Abeyance

 

Female inheritance accounts for that phenomenon, known to the peerage law of no other country but England, of a peerage "falling into abeyance".  This peculiarity is due to the fact that the ordinary rule of primogeniture, which applies to all male descent, is ignored in such cases, and when there is more than one daughter all are regarded as equal co-heirs.  The result is that no one daughter can inherit until all the others are dead, or no issue of a daughter can inherit until the issue of other daughters is extinct.  In other words, the title is in a state of suspended animation until all the co-equal claims are centered in one person.

 

That is a process which obviously could take, and in some cases has taken, many generations stretching over centuries.  It accounts for peerages being "called out of abeyance" after a lapse of centuries.  There have been a fair number of such cases within comparatively recent years.  Thus the Baronies of Burgh and Strabolgi, which had a common ancestry, were, in 1916, called out of an abeyance which had lasted since 1369 - a period of 547 years.

 

There is, however, one solution to this dilemma of co-equal heirs to which resort is often made, and that is the power of the Crown to vest the suspended dignity in any one of the heirs.

 

An interesting case of division of the spoils, as it were, occurred at the beginning of this century in regard to the Baronies of Fauconberg and D'Arcy de Knayth, the former of which had been in abeyance since 1463.  When the twelfth Lord Conyers, a descendant of a co-heir to these baronies, died in 1888, his own barony fell into abeyance between his two daughters, the elder of whom had married the Earl of Yarborough and the younger the Earl of Powis.  Four years later the abeyance of the Conyers Barony was terminated in favour of Lady Yarborough.  In 1903 both ladies petitioned to be declared co-heirs of the still older Fauconberg and D'Arcy de Knayth Baronies, and the Committee for Privileges reported in their favour.  This, of course, merely established their position as co-heirs and did not affect the state of abeyance, but shortly afterwards the late King Edward VII awarded the Fauconberg Barony to Lady Yarborough and that of D'Arcy de Knayth to Lady Powis.

 

This decision, incidentally, and as it turned out, had the result in each case of enabling the son of the marriage to sit in the House of Lords as a peer simultaneously with his father.  For both these ladies died before their husbands and their baronies devolved on their sons, who thus became peers in their fathers' lifetime.

 

Both these cases, as it happens, provide an excellent illustration of the vicissitudes of descent which ensue from female heritability.  Both the Conyers and Fauconberg Baronies were called out of abeyance, the latter after a suspension of 440 years, and became merged in the Earldom of Yarborough by marriage.  But the late Countess's son, the fifth Earl, had no sons and two daughters.  So that when he died early in 1948 the baronies fell into abeyance again between his two daughters, while the earldom went to Lord Yarborough's brother.  The death in action in the late war of Viscount Clive (only son of the Earl of Powis and Lord D'Arcy de Knayth in his own right as heir to his mother) also resulted in the speedy separation of the barony from the earldom, for his only child is a daughter, born in 1938.  She succeeded her father in the barony, while the earldom and the other Powis honours will go to a cousin.

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