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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The TWO Disinheritances of Jane Austen: James Leigh Perrot's Will....and James Austen's Will!

The question arose in another online discussion of Jane Austen as to the date of James Leigh-Perrot's Will, relevant to the question of whether James Leigh-Perrot's ignoring of the Austen women in his Will had anything to do with Henry's banking fiasco. I believe the answer is a resounding "No!", and here's why:

If the following is accurate (and I believe it is---it appears, by the kind of specific detail given as to several different Wills, and their probates, to have been taken from actual probate records)....

....then James Leigh Perrot made his Will on March 13, 1807, and he never made any Codicil to it.

Now, what struck me about that was that Mary Leigh had died on July 2, 1806, and by the terms of Mary Leigh's Will, James Leigh-Perrot received a contingent life estate in the famous Stoneleigh Estate, which he promptly sold back to her Estate, in November, 1806, for a settlement of 20,000 pounds (plus some venison!). And of course we also know that the Austen women visited Stoneleigh Abbey not long after Mary Leigh's death, because we have Mrs. Austen's glowing letter about the visit in the Austen Papers.

But back to the inheritance is surely not a coincidence that JLP made his Will in March 1807, only 4 months after that settlement with Mary Leigh's estate had made him a much richer man than previously. And I am unaware of him coming into any additional vast sum after 1806. So when he made his Will in March 1807, he was fully cognizant of the extent of the wealth he was eventually to pass on in 1817 when he died.

Now, for more background on Jane Austen's falling serious ill after hearing about the Austen women being disinherited by James Leigh Perrot when he died in 1817, here is the link to the first of a series of posts I wrote in January 2010 on that subject: a result of browsing in Le Faye's Chronology while composing this post today, I came across something I had never noticed before on P. 570, i.e., the terms of the Will of James Austen which _he_ made on May 23, 1817, i.e., less than two months after the death of James Leigh Perrot. Apparently, under JLP's Will, James Austen was named as Trustee of a marital trust for the benefit of JLP's widow, who of course was Mrs. Jane Leigh-Perrot, with the remainder upon Mrs. JLP's death to pass entirely to James Austen. Now, ironically, James Austen died in 1819, LONG before the death of Mrs. JLP, so his disposition of his anticipated wealth never materialized. However it is very interesting to see how he _would_ have disposed of this wealth had he received it:

"To Henry, Frank, Charles, and Cassandra, 100 pounds each; to Edward, Martha Lloyd & Eliza Fowle, 50 pounds each; 2 _thousand_ pounds to his wife Mary "at her own disposal"; 1,000 pounds to daughter Anna, 4,000 to daughter Caroline, and the residue (which would have been a few thousand pounds, I reckon) to son JEAL.

The bulk of his anticipated estate, 14,000 pounds, was to be held in trust fbo wife Mary, paying her the interest for her lifetime, with the remainder upon Mary's eventual death to be divided 3,000 pounds to each of Caroline and Anna, and 8,000 pounds to JEAL.

Now, the _big_ question that occurred to me as I read James Austen's Will, and perhaps occurred to some of you when you read the excerpt, above, from James's Will, was--there were _three_ people missing from James's Will who might have been there:

1. Brother George, the disabled brother---was he omitted because adequate provision had already been made for him long ago? Probably......

2. Mother Cassandra--was she omitted because she already had enough, in James's opinion?

3. Sister Jane--who on May 23, 1817, was extremely ill.....but was not yet dead! Including her as one of the beneficiaries of the same 100-pound bequest left to Cassandra, would have been common testamentary practice (I wrote many wills during the early part of my own legal career, and I would have explained that to James Austen---this is routine stuff), because even if Jane had precedeased James, her 100
pound bequest would then simply have vanished, and that money would have gone to the residuary beneficiary, JEAL. So I wonder if there is not something slightly sinister about James leaving Jane _entirely_ out of his Will--a final smack in Jane's face, courtesy of Mary Austen "guiding" her husband's pen while writing his Will---sorta like Mrs. Willoughby guiding Willoughby's pen in writing his "Dear Marianne" letter in S&S!

Cheers, ARNIE

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