The dreaded entail. Something that kept Mrs. Bennet awake at night and fretful whilst conscious.
“I never can be thankful, Mr. Bennet, for any thing about the entail. How any one could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one’s own daughters I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Mr. Collins too! Why should he have it more than anybody else?”
Sidenote: If you do a simple statement analysis on the second sentence of the above paragraph, I believe we are informed that Mr. Bennet himself slapped the entail on Longbourn – thinking he’d have a son. Oh, dear.
There are several types of entails. This mostly is about titles, etc., but estates and land came under the umbrella of the entail.
IN FEE SIMPLE
When a title is in fee simple, it usually means there are no letters patent spelling anything out. The peerage was created by writ of summons or girding, and is so ancient that there are no records specifying a limitation of the tail. It is generally treated the same as in fee tail general for inheritance purposes, but this could be tricky, as in fee simple legalistically means “to his heirs” not limited to “heirs of his body”. This was the type of entail I used in An Unwitting Compromise which allowed Elizabeth’s child to inherit not only her husband’s title but all his lands. (tiny excerpt from that book below)
IN FEE TAIL GENERAL
When a title is in fee tail general, the letters patent says “the heirs of his body”. Sons always have legal precedence over daughters and elder sons over younger sons (basic English law of primogeniture), but could a female inherit if the title fell into abeyance? Get ready for plot bunnies to begin bouncing around in your head. Yes, they could, because this is the one interference allowed the king. The Crown picks the heir. Thought that little nugget of information would perk up those floppy ears.
IN FEE TAIL MALE
Most common, of course, is for the title to be in fee tail male (the heirs of the body male) so that only direct male descendants are eligible to inherit. This is the type of entail which is held over Longbourn and is one of the main plot points in Pride & Prejudice. If Mrs. Bennet did not fear ‘the hedgerows’, she would not have pushed all her daughters out at the age of fifteen, nor would she be so frantic to have them marry well.
EXCERPT: An Unwitting Compromise
“Miss Elizabeth, I am aware you may be enceinte. Maybe about six weeks. Is that correct?”
She blushed and lowered her eyes. “Yes.”
She gave a start when his finger touched the bottom of her chin and raised her face.
“No shame, Miss Elizabeth. I am aware of the circumstances surrounding your condition and will not allow you to bow your head because of it.” He smiled at her look of confusion. “If we rub along nicely, I expect you to hold your head high and look people in the eyes. I will claim your child as my own, and male or female, they will inherit all that I have.”
“Why?” she finally whispered.
“I am unable to have children. My wife, who passed away about ten years ago thought the fault lay with her, but I have had a few paramours in my time and they have never fallen with child.” He chuckled at her blush. “I am no innocent boy, Miss Elizabeth. I have seen over fifty summers and will not paint myself as a saint.”
“I cannot judge your actions, sir. I do not even know you.”
“No, you do not, but I would like to change all that.” He took one of her gloved hands in his. “My doctors have informed me I have only a few short years before I leave this mortal shell. I have no heirs and no other family. All my properties will go to waste and my family’s heritage will become nothing but words written on aging parchment.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” Even though she’d only just met the man, she liked his manners and his honesty. “But my child will not be your heir.”
“I have a special license…” he chuckled again at her gasp. “Yes, I know… presumptuous of me. If you are agreeable, we shall marry three days hence. You are not far enough along to show and I abhor Town, so no one will be surprised if I tuck you away in the countryside. Upon my death, all that I have will go to you and our child.” He stressed the word ‘our.’ “The entail on my estate and title – yes, I do have a title – are in fee simple and once our child is born, I will change my will to add their name and no one will ever contest it.”
“Why three days?”
“A lady must have a courtship. Are three days not enough?”
For the first time in months, Elizabeth laughed.
“Sir, a half hour was enough.”