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Category: Plot bunnies

Gaming at Brooks's Club: 19th century Thomas Rowlandson c. 1810-1815

Gaming at Brooks’s Club: 19th century
Thomas Rowlandson
c. 1810-1815

I stumbled across a very entertaining book from 1828 while doing a bit of research about Gentleman’s Clubs in London: The Clubs of London; with anecdotes of their members, sketches of character and conversations. It’s exactly the kind of fodder I love for my books. There’s just something delicious about working a bit of real gossip or happenstance into a book, especially if it’s funny our outrageous!

 

The first anecdote is that of Sheridan (the actor) being inducted into Brookes’s [sic]. His friends has proposed him several times, but he had continually drawn one black ball during the voting. Determined, his friends marked all the black balls to discover who it was that was excluding him, and then they all arranged to distract that member during the next vote to prevent his being present. It absolutely worked and even the man himself came to find the trick they pulled amusing once it was over and done with.

The second story deals with the induction of a man that was actually blackballed by EVERY member and yet managed to bully his way into membership. He was a notorious duelist and when told that after several rounds of voting he had still received a blackball, he charged into the room and demanded of each individual if THEY had been the one to blackball him. No one was willing to say yes, lest they be challenged to a duel and killed by the manic, so they let him stay. He was never admitted again, but he freely boasted everywhere that he was a member.

I can easily see either of these anecdotes shanghaied and used in a book, especially in one of the popular series that stars the owner of a club or a group of men who belong to one. I haven’t written a balloting scene in my Legion of Second Sons series, but now I very much want to. I just have to find a way to make it germane to the story. I can easily see either story being a good way of setting up an enmity between a hero and an antagonist. And it could be a fun way of exploring “politics-lite” since I have been assured that many readers find the actual politics a bit dry, LOL!

What do you all think? I love the idea of the hero standing up to the duelist and saying that of course he blackballed him and I can think of all kinds of ways this could come back to haunt him …

This is a topic that always gets people talking and scheming. HOW can we pull this off!!!?!!! Is there a way to make my heroine a duchess in her own right? The answer is yes, but you’d have to model your fictional title after that of the Duke of Marlborough, and seeing as this is the ONLY dukedom that can be inherited by a daughter, you’d have to create a very detailed background for your family and there would likely be a lot of howling. It’s rather easy (comparatively speaking) for your heroine to be a countess or a baroness in her own right though. It all comes down to how the title was created …

Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough

Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough

 

Ancient Earldoms were mainly created by investiture and oral grant by the king (aka girding; literally belting the man). They were sometimes created by an Act of Parliament and would have a Royal Charter (before Henry VI [1422-1461] per Peerage Law in England; after this point letter patent are the norm). Dukedoms, and marquisates are later creations and were mainly created by charter. Viscounties (a very late comer to England) have always been created by letters patent. Baronies are where it gets fun … initially they were connected to the land. In the time of Edward I [1272-1307] they became distinct inheritances and were created by writ (being summoned to parliament). In 1387 came the first creation by letters patent. From the time of James I [ruled England 1603-1625], creation of baronies was exclusively by letters patent. So to have your barony or earldom in fee simple, it has to be very old, and the family has to have never been granted a higher title.

These peerages can have different rules of inheritance, depending on how they were created. They can be in fee simple (usual for ancient earldoms and baronies by writ), in fee tail general (all heirs of the body, meaning both sons and daughters), and in fee tail male. At their creation they might also have been in fee tail special (usually where there was no son and the inheritance was directed to a specific person such as a daughter’s son or husband or the title-holder’s brother. The second creation of the Duke of Marlborough is a good example of this (he had no sons so his title was allowed to be inherited by his daughters).

When a title is in fee simple, it usually means there are no letters patent spelling anything out. The peerage was created by writ of summons or girding, and is so ancient that there are no records specifying a limitation of the tail. It is generally treated the same as in fee tail general for inheritance purposes, but this could be tricky, as in fee simple legalistically means “to his heirs” not limited to “heirs of his body” (so collateral relations can inherit if all branches of direct descent fail, and this happened on occasion way, way back [usually within a generation or two of the creation of the title]; the law book says that such failure has been “of such rare occurrence in the history of the peerage that this rule need not detain us”). The reason that quite a few baronies can be inherited by women is that when they are created by writ, they are inherited in fee simple. This is also true for some of the older earldoms (if you look at the law book I linked to earlier, there is a list of them p. 118-119).

When a title is in fee tail general, the letters patent say “the heirs of his body”. Sons always have legal precedence over daughters and elder sons over younger sons (basic English law of primogeniture). But this is how you can get a female heir to a title, co-heiresses (when there are more than one daughter and no sons), and titles falling in abeyance (basically being put in limbo until only one claim remains, or until the Crown picks an heir, and yes, this is the one interference allowed the king; how’s that for a plot bunny?).

Most common, of course, is for the title to be in fee tail male (the heirs of the body male) so that only direct male descendants are eligible to inherit. This is the real limitation on having a dukedom inherited by a woman. They’re all just too new to have been created under the old system. The oldest extant (non-royal) dukedom is that of the Duke of Norfolk, and was created by letters patent in fee tail male. And this is the case with all the others as well (with the already noted exception).

One more interesting legal bit to remember, while a man might hold many titles (George Fruit, Duke of Apple, Marquess of Orange, Earl of Pear and Rose, Baron Fruit and Flower), they might not all have the SAME rules of inheritance. So, George, the Duke of Apple dies, leaving behind a younger brother and a daughter as his heirs. Under most circumstances, all the titles will go to the duke’s brother, BUT, depending on how the duplicate titles were inherited, and IF the duplicate title is in fee simple or in fee tail general, then the daughter COULD inherit it, and after she makes her claim, the titles she was legally heir to, and any holdings entailed to them, would be broken off from the inheritance of the new duke and she would become a peeress in her own right. This was even more likely if some of the titles were Scottish and some were English (see the division of the titles of the 5th Duke of Sutherland).

Basically it would work like this:

These are direct titles which have built up upon one another in the same male line. The younger brother will get all of these, even though the earldom and barony are in fee tail general or simple and could go to a daughter. I can find no cases of a direct line of titles being broken in favor of multiple heirs.

Duke of Apple, in fee tail male
Marquess of Orange, in fee tail male
Earl of Pear, in fee tail general
Baron Fruit, in fee simple

But the Earl of Rose and Baron Flower are not related to the dukedom in the same way as they others. They might have come into the family through the marriage (having already been inherited by a woman in a past generation) or they might have belonged to a distant male relative and devolved that way to the Fruits. Because Rose and Flower are not in the direct line of Apple, and because they are (for our example) in fee simple or in fee tail general, they can be broken off and can go to the most direct heir of the body. And that is the recently deceased duke’s daughter, not his brother. This is not to say that the daughter HAD to make this claim, or that she would even know it was possible to make it. There have surely been many claims daughters could have make over the years that they didn’t, and thus the titles and lands went to the more distant male heir without a fuss.

So there you have it, ways to get yourself tied into legalistic knots for fun (and maybe profit).

I saw a new book about black history on Twitter and had to pounce: Black Tudors, The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann. While this is earlier than what I write, I grew up as a historical re-enactor and a lot of my time and study has been devoted to fifteenth and sixteenth century history. I’m only halfway done with the book, but it’s proven well worth my time and money.

I don’t want to give a synopsis of the entire book, as that’s unfair to the author, so I’m going to concentrate on the first black Tudor featured in the book, John Blanke, the Trumpeter. John Blanke shown twice in the Westiminster Tournament Roll and is the only idenifiable portrait of an African in Tudor England.

Blanke is a fasinating figure. Musicians were known to move from court to court rather freely, and they were often used as messengers betweeen courts. It is likely that Blanke arrived in England in the retinue of Katherine of Aragon in 1501 (blacks, both free and enslaved, being more common in Spain, Portugal, and the Italian states). By 1507 he is listed as one of Henry VII’s trumpeters and is being paid the same wage as the others. He must have been a favorite, because when a more senior musician died, Blanke petioined the new king, Henry VIII to be raised in position and have his pay increased. Not only wa this request granted, but when Blanke married in 1512 the king bestowed upon him violet cloth for his wedding clothes (as a musician, Blanke was already entitled to ignore the sumptary laws and was known to dress in crimson).

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

One interesting tidbit I learned was the because trumpeters were used as messengers, they were supposed to have dipolmatic immunity, allowing them free passage through foreign and even enemy territory. This, coupled with their frequently moving from service of one king or noble to another, also gave rise to them being thought of as spies. Wouldn’t a Dunnett-like series about a spy/trumpeter moving through the courts of sixteenth century Eurpoe be amazing? Somebody who’s better at mystery plots than I am needs to write this for me!

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