Tenant of the Curtesy or Courtesy tenure is a legal term indicating the life interest which a widower (meaning the wife’s former husband) may claim in the lands of the deceased wife, under certain conditions. Those requisites to create a tenancy by courtesy are:
1. A legal marriage existed between the man and the woman
2. The estate claimed in courtesy must have been an estate in possession of which the wife must have been actually seised. (Seisin (or seizin) denotes the legal possession of a feudal fiefdom or fee, that is to say an estate in land. It was used in the form of “the son and heir of X has obtained seisin of his inheritance,” and thus is effectively a term concerned with conveyancing in the feudal era. The person holding such estate is said to be “seized of it,” a phrase which commonly appears in inquisitions post mortem (i.e. “The jurors find that X died seized of the manor of …”). The monarch alone “owned” all the land of England by his allodial right and all his subjects were merely his tenants under various contracts of feudal tenure. Seisin is believed to have been applicable only to freehold tenures, that is to say a tenure for a term of life, which was heritable, on condition of payment of the appropriate feudal relief to the overlord. A “freeman” was a man who held by freehold tenure, and thus freehold tenure was anciently said to be the only form of feudal land tenure worthy to be held by a free man. Tenure, and the variety thereof, was the very essence of feudal society and the stratification thereof, and the possession of a tenure (i.e., holding, from Latin teneo “to hold”) was legally established by the act of seisin.
3. Issue must have existed born alive and during the mother’s existence, though it is immaterial whether the issue subsequently live or die, or whether it is born before or after the wife’s seisin.
The tenure relates only to those lands of which his wife was in her lifetime actually seised (or sasined in Scots law) and not therefore to an estate of inheritance. By definition, it is said of a who becomes such in his wife’s estate of inheritance by the birth of a child, but whose estate is not consummated until the death of the wife.
In the case of lands held under gavelkind tenure [Gavelkind was a system of land tenure associated chiefly with the county of Kent in England, but also found in Ireland and Wales. Under this law, land was divided equally among sons and other heirs.], the husband has a right to courtesy tenure whether there is issue born or not but the courtesy extends only to a moiety (i.e. half) of the wife’s lands and ceases if the husband marries again. The issue must have been capable of inheriting as heir to the wife, so that if for example a wife were seised of lands in tail male [also know as fee tail or entail; a form of trust established by deed or settlement which restricts the sale or inheritance of an estate in real property; instead, it passes automatically by operation of law to an heir pre-determined by the settlement deed.], the birth of a daughter would not entitle the husband to a tenancy by courtesy.
- The title to the tenancy vests only on the death of the wife.
The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 has not affected the right of courtesy so far as it relates to the wife’s undisposed-of-realty, and the Settled Land Act 1884, section 8, provides that for the purposes of the Settled Land Act 1882, the estate of a tenant by courtesy is to be deemed an estate arising under a settlement made by the wife.
The application of Courtesy (as spelled in Scots law) was abolished by Section 10 of the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964, in respect of all deaths occurring after the date of that Act. The right of Terce (being the equivalent claim by a wife on her husband’s estate) was also abolished by the same provision.
Where There’s a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There’s a Way: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
ELIZABETH BENNET’s world has turned upon its head. Not only is her family about to be banished to the hedgerows after her father’s sudden death, but Mr. Darcy has appeared upon Longbourn’s threshold, not to renew his proposal, as she first feared, but, rather, to serve as Mr. Collins’s agent in taking an accounting of Longbourn’s “treasures” before her father’s cousin steals away all her memories of the place.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY certainly has no desire to encounter Elizabeth Bennet again so soon after her mordant refusal of his hand in marriage, but when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, strikes a bargain in which her ladyship agrees to provide his Cousin Anne a London Season if Darcy will become Mr. Collins’s agent in Hertfordshire, Darcy accepts in hopes he can convince Miss Elizabeth to think better of him than she, obviously, does. Yet, how can he persuade the woman to recognize his inherent sense of honor, when his inventory of Longbourn’s entailed land and real properties announces the date she and her family will be homeless?
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In this excerpt, Darcy and the Bennets discuss the possibility of Mrs. Bennet and her daughters claiming an unusual bequest from Mrs. Bennet’s great-great-grandmother, Eugenia.
“When we reach Longbourn, I mean to sit my sisters and my mother down and explain to them the necessity for economy and how we must be prepared to leave Longbourn by month’s end. Trunks must be packed and transportation arranged. With Mama’s allowance, there is the chance we could discover a small cottage if Eugenia’s property cannot be arranged. We can share rooms, if necessary. I wish Mr. Bennet had not been so quick to make finding his will a game. We could have spent our time searching for a cottage in which we could all live together. If it is viable, I wish my family to leave Longbourn unbroken, instead of being scattered to the wind.”
