The Duke Is Dead, Long Live the Duke . . . Now What?

I received another question, this time from a fellow writer: Generally, how long would it take for probate (courts) to settle a man’s estate and how long before the late peer’s son could be styled by his new title? Here’s my question: Does the new duke (he is of legal age, though not by much) come into his full inheritance immediately, or must he wait until his father’s will goes through probate or some such thing? (There are debts to be settled.)

Okay, let’s settle the easy part first. The peer’s eldest legitimate son is immediately considered the new peer. Most often, people would not call him by his new title until after his father’s funeral, but he would assume his father’s position as soon as the man’s death was pronounced. The new peer could deal with tenants and offer the will to be probated. It might be best if he did not use the supposed fortune associated with the peerage to build himself a model of Prince George’s Royal Pavilion, but for all intents and purposes, he is the new peer.

Now, comes the more complicated part: THE MONEY and THE DEBTS.

I think is obvious to say how a person with any property (real, personal, or both) during the Georgian era (and even today) should have a will. I recently purchased a new house (had it built), and I made certain it would not be tied up in probate court for years while my son paid taxes on an empty house if something should happen to me. Like today, the person creating the will had to be of “sound mind.”

During the Georgian era, a will could be declared void it the person was insane or drunk at the time of its creation or be voided if it was proven to have been written for a convicted felon, a prisoner, or an outlaw/thief. So it was also for those who committed suicide or had been excommunicated from the church or if the person was a slave. A married woman required the consent of her husband to have a will drawn up. Worst so, the husband had the right to withdraw his permission up until the will was probated. Because the legal age to marry during the time was 14 for boys and 12 for girls, such was the same ages for wills.

A testator oversaw the payment of debts (real or moral) and carried out any other duties prescribed in the will. Even so, will could be challenged. One of those thought to have been included in the will, but found himself omitted could contest the will on the grounds that the person for whom it had been created had been coerced by another, had been under undue influence by another or had been defrauded somehow. For those of us who are authors, we might have the testator sign the will while drunk or under some form of drugs. You get the picture, right?

Naturally, a will had to be witnessed properly. If we go back to the peer who died, if he did not update his will with the birth of each child, it could be considered invalid.

Whoever was listed as the executor of the will was charged with informing the new peer of any restrictions or special actions, as quickly as possible. The executor would oversee the care of the debts and paying out legacies, etc. Actually, the new peer/son could be the executor, for the executor was usually a family member or close friend. If the son proved to be the executor, it would prove beneficial to him to see all was done properly, more so than in haste. [Note: The Family History Guide has example of actual probate and court records.]

Probate of the peer’s will would likely take place in the church probate court in London. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), which actually sat in London, was the senior church court, and dealt with the wills of relatively wealthy people living in the south of England and Wales, as well as with the estates of people who died at sea or abroad leaving personal property in England or Wales. (Even today, cases in the Property, Trusts and Probate List are managed by the Chancery Masters and heard by the Chancery Division judges.) This would be especially true if the man was a duke or an earl. This was customarily a matter of offering the will for review/probate and being granted the right to proceed with the will’s stipulations. [Note: There are online will indexes available at the National Archives.]

Notices were sent to the newspapers asking for any outstanding debts or bills. Inventory was usually taken and money located and accounted for.

Creditors were required to wait for the will to be probated and assets discovered before learning what would be granted them in payment. Just as a peer would pay his debt of honor (meaning gaming debts) before he would pay his tailor, so might be the disposition of funds. Based on the family’s fortune, not all debts were honored at probate.

The new peer would be assured he had the right to the cash on hand; yet, nothing was guaranteed. (Meaning no Royal Pavilion replica and perhaps not enough to pay the servants’ wages) The new peer’s father had the right to give away any cash on hand.

On top of all this, there fees associated with a title. 

I am adding an additional question at this point to answer both in the same post. So would each man as he receives his title – previous peer dying, of course – have to pay a new fee? Or is it just for new peerages?  I understand there was a go-fund-me type event for Wellington to pay the fees. Or am I wrong?

Yes there is a fee each noble paid on creation of a new title or succeeding to a title after the death of the previous peer.           

When the peer makes his first appearance at the House of Lords, he participates in an old age ceremony for which a fee also must be paid.

These fees were paid to the Receiver of Fees – who was a clerk in the House of Peers. In 1812. this was a Mr. Charles Sutherland.

Prince of Wales: upon creation – £703 6 8 – Upon his first introduction to the House he paid £30. (730 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence)

A Duke paid £350 3 4 upon creation and £27 on first introduction

A Marquis paid £272 10 8, then £19 6 8 upon introduction.

An Earl paid £203 3 4 upon creation, and £14 on first introduction.

A Viscount paid £159 7 4 upon creation, then £12 upon introduction.

A baron paid £150 upon creation and £ 9 upon introduction.

If a peer advanced in title, (i.e., If a baron was made a viscount or an earl) he was required to pay the appropriate fee.

Every bishop was required to pay upon his first Consecration and upon future Promotion £14. The Archbishop paid £27 upon introduction.

This information is from the Royal Kalendar and annual Register for 1812. (provided by Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher)

Also from Nancy, we learn, “Parliament voted to assist Wellington in paying his fees. He received about a 100000 each time he was elevated in the peerage. It is said it took all day for him to be invested in all the titles at once and pay all the fees. Nelson and Collingwood had friends pay their fees. Collingwood never even reached England to be formally invested in his title.”

All this being said, those fees did not need to be paid immediately after the previous peer died.

Each peer also was required to purchase parliamentary robes. Usually theirs were hand me downs from Papa or Uncle, but every so often, one needed to buy new ones before he sent in his petition for a writ of summons to parliament.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, aristocracy, British history, estates, family, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Inheritance, laws of the land, legacy, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, real life tales, Regency era, titles of aristocracy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Duke Is Dead, Long Live the Duke . . . Now What?

  1. Beatrice says:

    Are all these fees still required? Did the new king have to pay to ascend the throne? Did his wife? Does Charles get a refund of his payment for the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, etc. titles he now relinquishes?

    • In truth, Beatrice, I cannot say what was paid in today’s inflation rates for the “creation” of the new titles. However, no refunds would be issued.
      There are several types of titles in the UK:

      Royal titles – eg Prince or a Princess. These are only held by close relatives of the monarch, and are governed by Letters Patent issued by the monarch. They cannot be, and never have been, bought

      Peerages – dukedoms, marquessates, viscounties, earldoms, and baronies. These can either be hereditary or can be issued just for the life of the hold (if life peerages, then it would be a barony only). They can only be created by Letters Patent issued by the monarch – they cannot be bought (although there have been suggestions in the past that suitably large donations to the ruling political party could result in the donor being rewarded with a life peerage – systems have since been put in place to curtail this)

      Baronetcies. These are hereditary, and rank below the Peerage. They are not “noble” titles per se – and are considered the most senior titles available for the Gentry. Baronetcies are unique in all British titles in that they were invented solely in order to be sold to raise funds for the King. The habit of blatantly selling baronetcies ended after the Civil War, and now, 400 years after those first creations, baronetcies are hardly ever granted – indeed only one baronet has been created in the last 50 years.

      Knighthoods. Grants made for life. Again they are not noble titles and are generally associated with the gentry – however many non-gentry now also hold knighthoods. As with Life Peerages, in the past it was possible that large donations to the political party could be rewarded with a knighthood

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