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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

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