Peter Thellusson’s Will of 1797 and Its Consequences on Chancery Law

Author: Polden, Patrick
Year:2002
Pages:498
ISBN:0-7734-7237-1
978-0-7734-7237-2
Price:279.95
This is the first full-length study of the most celebrated will in English history, a will which scandalized society, forced an immediate and rare statutory curb on testamentary freedom, precipitated a Chancery suit lasting more than half a century, and was one of the inspirations for Dickens’s Bleak House. This study, based on the records of the court of Chancery, family papers, and a wide range of official and other printed sources, will be of value to scholars in a number off fields. In business, it explores the activities of the house of Thellusson, one of the biggest firms in international trade and finance in the late 18th century. As social history it explains the place of this innovative will in the development of the law and practice of inheritance and family settlement among the new rich, and discusses the motives for and effect of the legislation hurriedly enacted in response to it. As legal history it provides an unusually detailed account of the workings of the court of Chancery in its most unpopular phase and in its most criticized sphere, the administration of an estate. Furthermore, because the entire property was directed to be invested in land, this study contributes to knowledge of 19th century agriculture by a detailed examination of land purchases and management.

Reviews

“Even today law students in England learn something of the Rule against perpetuities and the accompanying limitations on accumulations which represent the public reaction against the Trust established by Peter Thellusson’s will in 1797. . . Patrick Polden has performed a feat of historical detection which extends across some four centuries and much of Western Europe. H writes the story up with an adept pen and ever-ready range of knowledge about the political, social and business world of a rising clan of Huguenot bankers, who will turn themselves in the end into comfortable, rather placid English gentry.”



“Polden tells the story as legal history as well as family history, and provides abundant information on all leading cases affecting perpetuities, trusts, lineal male descendants, contingent remainders, and the like….As family history the book provides exhaustive information on Peter Thellusson’s forebears as well as on his descendants, in the remorseless detail which historians find irresistible…..” – The Agricultural History Review, Volume 51, Part I

“Even today law students in England learn something of the Rule against perpetuities and the accompanying limitations on accumulations which represent the public reaction against the Trust established by Peter Thellusson’s will in 1797. . . Patrick Polden has performed a feat of historical detection which extends across some four centuries and much of Western Europe. H writes the story up with an adept pen and ever-ready range of knowledge about the political, social and business world of a rising clan of Huguenot bankers, who will turn themselves in the end into comfortable, rather placid English gentry.”

“. . . very skillfully done, both as a study in social history and in inquiry into legal ideas and practice. . . impressed by the scope and thoroughness of the author’s research, not only in printed material in French as well as English, but also in manuscript materials – legal, testamentary and estate. . . . it should command both a scholarly audience and a lay audience interested in Napoleonic England and the vagaries of the English legal system.” – Henry Horwitz

Table of Contents

Preface by Professor A. W. B. Simpson
1. The Most Famous Will in the World
2. The Thellussons
3. Making the Fortune
4. Founding the Family
5. A Tale of Three Cities
6. Property Politics and Peerage
7. Peter Thellusson’s Will
8. The First Round in the Great Law Suit
9. The Thellusson Act
10. In the Shadow of the Will: The First Generation
11. In Chancery: Managing the Fund
12. In Chancery: Managing the Estates
13. The Shadow of the Will: The Second Generation
14. Escaping the Clutches of the Hungry Sloth
15. The Final Round
16. Spending the Fortune
Tables of Cases and Statues
Bibliography; Index