Most of us who have studied British history know something of the concept of Primogeniture, which is the right of succession belonging to the firstborn child, with its roots in the feudal rule by which the whole real estate of an intestate passed to the eldest son. I cannot write a Regency “romance” without knowledge of this process. As it was for centuries, a man’s status in 19th Century British Society rested in the land he held. Land was a symbol of wealth and social rank. Therefore, the need to pass one’s “wealth” to future generations increased with the number of acres of land that he owned. Land was “influence,” as well as affluence. To ensure one’s descendants received what had been incurred, a system known as primogeniture was put in place. Primogeniture meant that all the land in each generation’s possession was left to the eldest son in the family rather than being divided equally among off the offspring. An entail assured that said “eldest son” could not mortgage or divide or sell said inheritance. It was to be held for his eldest son, etc., etc., etc.
Primogeniture developed during the Norman reign. By leaving the land to the eldest son, the estate would remain intact for future generations. It would also be economically capable of supporting a military force, which could assist the king. By the 19th Century, the King George III, King George IV, King William IV, and Queen Victoria had other means to field a military presence, and social status became the basis of the practice. Customarily, primogeniture was part of a gentleman’s will or deeds of settlement. This practice remained intact until 1925, when it was changed by law.
The entail prevented a wastrel from selling off the family estate to pay his debts. An entail was defined by a deed of settlement (or) a strict settlement. The heir customarily received the land for his use ONLY in his lifetime. His rights ceased to exist upon his death.
Originally, many attempted to entail their properties until the end of the world, so to speak. However, the law would not permit “infinity” to stand. In practice, an entailed property only remained so until the grandson of the land owner making the settlement became of age at 21 years. Then, the heir could sell or give away the property. So, theoretically, the entail only held the land through the first and second generation of land owners. However, a little coercion often secured the land for future generations.
Most land owners (and their sons) held no other financial employment. If the property owner’s son wished to keep his “allowance,” he agreed to sign a new deed of settlement, which would assure the property remained in the family for the next two generations, etc., etc. This legal practice offered the landowner to see his property remain in tact for the “infinity” his family duties required.
So what does this legal “mumbo jumbo” have to do with my latest romantic suspense release? More than you may suspect. In Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep, the Duke of Devilfoard worries for the future of the dukedom when his eldest son, the Marquess of Malvern, suffers an accident which robs the marquess of parts of his memory. In addition, there is the issue of Viscount Moses assuming an earldom when no direct heir is available. The problem is once Moses is named the Earl of Sandahl he goes missing upon his“honeymoon.” Has he produced an heir to the earldom and the viscounty? If not, which of his two brothers will inherit the titles? Reason says the elder of the two, but if you know anything of my writing, “reason” often becomes quite twisted.
Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep
Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?
The story is charming, with interesting and realistic characters, a complex plot with plenty of surprises, and a sweet romance woven through it all. The author has a good command of what it was like to be a woman in nineteenth-century England–almost as if she had been there. She really did her research for this one.
Angel Comes to Devil’s Keep is a well-written tale of courage and sacrifice and what women went through in order to marry well in Regency England. The author did her homework and it shows in an authenticity that we don’t often see in Regency romances.
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