Farewell Downton Abbey, Adieu Primogeniture and Entail: Britain's Brief Encounter with Forced Heirship
26 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2018
Date Written: September 18, 2018
This article observes a little-noted proposal (the Landed Property of Intestates Bill) introduced into the British Parliament in 1836. It considers the debate upon it that ensued, and the accompanying pamphlet literature. The Bill proposed to alter the inheritance custom of primogeniture that directed the pattern of descent of freehold land in the absence of directions by settlement or will, and the dialogue is used as a lens to view the nexus between inheritance customs and broader political, economic and social concerns. The intensity of the dispute over primogeniture suggests that more was at stake than simply the devolution of land. The controversy in the Commons over the proposed legislation encompassed a discussion on the variety of purposes that succession law should serve. Lurking in the background in the debate over the proposed bill was a more abstract conundrum: should succession laws primarily be crafted to serve political ends, the constitution; or was it more appropriate to calibrate them to foster desirable social, economic or familial goals? In short, the debate put into sharp focus the question of what interests drive inheritance law, and how attempts can be made to modify it, if and when such concerns alter over time. The bill failed, and it would be for another century for Parliament to abolish primogeniture.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation