This article observes a little-noted proposal (the Landed Property of Intestates Bill) introduced into the British Parliament in 1836. It considers the debate upon it that ensued, and the accompanying pamphlet literature. The Bill proposed to alter the inheritance custom of primogeniture that directed the pattern of descent of freehold land in the absence of directions by settlement or will, and the dialogue is used as a lens to view the nexus between inheritance customs and broader political, economic and social concerns. The intensity of the dispute over primogeniture suggests that more was at stake than simply the devolution of land. The controversy in the Commons over the proposed legislation encompassed a discussion on the variety of purposes that succession law should serve. Lurking in the background in the debate over the proposed bill was a more abstract conundrum: should succession laws primarily be crafted to serve political ends, the constitution; or was it more appropriate to calibrate them to foster desirable social, economic or familial goals? In short, the debate put into sharp focus the question of what interests drive inheritance law, and how attempts can be made to modify it, if and when such concerns alter over time. The bill failed, and it would be for another century for Parliament to abolish primogeniture.The second is Reforming the Law of Will Execution: The Real Property Commissioners’ Reports:
The paper is an introductory chapter of a book length study on the Wills Act of 1837. It focuses on the discussion of wills in the First Report made to by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Law of England respecting Real Property (1829) and the Fourth Report made to His Majesty by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Law of England respecting Real Property (1833). The Report demonstrates wide-spread disquiet over the substantive law of wills and significant dissatisfaction with the process of probate. But the enquiry also looks to other issues on inheritance, the exercise of ‘illusory appointments’ and the problem of proof of death, areas which have hither to been ignored by historians.