The laws of primogeniture were clear: In order to keep lands and estates intact, the bulk of the inheritance was handed down to the eldest son. Other much smaller claims to the property went as follows:
- Jointures: Provision for an annual income for the wife after her husband has died and arranged at marriage. The amount is typically based on the assets the wife brings to the union. Elopements had dire consequences, for a woman forfeits this protection when she runs away to be married.
- Marriage Portions: Lump sums paid to the bride, which she brings to the marriage. Mrs. Bennet brough £5,000 to the marriage, and her daughters’ portions from her estate will be £ 1,000 each. Portions obviously vary. Princess Anne, the eldest daughter of George II, received an £80,000 marriage portion, voted by Parliament in 1733.
- Cash Settlements: Passed on to younger sons, but often these monies were not enough to sustain them. Most younger sons had to find employment or marry well.
- Entails: Property that is entailed on the male heirs cannot be inherited by females. This practice ensures that the succession of the title, property, and lands remains within the family, although a clause could be inserted to describe what would happen if there are no males left to inherit. Mr. Bennet’s property is entailed and will go to Mr. Collins, the next male in line.
- Annuities: Annual moneys donated by other members of the family for support. Several of Jane Austen’s brothers provided an annuity of £50 to their sisters and mother. In Sense and Sensibility, Fanny and John Dashwood discuss the amount of an annuity for John’s stepmother and sisters before selfishly discarding the idea. The conversation begins with John:
“That is very true, and, therefore, I do not know whether, upon the whole, it would not be more advisable to do something for their mother while she lives, rather than for them–something of the annuity kind I mean.–My sisters would feel the good effects of it as well as herself. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable.”
His wife hesitated a little, however, in giving her consent to this plan.
“To be sure,” said she, “it is better than parting with fifteen hundred pounds at once. But, then, if Mrs. Dashwood should live fifteen years we shall be completely taken in.”
“Fifteen years! my dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half that purchase.”
“Certainly not; but if you observe, people always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them.”