn't even know if it would be a boy. Child rulers often weren't seen as strong enough to lead, even if they had adults acting as regent, and so often, there was more support for an adult claimant instead.

Also, where is this set? For example, in France, Salic law says women couldn't rule or even pass on an inheritance but in England, that wasn't the case. People still favored male rulers, but a male ruler through a female line was acceptable.

As for the second question - if he was old enough to be married and have a child on the way, he was considered old enough to rule on his own.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reply..Is mostly set in Somerset in England and Wales. My thoughts for the plot was to have the late barons brother take the estate by force and hold his niece the late barons daughter hostage until the child was born, although he evicts her husband the earls son, cos of course they had no way of knowing that it was indeed a son. He passes around rumour that the youth abandoned his wife though and claims that as her uncle is her guardian. The grandson is born while she is held by her uncle and unfortunately she dies shortly after the birth, the brother of the baron then tries to tell the earls family the baby died too, but word gets out to them that is a lie.

The Earl is on reasonably good terms with the King and will petition to have his eventual grandsons land and title reinstated it all gets somewhat fraught and eventually the King steps in and persuades his friend the Earl to drop the petition and stop the fighting in return for grant the young son a title and estates of his own.

So all you said pretty much works with that.

Just as a follow up...Who in the scenario is likely to gain wardship of the late barons other daughters?

History Chick said...

Yep, that definitely works. I don't know what your characters are like but possibly the smartest thing for the brother to do would be to kill the baby/have him killed. Especially if he doesn't have much of a conscience, and especially if the Earl petitions in favor of the baby or to tries to take the baronship by force in name of the baby. If the baby didn't pose an immediate threat as a rallying point, he might let him live - but there are several cases in history where young boys were killed because they were figureheads for rebellion. However, since the King persuades the Earl to back down, there might not be as much motivation to kill the baby. I don't know how much conflict is involved when you say it all gets somewhat fraught (enough for the brother to say "I can end this all now by just ordering the baby killed"?), and I don't know how important it is for your story for the baby to survive the whole thing, but I think you should at least throw in possibility that the baby's life is constantly in danger, and could be killed at any moment if the brother decides he's too much of a threat just by existing.

Young/unmarried women/girls usually fell under the wardship of their closest living male relative, so definitely the brother (their uncle), in this case. If there was no close male relative (though this doesn't really apply for your story but might be worth knowing), wardship often went to the king, but for daughters of a low ranking baron like this, it also could go to the earl. If you don't know what to do with them still hanging around at home with the new baron/brother, you could have them trying to protect the baby from the danger of the brother killing him. Sorry if I'm being presumptuous by making suggestions!

Sounds like an interesting plot though, I might like to read it when you publish it.

PhD Historian said...

Under English common law dating back to at least the fourteenth century (1300s), unborn children (the precise legal term was en ventre sa mere, in the womb of its mother) do have certain inheritance rights. But they apply only if the child has “quickened,” or begun to move to the extent that external examiners such as midwives or matrons can detect the movement, usually well toward the end of the second trimester. So to begin with, your baron’s daughter will need to be at least 5 or 6 months along in her pregnancy when the baron dies. But the inheritance rights of an unborn child extend primarily to the inheritance of real property. The unborn child might inherit the baron’s lands, *if and only if* the baron’s will so stipulated in very precise language (“to the unborn child of my second daughter, if that child should be born male”).

But the inheritance of titles of nobility was not governed in the fifteenth century by wills or even by common law, as such. Instead, it was governed by the Crown directly and by the terms of the creation of the individual title, as I noted in my previous responses to the abeyance questions. If, for the purposes of your story, you want the unborn child of the baron’s second daughter to be able to inherit the baron’s *title* (and if you want your story to be historically believable), you need to make it clear within the storyline that the baron’s title was created by letters patent and was not simply an ancient title resulting from a writ of summons. That is, your baron’s title must have derived from a positive creation and must have been bestowed by the Crown through the issuance of letters patent, rather than having derived passively from some ancestor having been summoned to sit in a parliament two or three hundred years previously.

Now, having stipulated that the baron’s title was created by virtue of letters patent, you need to further stipulate that those letters patent limited inheritance of the title to “heirs male of the body,” *not* to “heirs general.” Recall from the abeyance discussion that it was not unheard of with titles created passively by writs of summons for an eldest daughter to inherit a baronial title as "heir general" (conversely, it was and is exceedingly rare for a title of nobility higher than that of baron to be inheritable by a female). But any “heirs male of the body” clause in letters patent of positive creation causes the title to pass through the daughter and directly on to the grandson as the eldest direct lineal male descendant of the baron. (In your scenario, the baron’s younger brother is an heir male of the body of the baron’s father, but an heir general of the baron himself.)

If, on the other hand, the title passes to heirs general, then the eldest daughter would inherit the title. But you’ve thrown in the very odd complication in which the baron’s eldest daughter is “physically and mentally disabled.” Under fifteenth-century inheritance law, that eldest daughter would lose her automatic inheritance rights *only* if she were “an idiot” before the law. In essence, she would have to be mentally unable to care for herself ... profoundly impaired. Realistically, such profoundly impaired people almost never survived to adulthood in the 1400s. So I am going to have to say that this element of the story seems very contrived and historically extremely implausible.

PhD Historian said...

Now, assuming you have succeeded in creating a realistic scenario in which the baron’s second daughter marries the earl’s youngest son, becomes pregnant, is in her third trimester by the time the baron dies, and her unborn child inherits both the baron’s title and the baron’s lands, you ask whether the second daughter’s husband (i.e., the earl’s 16-17 year old youngest son) would be allowed to manage any land inherited by his wife. There are two issues here. First, and most importantly, your scenario as originally presented assumes that the baron’s lands would be inherited by the unborn grandson, *not* by the mother. In normal circumstances, the title and the land go to the same heir. If you wish to separate them and have the unborn child’s mother inherit most or all of the land, but simultaneously have the title pass directly to the unborn child (who would then be largely and very implausibly landless), you need to find some believable reason for that to happen. Since your story is set at the end of the 15th century, I cannot at all imagine that ever happening. But let’s assume that it does, for the purposes of your story. In that instance, the earl’s youngest son, as husband of the baron’s daughter and father of her child, would manage the lands inherited by his wife. And he would do so under guidance from his own father, the earl, until he reached his full majority. And I must note that he would also manage the lands if they were inherited by the unborn son rather than by the wife. So having the wife inherit the lands and the unborn son inherit the title seems to me pointless, and very unbelievable.

But within the bounds of your original scenario, History Chick is correct: If the unborn child has a living father (the earl’s youngest son), that father would manage the lands. But her later discussion of wardship as it relates to your second scenario is incorrect, I am sorry to say. In England, *all* wardships *always* passed to the Crown. The Crown could, if it so chose, sell the wardship to a near relative, or even to someone completely unrelated to the person in wardship. But History Chick’s statement that the wardship would “definitely” pass to the baron’s brother is factually incorrect. As long as the baby’s father is living, no wardship is legally possible. If the father dies and his wife (the baron’s second daughter) remains alive, she is a widow and as such has many legal rights not afforded to never-married women. She might well be able to obtain the wardship of her son herself. But if the Crown chose to exercise its absolute right of wardship over the child (and assuming that child’s father is dead), then the question of who would eventually be able to obtain the wardship is answerable only by the Crown. There is no “automatic” right held by anyone other than the Crown.

Unfortunately, your second scenario, with its use of hostage-taking and rumors of abandonment by the father, is just to completely “out there” that the historical believability of the story falls completely apart, in my opinion. To begin with, there is no question whatsoever that the husband/father and his own father the earl would have petitioned the Crown for correction in this matter. The baron’s brother would have been brought before a court of law and tried for various crimes. And he would have been found guilty. It is, after all, the 15th century, not the so-called Dark Ages! The notion that the king would have convinced the father and his earl-father to drop the case in exchange for compensation via a new title and new grant of lands is simply not historically realistic or believable.

PhD Historian said...

I realize that you want to produce an entertaining piece of fiction. But if you want that fiction to be reasonably believable, I would respectfully caution you to eliminate a lot of the complicated melodrama. Too many of the details described in your second scenario are just too unbelievable. They might work if the tale were set in the pre-Conquest era, but they are entirely implausible in a late-fifteenth-century context, in my opinion.

Finally, I must also caution that your initial premise upon which the entire story seems to be based is itself just not believable. It would have been exceedingly rare for an unborn child *of the second generation or later* to inherit *any* title directly. I cannot immediately call to mind any such instance in all of English history! In those rare instances in which an unborn child has successfully *inherited* a title (rather than having re-claimed it after reaching adulthood), he inherited directly from his father, NOT from his grandfather. Inheritance of a title directly from grandfather to grandson has, to my knowledge, always involved a grandson already born and living at the time of the previous holder’s death.

Unknown said...

No, its fine they are great suggestions thank you.

Arthur said...

Ahhh thanks for you response, that is some very useful information, I do want to make it reasonably historically accurate. At this point I am just juggling with ideas so very little is set in stone. The elder (disabled) daughter does not actually need to be in there at all, it has no real bearing on the rest of the story so I will most likely just dropped her out and have the barons 2nd daughter as his eldest instead.

The only things that are needed for plot purposes really are the young husband and wife living with the late baron until he dies about 3 months before his grandson being born and the earls son ending up managing the estates, with the guidance of his father and elder brothers, (it makes no difference really if manages it for his wife or his son), the daughter/wife dying shortly after the son is born, then them being either evicted or unable to continue to live in the castle for some reason and the Earls son and the baby returning to Somerset to live temporarily with one of his elder brothers.

I also need a way a couple years later for him to end up with his own land, manor and title even if it is a minor one. He subsequently remarries. Which is also arranged by his father. Beyond that everything else is just ideas. Obviously I wanted to introduce some conflict into this part of the story. Any ideas you have on the above would be most welcome in order to keep its creditability.

Unknown said...

Hi, thanks for your information, that is very useful. I am keen to keep it historically credible. At the moment its simply ideas juggling, so very little is set in stone, The barons eldest daughter does not in all honesty need to be there at all, I so I will most likely drop her out and just make the 2nd daughter his eldest instead, which it seems makes more sense of that part.

All that is really needed in terms of the overall plot is for the young couple to live with the baron, who is kind of obsessed with getting a grandson, and a very controlling man, who allows them very little freedom. The baron to then die. Actually just a thought I had if I made the grandson arrive a day or two before the baron dies then that might work better as it then be certain the baby was male and not effect the plot overly much. The wife to then die within a few days of the birth. The more important part that seems like it could be somewhat credible is for the earls young son to then have to manage the estates for a while, with guidance from his father and elder brothers, who visit him periodically, although whether he manages it for his wife or son doesn't really matter. Then the earls son and the new infant to be either evicted or not be able to continue to reside on the estate for some reason. I need the youth to then live temporarily with one of his elder brothers back in Somerset.

I also need a convincing way for him to obtain his own land, manor and title, a couple of years later by which time he has been remarried again by his fathers choice.

The rest is just an effort to both make a logical way for all that to happen, and as a way to allow the youngest of four sons to still end up with a title and land of his own, without killing off any of his 3 elder brothers as they are needed later on in the plot, and of course to add some drama and tension to this part of the story. Any ideas would be much appreciated.