Friday, August 31, 2012

Widow's Rights of the 1880s

In the probate court document “Warrant To Appraisers” of Abel E. Carpenter of the year 1883, in Kane County, Illinois, there is an area that takes up about a third of the sheet. This is preprinted so that everyone, I would suppose, of this time period who had their property appraised after death would see and follow the law. It reads…


            By an act of the Legislature of this State, in force July 1, 1872, it is declared that “the widow, residing in this State, of a deceased husband, whose estate is administered in this State, whether her husband died testate or intestate, shall in all cases, in exlusion of debts, claims, charges, legacies and bequests, except funeral expenses, be allowed, as her sole and exclusive property forever, the forever, the following, to wit: The family pictures and the wearing apparel, jewels and ornaments of herself and her minor children; school books and the family library of the value of one hundred dollars; one sewing machine; necessary beds, bedsteads and bedding for herself and family; the stove and pipe used in the family, with the necessary cooking utensils (or, in case they have none, fifty dollars in money); household and kitchen furniture to the value of one hundred dollars; one milch cow and calf for every four members of the family: two sheep for each member of her family, and the fleeces taken from the same, , and one horse, saddle and bridle; provisions for herself and family for one year; food for the stock above specifed for six months; fuel for herself and family for three months; one hundred dollars’ worth of ther property suited to her condition in life, to be selected by the widow.” By the same act it is directed that the appraisers shall make out and certify to the County Court an estimate of the value of each of these articles of specific property allowed to the widow.
            On this page will be found a blank to be filled and signed by the Appraisers for this purpose.
            Much difficulty is occasioned in many instances by Appraisers mistaking the estimate for the widow  as part of the appraisement. It is not a part of the appraisement, and it is no matter whether the estate has the particular articles mentioned in the following table, or whether there is nothing of the sort among the property of the estate. The Appraisers will take each item in its order, and estimate what it ought to be worth, and what it would be fair to allow the widow therefore, and then set down the estimated value in the columns headed Dollars-Cents. Do not pass any item by. If the estate has not got those articles, the widow can take their estimated value in other things or in cash. Don’t alter the printed amounts in the column, as they are established by law and cannot be changed.
            Having finished your estimate, foot it up, and that footing will be the amount of the widow’s allowance, which she can take in the above articles, if the estate has them, or in any other things at the appraised value, or in money.
            Recollect that the above estimate is not appraising. Having completed the estimate, go on and appraise every article of personal property belonging to the estate, omitting nothing, and set them down with their prices in the Appraisement Bill following.
            The Appraisers having nothing to do with Notes, Accounts, Stocks in Companies, or any other papers, as they cannot be appraised, such things must be left out of the Appraisement Bill entirely. They are proper matters to be listed in the inventory, filed by the executor or administrator, which is a separate matter from the Appraisement Bill.

There is then an area, immediately below two double lines that has APPRAISERS’ ESTIMATE OF THE VALUE OF PROPERTY ALLOWED TO THE WIDOW where each item is listed.

Also, I want to point out that it is not MILK COW, but MILCH cow. Could this have been a different spelling? The answer looks like a big yes. When I looked it up in the dictionary it refers to “milk”. So, apparently, we just don’t really use that term any longer.

From the way that this reads, it looks like there had been some widows that had lost their goods because of the appraisers including the items that they had been allowed to keep by law, but the appraisers included them within the value of the estate. This could have been done either by error, or from my point of view, most probably by nefarious means.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Week Two Update on Farming of the 18th Century


Keeping you apprised of the study!

After reading the text, I found what was most important was that the poor men who had lived on the farms of the rich had been paid in corn. This was stated pretty far back in the book, so I believe that the author had assumed that the reader would have previously understood this point and so therefore he would not have had the need to insert this information earlier. This point that I found interesting was that “corn” had been used as money. Not only for pay to the men, women and children that worked the fields, but also as a trade commodity. It was (obviously here, I think) worth a certain amount of pounds, but was also the regulator of prices for all commodities. At one point, they believed that the “discovery of the mines of America… raised the price of corn three and four times.”[1] The later Georgians also believed that the cost of corn was in complete correlation to the price of labor. The belief was that “it gave a prodigious increase of power to all landlords and capitalists. The fall in the price of corn, from whatever cause it took place…. Accompanied by a rise, rather than a fall in the price of labor, must have given a great relative check to the employment of capital upon the land, and a great relative stimulus to the population.”[2]


The whole idea of the Corn Law was that a tax was to be added to all grain that entered Britain and its colonies. This tax would do two major things. The first was to add additional cost to the cheaper grain, mostly from France, so that people would purchase the corn from England. The second part was supposedly to pay an “advanced price” in case the commodity would be in short supply the following years. It was thought that by paying this tax, the price would stabilize and future prices would be accommodated.[3] This was obviously false, and I am not sure exactly if anyone actually believed this.


