Question for legal historians (Casaubon's will in "Middlemarch")

SPOILER SPACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ MIDDLEMARCH!

;
;
;
;
;
;
;
;
;

Edward Casaubon had a codicil to his will providing that his wife (widow) would inherit nothing if she subsequently married Will Ladislaw (after Casaubon’s death, of course). I assume this was legal at the time (1830’s England) or Eliot wouldn’t have written it that way, but was it? Would it be legal now? I can understand silly dispositions of property, but it’s hard to fathom someone controlling another person’s life from beyond the grave.

Actually, I think the condition would have been problematic even in the 1830s. At common law, public policy leans strongly against contracts or arrangements in restraint of marriage. A husband could leave his widow an annuity, to terminate if she should remarry, and this would be upheld, but I think the courts might have baulked at leaving her substantial property which she was to forfeit if she remarried.

Thank you! Would it matter that the codicil specified that she couldn’t marry one particular person? The codicil left her free to remarry, as long as she didn’t marry Will Ladislaw.

That’s different. What the law doesn’t like is a general restraint on marriage. Prohibitions on a particular marriage or marriages, but which leave someone free to marry otherwise, are (or used to be) much more likely to pass muster.

Thanks again. Casaubon’s codicil was cruel and selfish, but considering that there are still laws on the books about who can marry whom, the codicil isn’t the aberration that I thought it was.

Nowadays I doubt it would pass muster, but back then, when wives were legally considered little more than a chattel of their husbands, I could see the codicil being enforced. Historically speaking, carrying out with the wishes of the decedent has been more important than any other single consideration.

True. One of the things that surprised me about the book was that Dorothea was allowed to manage her income as she saw fit. I don’t know if that was true to the time or if it was Eliot being forward-thinking, or wishful. I suppose it helped that she was 21 by the time she came into all that money.

Anyway, it’s a great book, and it left me with lots of stuff to think about.

There is a great BBC mini series version of it too if you are interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middlemarch_(1994_TV_serial)

It’s on my wish list at Amazon. There’s a George Eliot box set (five filmed books) for about $30. That’s a bargain.

Another legal question that puzzled me was why nothing was done about Bulstrode’s fraud. He knew that his first wife’s daughter was alive and he didn’t tell anyone, keeping her estate for himself. I suppose if Ladislaw (the remaining heir) wasn’t interested in pursuing it, there wasn’t anything to be done. It still sucks. :slight_smile: