Tuesday Tidbit ~ Entails

Luckington Estate - more fondly known by fans of Jane Austen as Longbourn

I do believe I heard your eye roll, dear reader when you saw the title. What a dreadfully boring subject, but one that is vital to the story of Pride & Prejudice and the beleaguered Bennet family with five unmarried daughters. Miss Austen also saw fit to add entails to Sir Walter Elliot's property in Persuasion as well as the Dashwood's estate in Sense & Sensibility. 

Mr. Dashwood was upset because he could not cut down the woods on his estate and sell them to add to his daughter's dowries because it would take away / lessen the value of the estate.

Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. 

"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."

"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must confess. Not that I mean to find fault with you, for such things, I know, are all chance in this world. There is no knowing how estates will go when once they come to be entailed."

When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless; for, of course, they were to have a son. This son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for. Five daughters successively entered the world, but yet the son was to come; and Mrs. Bennet, for many years after Lydia's birth, had been certain that he would. This event had at last been despaired of, but it was then too late to be saving. Mrs. Bennet had no turn for economy, and her husband's love of independence had alone prevented their exceeding their income.

Five thousand pounds was settled by marriage articles on Mrs. Bennet and the children. But in what proportions it should be divided amongst the latter depended on the will of the parents.

They lived in the house/estate and enjoyed the income. They did not truly own it. They couldn't sell it or do anything that would lower its value. They could not mortgage it and they definitely could not determine who would inherit it.

If there had been no entail, Longbourn would have been divided, upon Mr. Bennet's death, five ways between his daughters.

When Mr. Collins inherits Longbourn, he becomes what is called a tenant in tail, or the 'real inheritor', which means that there were limitations on the entail. After so many generations, the entail would be broken. At the time, the real inheritor, if he wished to reestablish the entail for x many generations, kept Longbourn under the name of Collins, rather than Bennet.

The time limit on a tenant for life entails was usually a generation for life. Translated, this means the grandfather would establish the entail for the generation living. The estate would pass to his son and then his son's son and the final inheritor, his grandson's son, would become the 'real inheritor' and legally own Longbourn. The real inheritor could do what he liked with Longbourn. He could mortgage it, split it up, sell it - whatever he desired. Usually, the real inheritor would establish another entail to keep the property whole and within the family.

Mr. Bennet had very often wished, before this period of his life, that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him.

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take my place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

The reality of the entail helps us understand some of Mrs. Bennet's famous 'nerves' and 'flutterings'. She had cause to worry about where she and her daughters would lay their heads at night if Mr. Bennet died before ANY of her daughters were married, and married well. I think we can all agree she set about promoting her daughters in a stupid manner, but she was not given a gentlewoman's education and relied on base instinct.

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