As to what I have done this week, I will be more than happy to discuss! I have been looking for sources. I have received two regular books from the library. I believe that they are not full texts, but will be invaluable as a source for my final research paper. Also, I have been looking for “text books” through,,, and of course, I have also looked for primary sources through I have a few suggestions, for which I have submitted through the messaging system. I have even read through the entire short book that I used for this discussion board.


Things that I have found out include the fact that this is not a subject that has been widely researched! Or, if it has been researched, has not been published. This may be great paper to submit to publications once it is complete! So, I may be getting ahead of myself on that topic. However, because it has not been highly researched, there are not a lot of secondary sources to use as texts. I have only found two full texts on the subject that are secondary, and recent. There is one that is secondary, and older that I will also be using. This one is on President Washington as a Farmer by Paul Leland Haworth and published in 1915. This does fit in with my subject because of the time period that Washington lived and farmed. Of course, he did have to become a traitor and help the colonies to leave the motherland, but I will forgive him because of his great trials in the farming industry.




Malthus, T.R. Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, and of a Rise or Fall in the Price of Corn on the Agriculture and General Wealth of the Country. London: J. Johnson and Co., 1814. Kindle edition.


Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1]  T.R. Malthus. Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, and of a Rise or Fall in the Price of Corn on the Agriculture and General Wealth of the Country. (London: J. Johnson and Co., 1814.), location 116. Kindle edition.
[2]  Ibid.
[3] Ibid, 54.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something interesting is coming up


Well, I am finding that I do not hate reading about farming like I thought I would. I just keep trying to imagine how it all related to those fabulous houses the Georgians built!

I will be posting some great information coming up in the following weeks. These will be about a week after I submit to my prof because I want to make sure that I get my grade for the week. So, depending upon when she grades me, will depend on what day I post.

I belive that this jem is for sale at the moment. So beautiful! Just think you can live in this 18th century farm house just like the Georgians did. Your farming meathods will be a little bit more advanced, though. BUT only if you want them to be.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Are You Following Me??????

Follow The Sassy Countess on Facebook!

Follow The Sassy Countess on Facebook and you will be amazed and delighted at you find. There are posts, and reposts, that are not included here on the blog. This is only for those cool people that want to be in the know!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Approved for topics :D

I was approved for the topics in both of my classes this part of my semester. Hooray!

 I will be researching changing farming techniques of the Georgians for my Independent study. This is important because it made the rich landowners richer, and made the poor farmers poorer. I should be able to find some great paintings of this era to share!

As for my France in the Age of enlightenment, I will be researching Chateau de Chenonceau.

As many of you know, history papers are not descriptive, they are argumentative in nature. So, I have to find a great argument to pursue. I have ordered ten books from the library and look forward to finding my argument!

Primogeniture - BIB


Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813 in The Works of Jane Austen. Ann Arbor, MI:

Borders Group, 2004.

---- Sense and Sensibility. 1811 in The Works of Jane Austen. Ann Arbor, MI:

Borders Group, 2004.

---- Persuasion. 1816. in The Works of Jane Austen. Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Group, 2004.


Bury, Charlotte Campbell, ed. The Court of England under George IV.: Founded on a Diary

Interspersed with Letters Written by Queen Caroline and Various Other Distinguished Persons. London: Hastings House, 1896.

Cantor, Norman. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993.

Cartwright-Hignett, Elizabeth. Lili at Aynhoe. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1989.


Cecil, Evelyn. Primogeniture. London: Spottiswoode and Co., 1895. (accessed June 23, 2012).


Clarke, Frank G. The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations: The History of Australia.

Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.


George IV, King of England. “Christ Church, Oxford, October 1811”, 1811 in Bury,

Charlotte Campbell, ed. The Court of England under George IV.: Founded on a Diary

Interspersed with Letters Written by Queen Caroline and Various Other Distinguished Persons. (London: Hastings House, 1896), 55. (accessed June 26, 2012).

Gies, Frances and Joseph. Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages. New York: Harper &

Row, Publishers, 1987.

Hiller, Nancy. “Women and Their (Sp)Houses”, Old-House Interiors, October 2011, 24.


“Home Remedies for Fecundity” Organic Facts. 2012.

benefits/home-remedies/home-remedies-for-fecundity.html. (accessed July 14, 2012).

Hudson, John. “Common Law – Henry II and the Birth of a State” in BBC History. . (accessed June 23, 2012).


James, Lawrence. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin,



Jenkins, Simon. England’s Thousand Best Houses. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.


Kelly, Ian. Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. New York: Free Press, 2006.


Le Glay, Marcel. et al. A History of Rome, 4th Ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

McJimsey, Harriet. Art and Fashion in Clothing Selection. 2nd. Ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State

University Press, 1973.


Molnar, Stephen and Iva M. Molnar, Environmental Change and Human Survival: Some

Dimensions of Human Ecology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.


Phillips, Charles. Kings & Queens of Britain. (London: Hermes House, 2009.

Porter, Roy. English Society in the 18th Century. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Sellers, Charles. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846.  New York:

            Oxford University Press, 1991.

Solomon, Michael. The Psychology of Fashion. Washington D.C.: Lexington Books, 1985.

Sullivan, Joseph M. “The Ancient Irish Law of Tanistry”. Heinonline. N.d. (accessed July 10, 2012).

Originally written for class at American Military University.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Primogeniture - Part 3

Primogeniture - Part 3

            Ancient Greece and Italy even had their role in the position of birth and the son’s inheritance value. Athenian eldest sons not only inherited the property of their father, but also the household gods, which had actually been more important to them. As in the early Hindu’s, this was the man to take his father’s name. The younger sons had no right to the name.[1] All of this changed in Classical Greece, where the equal division of the household between the sons became the tradition.[2]

            The traditions of the Irish and Scottish tribes and their rule of tanistry began the right to rule of the eldest natural son.[3] Tanistry had at its heart the easy transition of rulership of the chieftains.  Under this law, tenure of family lands was held in life estate and was not owned.  Chieftains, elected immediately after the accession of the previous leader had in practice been the eldest because he was supposed to have been the most worthy of the throne. The Tainiste, as he was then called, received his ring of rule on the left hand ring finger. He then had to prove his origin by genealogies.[4]

            Origins of Roman men became very important toward the end of the Empire.[5] Emulating the higher classes was commonplace in any society. Following the examples of the emperors leaving property and titles to their sons was just conforming to the rules of the identifying leaders of that society.[6] Thus, the nobles then felt they were members of the ruling class and not mere plebeians. Also, coming into contact with tribes ruled by tanistry laws certainly could have been a contributing figure as the Romans tended to incorporate foreign traditions within their own.[7] 

When Rome fell, the ascension of Christianity became the dominant ruling force in the west. Traditions of the Bible also became a feeding ground for learning. Primogeniture can be seen in The Holy Bible when Moses left and took Aaron, and his son Eleazar, to the top of a mountain. At God’s command Aaron died, and Moses took Aaron’s cloak and put it over his son Eleazar signifying that he had taken his father’s place amongst the people of Israel.[8]

Slowly, the place of the eldest son keeping the possessions of his father moved into the realm of feudalism. Feudalism took the line of able rulers into the world of able rulers and his successors. Political power of the fittest fell into line with the self-indulgent monarchs that believed their sons had the same qualities they had. Hereditary lineage affirmed the strength of the original king, prince, or even baron.[9] It did not conceive of a notion that the descendents could not be as great as their ancestry.

The Law of Primogeniture

King Stephen, of England, wanted to restore his own royal authority to the same strength as his grandfather, William the Conqueror. The king had also been considered the protector of the realm according to Anglo-Saxon tradition.[10] When William came to England, he brought with him the might of the Norman army. He also brought with him the idea he would rule England with a fist, and his own son would become heir to the English country. England had been left to William’s second son William, while the Duchy of Normandy was left to his eldest son, Robert Curthose. The third son, Henry, had received only cash.[11]

Here is where the true beginning of primogeniture in England takes place. William and Robert died leaving Henry the throne of England. Henry had many illegitimate children, but only one son born in wedlock. This only son died, leaving no legitimate heir. Stephen was the son of William the Conqueror’s daughter, and he laid claim to the throne.[12] His son, Henry II made many reforms of the realm that included the creation of the English common law.[13]

            Common Law of the English went hand in hand with titles and other honors. Receiving a title from the King brought gifts of land that required lineage. Because there had been no genealogical foundation from previous generations, many began to think there had to be equality, or even betterment, in future generations. Thus, the idea of guarantee of worth actualized in the law. The law started as common before it became a decree.[14]

            King Henry I created the decree that issued the law of primogeniture. The decree issued that the capital fee, including the mansions and military possessions of the father, went to the oldest son of the deceased.[15]  In the time of Henry II, the law of inheritance depended upon whether the patriarch had been a civil servant, or one of military servitude. The youngest son inherited where the old English laws prevailed in the civil arenas. However, if the father had been in martial service, all of his property went to the eldest son.[16] By the time that Henry III had acquired the English throne, primogeniture had taken over the land.[17]

            Entail, jointure and dower rights could not be dismissed because they had been within British common law. The law of primogeniture had not been written down. However, just as the other laws within the common law system they were considered normal for the realm, and thus had been constituted legally. Primogeniture had not consumed the country in its entirety at one time. The assimilation process took many years and generations, but finally did consume the nobility, along with its prestige of situation.[18]

One reason primogeniture became popular was the lord of the realm wanted a situation where the integrity of his land remained safe within his own bloodline. To fortify the estate within his down line, the law of primogeniture was set into motion. The problem with entailing property had been that once it was set in motion, it was unable to be undone, at least not until the sixteenth century. Even at this late date, a long and strenuous law suite could only break land given in tale and took many years, and thousands of pounds to procure. So therefore the paternity of the inheritor had to be completely established prior to the death of the patriarch.[19]

            Inheriting honors, such as titles and estates, had generally been presented upon the eldest son. However, this had only been properties that were inherited as such from the father, and in some cases the mother, at their birth. Any new properties that had been gained by the parents would have been able to be distributed as was wanted. Those new additions could have been divided evenly amongst the brood, or given to the second son, third son, or any daughter. At the moment of gift, the benefactor decided if this property was to have been given in tail, thus creating a new dynastic allowance.[20]

            Allowances also had to be given as dower gifts. Beginning in the Middle Ages, gifts to daughters went away from real estate and instead were gifts of jewels, furnishings, and money.[21] However, the daughter-in-law’s dower came into being at this time. This dower was set as usually one-third of the property for her lifetime in case of widowhood.[22] This had been a problem when there had been multiple widows on any given property. This happened if the patriarch died and left his property to his eldest son, who also predeceased his wife, and so on.

In some cases jointure allowed the wife equal ownership privileges until her death, even if she had been a consecutive wife with inheritable sons from a previous marriage.[23] Keeping the property for the widow had not been the issue in this instance. The point was to create a livelihood for the woman after the death of her husband. When the patriarch died while the property had been in jointure, it still belonged, in name as well as in deed, to the widow. She could do with it whatever she wanted even going as far as to entail the property to sons of later marriages.[24]

             Marriage rights had also been conferred upon others. Life-estate guarantees for other offspring, and even subsequent husbands of widows with dower and/or jointure rights, had also held property rights in check. On the outside, it sounded completely opposite from the ideal of primogeniture, and yet it still guaranteed domiciles and incomes for persons outside the original model of protection.[25] While this had certainly been in the minority, it did exist especially if the property had been held in jointure. Fathers had even set themselves up a life-estate to guarantee themselves a home as he entailed his property to a younger son.[26]

Problems With Reality

            Initially the inheriting child had been expected to be the oldest legitimate son. That son had been expected to have at least one son to continue the nobility line of property and titles.[27] The problem with this was that prior to the 19th century, only 60 percent of children grew to adulthood due for many different reasons.[28] Given the blessings of multiple male births, there had still been no guarantee that the honors generated by one generation followed through to perpetuity as was intended. Child morbidity had been caused by child malnutrition, disease, accidents, and even unexplained deaths such as the twelve year-old King Edward V, his brother Richard and also Kind Edward VI.[29]  

            Death of the child heir had been only one problem. Deaths of male heirs without themselves procreating their own divine male children to continue the bloodline had continued to be a problem even if there had been many sons. Having many children, the next line of men died before inheriting and/or procreating. It had not been uncommon to have a family line completely extinct by just a few generations. In fact, out of the original 136 baronial families of Parliament, there had been only sixteen left a little over a hundred years later.[30]

             Extinction of the families had to do with the fecundity rate as well as death. The production of the next generation had been the job of the wife. Life patterns such as quality of life would have typically allowed the woman a better living environment to sustain pregnancy. And they would also have had a better diet, which should have assured the best possible probability for gestation. However, health of the father also had its role. Sexually transmitted diseases from previous, and/or extramarital encounters, transferred to the pregnant mother and changed the conceivability ratio. Then, there had been just plain bad luck that had its own role in family propagation.[31]

            Giving birth to the proper sex had also been an issue. Women could inherit, however common law stated that property had to go to the eldest male heir. When there was no person of the correct gender within the down-line, lateral inheritors had to have been located. This had been done by going back up the genealogical ladder, then moving laterally along a familial record to find another descent hierarchy that eventuated in a worthy male.[32] Women not being able to have access to their ancestry bower had created such a stir that it invaded popular women’s novels of the nineteenth century. Jane Austen’s character Mrs. Bennet cried when she found out that the heir was to be visiting their household, “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children…”.[33] While this was just a character from a novel, this showed that the reality of primogeniture created situations where properties in tail had brought in new owners.

            Other new owners had been created because parents had used the inheritable property as a bribe to control the conduct of their children. When the heir ran off with the wrong woman, or even refused to follow the guidelines set out by a parent, their inheritance had been used as bait. When the child was not completely dutiful, that protection had been pulled out from under their feet. Again, this had been so prevalent that Austen included this situation in Sense and Sensibility. Edward, the eldest son in this novel, had prearranged a secret engagement with an unacceptable woman, and “His mother has determined, with a very natural kind of spirit to settle that estate upon Robert (the youngest son) immediately, which might have been Edward’s on proper conditions.”[34]

Having an encumbrance meant that the intended son may have never had the opportunity to enjoy the honors that should have been his. Life-estates where the father lived much longer than was expected put the son in a position where he had been tenant in his own home, while the holder of the life-estate had the complete enjoyment of the property. Sectioning off property for dowry had given the same type of hypothecation. Common Law guaranteed these rights to women if they did not stay on the property. Women used their portions, sometimes from multiple husbands, as income property instead of residency.[35] When there had been multiple dowers on one property, the income, as well as tenancy had been reduced for the heir apparent.

When the rightful heir actually received estates free of encumbrance, there had still been many instances where he could not enjoy his own property. One reason was that there was no money that came along with the deed.[36] Finding themselves land rich and cash poor, these men had to do something to take care of the real estate that they had inherited. They did this by leasing out land, but much more usually, the grand manor.[37] Once again, having possession of the deed did not necessarily mean that they had the enjoyment of the domain.

Attorneys arranged the details of the lease, or a letter would have also sufficed “I see my Lady Sydney is desirous to have your house this winter. If it please you that she have it, upon condition that if you come to London yourself then you may have it upon 2 days warning, to be made ready for you, it were not amiss…” was the agreement of Lady Bess to the Queen of England.[38] The eighteenth century saw the solicitors involved. “Mr. Shepherd, a civil, cautious lawyer, who, whatever might be his views on Sir Walter, would rather have the disagreeable prompted by anybody else, excused himself from offering the slightest hint, and only begged leave to recommend an implicit reference to the excellent judgment of Lady Russell, from whose known good sense he fully expected to have just such resolute measures advised as he meant to see finally adopted.”[39] In Jane Austen’s novel, Sir Walter, the heir presumptive of Kellynch Hall, had to submit to the wishes of Lady Russell and his lawyer to lease out the estate and retire to a more modest abode. In both cases, the property had not been in the hands of the heir.

Another example would have been when the property escheated to the Crown.  This occurred if the father had died before times wills had been the norm, or later after wills had been established, had died intestate. If, for some reason there had been any type of religious heresy, or even worse there had been treasonous acts against the monarch, property reverted to the Crown. The King removed legal ownership from the hands of the contemporary owner, and gave it to someone of more amenable temperament and loyalty.[40] Again, the male given rights by primogeniture had lost them to someone else.

            Loyalty to the Crown had its advantages with the law of primogeniture. This loyalty allowed properties to safely transfer from heir to heir through multiple generations without going outside of the family line. While there may have been collateral movement to conclude the title, it still maintained familial ties. One such property was Chatsworth Hall, which came to Bess of Hardwick with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, in 1545. This great manor has stayed in her family ever since, and has the current heir living there presently.[41]


            Primogeniture had been put into place to insure the integrity of the honors, especially those that had included grand estates, which had been generated by the achieving patriarch. Common Law slowly turned the societal norm into a formal rule. The eldest son had many reasons to rejoice, but they had not always included the enjoyment of his inheritable lands. Due to many circumstances, familial lines became extinct. Properties had to be leased out. Other encumbrances to property included life-estates, dower rights, and jointure. These all had impeded the rightful heir from receiving his full use of his familial honors.

