Property Law was Family Law


Powley wrote  in 1943: 

"Any collection of facts concerning de la Pomerais not heads of the house from 1066 onwards is a task which has not, it seems, so far attracted attention.

Fans of Downton Abbey are familiar with Lord Grantham’s predicament; a man of great estate who had three daughters and no sons.  At the time of Grantham’s marriage to Cora, a wealthy American heiress, his father established an entail that locked Cora’s money into the patrilineal estate.  While Lord Grantham accepted that after the death of his orinal heir, Matthew Crowley, a distant relative was to inheirt,, his predicament was over Cora's money.  Was “her” money really locked in so tight? Could the entail be broken so that their daughters could benefit? Apparently not.

Blackstone, in “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” put it this way:  “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband . . .”



Property law was family law

Inheritance of property was part of the natural order of things, but property, manors, castles, office, and titles, were not equally heritable. The ancestral knights fee was to go to the first born son, complete, but a man could give his acquisitions to whomsoever he preferred.  A father could turn an acquisition into a marriage portion for a daughter, or endow a younger son.  Curiously,  lands acquired by collateral succession was counted as an acquisition.  For instance: Squire Henry Pomeroy bestowed land on his oldest son St Cleer Pomeroy at the time of the latter’s.  marriage. St Cleer died without children and his heir was his next younger brother, Richard, who also became heir to his father. The land from his brother was counted as an acquisition,  not as inheritable land.  Distinction between inheritance and acquisition as one of several means whereby the family maintained unity of its property yet made provision for cadet branches. When the relationship between collateral branches became tenuous, the family always sought to ensure reversion in the courts. 

The legal system in the 15th and 16th centuries did place lands in the hands of women, but only temporarily,  in the form of dowers or jointures in order to provide for themselves, their dependents and female relatives in their widowhood. 

Providing for widows, daughters, and younger sons was a concern patriarchs took seriously, and there were subtle methods employed to work around the existing laws of primogeniture.

For instance, if the heir agreed, a patriarch could break out a portion of the property, assign it to a group of trustworthy friends, and have them giftit back to himself and his wife, thus legally separating it from the main inheritance (patriline) of the estate. 

Because they placed the well being of their own descendants first, a widow who had control of property after her husbands death often choose her own heir,  and in doing so, created a new patrilineal line of land ownership.

de la Pomerai



A prime example of how women influenced change and thus caused future dissension was the major upheaval in the patrilineal line of the Pomeroy’s in the late 14th and early 15th century.    John de la Pomerai (   ~1416), and his wife Joanna had no children.  His legal heir was Edward, son of his cousin, Thomas. The manor of Tregony had already been settled on Edward and his wife Margaret Bevill, but John was under a great deal of pressure to break the entail in favor of his sisters children. 

It helps us to understand the pressure John de la Pomerai was under when we learn that his wife,  Joan Merton, had been married first to James Chudleigh, and that she was his second wife. Chudleigh by his first marriage was father of Sir James Chudleigh, who was married to John de la Pomerais' sister,  Joan.   James and Joan Chudleigh had a daughter Johanna, who was both niece and step-grandaughter to Joan Pomeroy nee Merton.  

Yes,  John de la Pomeroy regranted the manor of Beri, in 1387, to himself and his wife, with his heirs being the children of his two sisters.  Soon after John died his widow turned both her dower rights and the manor of Berry Pomeroy over to JoannaChudleigh, and her 3rd husband, Sir Thomas Pomeroy of Allaleigh (Cornworthy).   

As one might expect, great struggles ensued between Sir Edward Pomeroy and the usurper, Sir Thomas, but there was no help for it; the latter’s control of Berry Pomeroy was firmly supported by the King.  Although Johanna died in 1423,  Sir Thomas Pomeroy, “The King’s Knight,” remained in possession ofBeri for the remainder of his life. (1428.)

It wasn’t until 1428 that Edward de la Pomerai, the right heir, had undisputed claim to Beri.  



Pomerey impalled with Chudleigh

Pomerey impalled with Chudleigh