Thought Thursday – Common Recovery

If you read Historical Romance, especially Britain-set Romance featuring Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, and the like, you’re likely familiar with settlements and entails, or the way the aristocracy preserved their hold on land, and thus wealth, by preparing sometimes strict legalese restricting the sale of property and limiting who could inherit said property upon the current property-holder’s death.

“The most usual fee tail was ‘tail male’. This limited the descent to the legitimate male heirs ‘of the body’ of the owner, i.e. sons and grandsons of the owner’s marriage”.

The University of Nottingham

So, from father to firstborn son (or the eldest of whichever sons are alive at the time of the father’s death) and so on down the male line through inheritance, hopping back up and over to a brother, or nephew if no brother is alive, when a heir fails to produce legitimate “issue” (son) before waltzing off into the great beyond. This wasn’t the only type of Tail, however.

A ‘Tail general’ allowed for females to also inherit.

However, males would still take precedence over females. That meant that a younger son would inherit before an elder daughter. This type of fee tail is the one used today by our Royal Family. The daughters of Prince Andrew (born 1960) are higher up the line of succession than the son and daughter of Princess Anne (born 1950).

The University of Nottingham

Some beneficiaries of these grand estates were less than enthusiastic about their inability to sell entailed property, especially if family fortunes were, as they say, in the tank. However, where there’s an unscrupulous will, there’s a plausible way, and some cash-strapped and grand-house-poor but cagey lords found a lucrative work around: Common Recovery.

I won’t get into the legalities and vagaries of Common Recovery here, but suffice to say, entails, from the 14th century through to 1833 weren’t as fixed in archaic lettering and parchment as some might believe. For the fiction writer, such knowledge is one more tool in the evil plotting arsenal.



On the human chessboard, all moves are possible.

Miriam Schiff

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