The intention of primogeniture had been to make sure that the descendents of the patriarch held his lands in perpetuity. In reality this had not been the case. There had been too many instances of death, low fecundity, religious or political strife, and just not enough money to take care of the property. The eldest son, of the eldest son, of the founder of the family dynasty had, more than likely, not inherited. In many instances the grand estates had found themselves with masters other than what had been intended.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Ibid, 10.
[2] Ibid, 11.
[3] Ibid, 12.
[4] Joseph M. Sullivan. “The Ancient Irish Law of Tanistry”. Heinonline. N.d. (accessed July 10, 2012).
[5] Cecil, 16.
[6] McJimsey, 7.
[7] Marcel Le Glay et al. A History of Rome, 4th Ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2009.), 526-527.
[8]Holy Bible, The.  Numbers 20:21.
[9] Cecil, 19.
[10] Hudson.
[11] Charles Phillips. Kings & Queens of Britain. (London: Hermes House, 2009.), 33-33.
[12] Ibid, 35-39.
[13] Hudson.
[14] Frances and Joseph Gies. Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987.), 186.
[15] Cecil, 33.
[16] Ibid, 34.
[17] Ibid, 36.
[18] Ibid, 37.
[19] Gies, 186-188.
[20] Ibid, 188.
[21] Ibid, 189.
[22] Ibid, 189-190.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid, 191.
[25], Gie, 38.
[26] Cecil, 36.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Stephen Molnar and Iva M. Molnar, Environmental Change and Human Survival: Some
Dimensions of Human Ecology. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.),
[29] Phillips, 88,108.
[30] Gies, 9.
[31] “Home Remedies for Fecundity” Organic Facts. 2012. (accessed July 14, 2012).
[32] Gies, 190-191.
[33] Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. in The Works of Jane Austen. (Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Group, 2004.), 207.
[34] Austen. Sense and Sensibility. 1811. in The Works of Jane Austen. (Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Group, 2004.), 123.
[35] Lovel, 364.
[36] Ibid, 365.
[37] Cecil, 51.
[38] Bess of Hardwick letter written to Queen Elizabeth. 1575. Quoted in Lovel, 253.
[39] Austen, Persuasion. 1816. in The Works of Jane Austen. (Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Group, 2004.), 601.
[40] Ibid, 57.
[41] Jenkins, Simon. England’s Thousand Best Houses. (New York: Penguin Group, 2004.), 145-146.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Primogeniture - Part 2

Primogeniture Part 2

                        Primogeniture had been a part of Europe’s history long before England felt its pull. Truthfully the eldest son of the Celts had held a special position simply because they had been oldest first and had been able to test themselves before the younger siblings. This had not been the case of the ancient Britons. All children of the Britons had held equal privilege and authority. In fact, many times the youngest son received special treatment and had received the principal household, titles, and belongings of his father.[1] The laws of equal treatment had also been true of the Saxons and Danes, with the exception of royal inheritances. The favoritism of the eldest son came to the Englishmen with the Norman Law and William the Conqueror.[2]

                        The eighteenth century Englishman held his public identity by his birth and social rank.[3] Traditionally English gentility went as far back into antiquity as was recorded for each family.[4] The eldest had been esteemed “to the great delight of mother”.[5] Social rank of the parent fell directly upon the children, especially the eldest son. However, a man could have created his own destiny and further his own position within society. It was part of the Englishman’s repertoire to continually dream of a greater destiny than that of his parent.[6]

                        Englishmen of the 18th century not only thought of their social rank as being part of destiny, it had also been the fashion. Fashion, then as now, was a way to impress others. Conforming to contemporary trends of society would have been used as a fa├žade to either “find or assume an identity by belonging or by the necessity of following the requirements of … a role.”[7] The follower did this to try to fit within the noble groups rather than expressing him or herself independently by allowing any child to inherit.[8] While this had certainly been law by this time, there still had been allowances legally that would have permitted other children to inherit property had fashion allowed it.       

                        Fashion had been (and still is) a very powerful regulator. Social norms, individual self-expression, and even technology had influenced fashion. It was simply an outward sign to display to society they had been worthy enough, to be a part of their group.[9] Even the Prince Regent, the later King George IV, fell to its power. He had been virtually loved by no one until he became the fashion puppet of Beau Brummell. Under the ultimate man of style he felt that he had become the epitome of British manhood. What the king followed, others did also. It had only been after years of flattery by others that George IV’s self-esteem grew great enough that he could get rid of Brummel and replace himself as the fashion scene’s new leader.[10]

                        Another fashion of the day had been to think the women just were not bright enough to take control of the family, let alone the management of the great estates. They could not be in charge because they were just too reckless. Women were the fairer sex, and just did not have what it took to have any responsibility.[11] That may have been the official view, but that did not necessarily mean that there were not girls that were loved, enough to become powerful women, or that there were not women that actually did inherit.


