Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

Modern Entails

Modern Entails.

The general object of such family entails may

Modern Entails.

be briefly stated as follows:—to secure that the landed property which is the subject of them page 74

Modern Entails.

shall descend in the direct male line by the order of primogeniture, intact and undiminished, for as long a period as possible; to prevent the holder, the tenant for life, and successive tenants for life, from alienating the property, or bequeathing it to their children in such proportion as they may think fit.

It is customary for lawyers, in representing this system, to speak of it as very limited in its operation, and as tying up estates for a comparatively short period. They say that once in every generation it is possible to break the entail, and for the persons interested to join in freeing the property, and selling or disposing of it as they think fit. It is true that when the tenant in tail, as he is called, the unborn son in whom the property is ultimately vested, after the death of his father and perhaps his grandfather, reaches the age of twenty-one, he and his father can agree together to break up the entail, and to cut off all other contingent interests or collateral claims.

In fact, however, the system is so curiously and artfully devised, that when this climax is reached, when after the lapse of years there are coexisting two or more persons in different generations, who by agreeing together can cut off the entail, there arises out of the very nature of the arrangement the greatest inducement to all concerned in such a family settlement to take this opportunity, not to free the estate from its page 75 cumbrous shackles, but to prolong the entail, and

Modern Entails.

to make a new settlement which will carry on the entail to another unborn generation.

The process has thus been described by an eminent legal writer:

"Upon the majority or marriage of the son who is tenant in tail under a family settlement the estate is commonly resettled, he receiving an immediate provision, and by his estate being reduced to a life-estate with remainder to his issue in tail, parting with his prospective powers of alienation. By such a process as is here roughly described, the bulk of family estates in this country are kept in settlement from one generation to another, the new fetter being added at that epoch at which the power of alienation arises."

And the late Lord St. Leonards, a powerful advocate of the system, spoke of it as "from its own nature leading to successive settlements." Although, therefore, in one sense, such settlements may appear to be limited in duration, the truer view is that they embody all the vicious principles of perpetual entail. They are intended to preserve the family property intact through successive generations, and to prevent the head of the family, at any time, from either reducing the corpus of the property, or from exercising any option in favour of a more equal distribution among his children and subject to some perils, which will shortly be pointed out, they certainly succeed in doing this.

page 76

Modern Entails.

It has been already shown that from the time of the Norman conquest till the present time there have been four nearly equal periods of 200 years each. In the first 200 years entails could not be effected. In the next 200 years they were permitted by law, and their evils were notorious, and admitted to be most disastrous. In the third period the system was again broken down, entails were practically inoperative, landowners were again masters of their own property, and land was again brought into free commerce. In the last period entails have again been permitted, through the medium of family settlements which, if not perpetual as they were in the former period, have tended to perpetuities, as Lord St. Leonards has told us.

This power and the consequent custom to entail land has now existed for rather more than 200 years. It is commonly admitted that about three-fourths of the landed property of the country is subject to such entails. What effect have they had upon the distribution and ownership of property? Have they been the cause of the accumulation of land in few hands? Do they tend to prevent the application of capital to the land? Have they been in the interest of the families concerned? How have they affected the position and well-being of the labouring class?