“I am your servant in this matter,” he said solemnly.
“I despise asking it of you, but would you join us for this difficult conversation? I am certain Mrs. Bennet will possess a multitude of questions.”
“If it is your wish,” he assured her.
And so, before he returned to his lodging at Netherfield, Darcy found himself in a prominent place, beside Elizabeth, at a table holding her mother, her sisters, her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and Mr. Philips.
“I find it quite disheartening,” Mrs. Bennet announced to the group, “that neither my brother, my sister’s husband, nor Mr. Bennet thought me capable of understanding the situation in which we find ourselves.”
“Your nerves,” Mr. Philips said lamely.
“Are a result of being omitted from such decisions,” the lady corrected. “It is quite disconcerting to worry over one’s future, especially as I am permitted no say in my life.”
Miss Elizabeth squeezed the back of her mother’s hand in support. “I agree. Mrs. Bennet’s allowance is our only source of income; therefore, she must thoroughly be made to understand what is expected of her. I know my mother can practice economy. I have witnessed her doing so previously. As Papa made adjustments when they first came to Longbourn, so did she. When Jane and I were small, Mama spoke often to us of the differences in prices of goods, for she realized we must some day run our husbands’ households. Mrs. Bennet came from trade, but that proved an advantage when her husband required a wife who could be frugal.”
“Elizabeth is correct. Mama can be quite adept at running a household when it is necessary. We were never hungry, nor did we go without the necessities. It is only of late that we knew the luxury of new gowns and so forth,” Jane acknowledged in serious tones.
Darcy suggested, “You must wait until I receive word on the Cornwall property to know the extent of the provisions placed on it by the late Mrs. Gardiner, but, meanwhile, you should pursue the possibility of a cottage for let. Lady Catherine informed us that her new clergyman will be in place by the first week of June. Your days at Longbourn are, therefore, truly numbered. I have completed my accounting of all your quarters and the common use areas. You can begin to pack your belongings. As you have expressed your desire not to be in the house when Mr. Collins arrives, you should place the last of your energies in preparing for your removal. Is it possible for you to use Mr. Bennet’s carriage and for Mr. Hill to transport your belongings to your new home?”
“I will see to it,” Mr. Philips replied, but Darcy decided he would write to Mr. Collins to learn when the man would send for the coach to bring him and Mrs. Collins to Longbourn. As he had come to expect, Elizabeth knew the right of the matter: Her family should be gone before the Collinses arrived.
Elizabeth addressed her family, “Do we still wish to pursue the Gardiner property with its possible provisions for our possession or pursue an available cottage instead?”
Miss Jane said, “I would not wish to remain in the area, even in a cottage. We would constantly encounter the Collinses and the Lucases and—” Darcy understood the lady was thinking of Mr. Bingley. “Even though we will not live in penury, we will be facing reduced circumstances. I choose not to know the gossips who will rejoice in our loss of face. In a different neighborhood, no one will know our history unless we choose to share it with them.”
Miss Lydia still complained, “I would prefer a cottage nearby. I do not wish to wait until my sisters marry before I do.”
Mrs. Bennet scowled at her youngest daughter. “Your recent actions have proven I made a mistake in permitting you and Kitty to join in society before you were prepared to do so. Jane and Elizabeth and Mary served their time waiting to be presented to others, and I should have seen such was best for all of you. Your father attempted to warn me, but I did not listen. That being said, you will listen to me now, or know my wrath. Your selfish disregard for your sisters and for me speaks loudly of my error in trusting you with so much responsibility. Thankfully, being in mourning will deny you the freedom you demand and provide you time on reflection. We will begin again with your studies as soon as we are settled elsewhere. None of us will enjoy society for six months, and there will be no balls or assemblies or the like for another six. Wherever we settle, our interactions will be limited to church services and the occasional call upon our neighbors. Your preference holds no significance in this conversation. How do you ever expect to attract a proper husband when you waste your time with the likes of Mr. Wickham?”
Miss Lydia countered, “Only recently you defended Wickham to Elizabeth.”
“That was before I learned of his many debts to the local shopkeepers. Your father and I were very conscious of our debts to others, and we never spent more than we had available. I cannot entertain the idea of any of my daughters residing in debtor’s prison with those of Mr. Wickham’s ilk. Your actions in this matter were unacceptable. You placed yourself before your family, when family is all a person has when adversity knocks upon his door. You have injured each of your sisters. You injured me. It shall be many years before I can trust you again.”
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