Background on Why Primogeniture Was Instated

            Inheriting property has been a very important consideration for the British. The idea of very expensive property falling into the hands of another person would have been distressing for anyone. Property was the main point of pride for the English. The pride of the societal rise of one family being owned by someone less worthy was just one point of contention that precipitated the law of primogeniture. Land had been important not just for mere agricultural production, but also for independence, honor, riches, and even power.[12]

            Fertile property created a nation that coveted ground for themselves and their families. The British believed it was “agriculture that gave a nation title to its territory.”[13] Having as much property as possible allowed for the growth of more produce that not only fed the owner’s family, it also created a surplus to sell to others. So, if a man had wanted to be greater than he currently was, he simply gained more land.[14]

            Acquiring more land was not necessarily easy. Gifts of estates were also given as gifts by the monarch. To receive such a great reward, many people wanted to be as close to their sovereign as was possible with the guise of showing their loyalty to their liege and lord.[15] Cash alone, if purchased, procured acreage. Mortgages from banks were not in existence for the purchase of property at this time in history. There were loans to purchase realty, but friends and/or family gave them.[16] These kindred did hold mortgage to the property, and if the borrower defaulted, the estate went to the lien holder.[17]

Other ways of acquiring estates had been by nefarious means. Because holding title to profitable properties would allow the lien holder to gain property at only the remainder of what was owed, there were many that lent out small sums with the sole expectation of receiving said property at the earliest possible opportunity.[18] There had even been men, and women, that had prayed upon the weak in pocket book, yet rich in real estate. Many a deed had been won at games of cards or loans to card addicts.[19] An easier way of getting access to greater lands was to marry the woman that had what was wanted.

Not all unacceptable transfers of ownership were completed by dubious manner. Women marrying down the social ladder brought men that ancestors would not have approved of. These ancestors could be as close in relation as a parent or grandparent, but they also may have been further back in time. Or, the property could have been sold to someone that just rose up the social ladder himself. The idea of ascending socially certainly was agreeable. Pride was worth acquiring, after all.[20]

            Men gained wealth and pride through many means. Merchants grew to be rich in the city, and then moved purchased country estates to make themselves into a type of pseudo-gentry.[21] Legionaries were given farms in return for service to their country. They would also trade treasures in for funding additional acreage.[22] Jealousy of station of life, as well as inheritance of such, perpetuated the accumulation of gentleman farms by those of lower birth.[23]

            Lower men wanted to raise himself, and his family higher. Englishmen dreamt of destiny. The rules of society insisted that gentlemen had a sense of personal honor that included an “active concern for the welfare of those beneath him.”[24] This, however, did not include allowing that man to move up to a station of equality. The nobility “dreaded the ignorance and especially the selfishness and brutality of the mass.”[25]

            Gaining a foothold within the nobility was the first step because Peerages were not for sale.[26] Then each man wanted to move up the social sphere to higher position of the aristocracy. It was difficult to begin at the higher levels, but men wanted to be there. It was only landed-men that had the rights to become magistrates and members of the burgess. Higher political aspirations had to come after long periods of time and acquisitions of property.[27] The higher up the peer, the less appreciative he was of the lower accumulating positions of grandeur.

            Delusions of grandeur had also been observed in younger siblings. The eldest son believed himself of higher worth than that of his brothers, and especially his sisters. Women were obviously of lower quality and should never have tried to receive the equal stature of her eldest brother. However, to have a younger brother receive equal, more, or in some cases the entirety of the parental estate, had become a point of contention in England.[28] The oldest son then made his case that the special treatment he had received since birth should be continued, so that he received the entire property of his father.

            Claims held by illegitimate children also became a problem. Churchmen wanted to bring bastard sons into the flock by having them legitimized.[29] If this were the case, then valuable property, titles and honor would go to the natural son of any number of unacceptable women. Having children out of wedlock was considered a necessary evil. However, that evil should not allow the fruits of such a liaison to participate in the circumstances, or property, of his father.

            Love of property was not only for the men. Women, too, held a strong connection to their domiciles. Women loved their home because they felt safe, as well for its intrinsic worth. Beauty was thought to have feminine value. Women wanted their children to feel the same safety within their beautiful haven that they had felt.[30] So much of the lives of women had been centered in the great house, much more than those of men.[31] Keeping their refuge in the ownership of their children, in perpetuity, would have been an intoxicating thought for a woman who most likely was treated as less worthy than her husband.

Background of the Law of the Eldest Son

            Ancient peoples generally believed the woman had the right of ownership. After all, it was the woman that gave birth. Paternity of the child could not always be guaranteed. However, the mother’s position could never be doubted. Therefore, positions of the mother fell to the daughter.[32] Then there were cultures that allowed for the land and positions of the patriarch to follow the son’s of their female relatives. Again, the role of the man was not always confirmed. So, moving effects to the sibling’s offspring assured that they stayed within the family line.[33]

The eldest son always displayed his own worth by following in his father’s footsteps from the ancient sub-continental Asians.  The prominence of primogeniture possibly had its origin from the Hindu religion. This practice was that the eldest son inherited not only the estate, but was also the only man that had the right to bear his father’s name. If a man only had a daughter but that woman bore a son, that boy would then be adopted by the mother’s father as his own child to carry the name. All contentions were required to be set-aside after formal adoption proceedings, because the law of adoption was final.[34]

            Many ancient societies believed the necessity of having a son outstripped that of having daughters. If one did not produce a male by procreation, then one was adopted. Because of marauding enemies, and difficult farm labor, the males became higher sought after. A man had to have an acknowledged son not only as a religious duty but also to provide for him in his old age.[35] Not having a male son was “equivalent to eternal damnation.”[36] It was at the moment of birth that a discharge of debt to ancestors occurred.

            The eldest son then became the man to say prayers at the funeral pyre of his father. Slowly, the family unit moved to incorporate that son into the position that his father held in the family. He then became the patriarch, acting not only as a member of the family, but having the same final say that his father held. When the whole became individuals, the value of property moved to the firstborn male instead of splitting between the masses. By the time of ancient Greece, the oldest began to inherit the domicile as well as the family honor, solely by tradition of position of birth.[37]

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Cecil, 26.
[2] Ibid, 29.
[3] Roy Porter, English Society in the 18th Century. (London: Penguin Books, 1990.), 48.
[4] Ibid, 49.
[5] King George IV, “Christ Church, Oxford, October 1811”, 1811 in Bury, Charlotte Campbell, ed. The Court of England under George IV.: Founded on a Diary Interspersed with Letters Written by Queen Caroline and Various Other Distinguished Persons. (London: Hastings House, 1896), 55. (accessed June 26, 2012).
[6] Ibid, 51.
[7] Harriet McJimsey,  Art and Fashion in Clothing Selection. 2nd. Ed. (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State
University Press, 1973.), 7.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Michael Solomon. The Psychology of Fashion. (Washington D.C.: Lexington Books, 1985.), 4-5.
[10] Ian Kelly, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. (New York: Free Press, 2006.)165-223.
[11] DeAnna Croft Stevens, personal communication with author, July 1, 2012.
[12] Charles Sellers. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.), 4.
[13] Frank G. Clarke, The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations: The History of Australia. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.), 20.
[14] Roy Porter, English Society in the 18th Century. (London: Penguin Books, 1990. ), 52.
[15] Taylor Speer-Sims.. “Rewards of Trust and Closeness.” Research paper for class (APUS/AMU, February 26, 2012).
[16] Taylor Speer-Sims. “The Land Belongs to the People, Or Does it?” Research paper for class (APUS/AMU, January 21, 2012.)
[17] Porter, 62.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Mary Lovell. Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder. (New York: Norton, 2006.), 522.
[20] Porter, 62.
[21] Ibid, 46.
[22] Lawrence James,  The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin,
1994.), 255.
[23] Porter, 47.
[24] Ibid, 161.
[25] John Stuart Mill. “Liberalism Evaluated”. 1873. in “Modern History Sourcebook”, Fordham University. Last modified August 1998. (accessed July 8, 2012).
[26] Porter, 51.
[27] Ibid, 50.
[28] Cecil, 20.
[29] John Hudson. “Common Law – Henry II and the Birth of a State” in BBC History. . (accessed June 23, 2012).
[30] Nancy Hiller,  “Women and Their (Sp)Houses”, Old-House Interiors, October 2011, 24.
[31] Cartwright-Hignett, Elizabeth. Lili at Aynhoe. (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1989.), 8.
[32] Cecil, 5.
[33] Richard Hines. Personal communication with author via notations on research paper for APUS/AMU.
[34] Cecil, 5.
[35] Ibid, 7.
[36] Ibid, 8.
[37] Ibid.

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