(Just have to say this: That title makes me grin. When a barrister is selected to be Queen's Counsel, the appropriate phrase is "taking silk." I've seen photos of both my ex-father in law, and his father, on the occasions of their taking silk. Imagine lots of lace and white gloves, in addition to the powdered wig and black attire! And, for all I know, a QC's robes might well have been black silk.)
I just got off the phone with my ex-husband, who's now a patent attorney in Philadelphia, but who was for many years a patent agent in London. His father was a QC in patent law, and his grandfather was a QC in general litigation. My ex is also one of those people who knows everything, and isn't the least bit arrogant or obnoxious about it. So he's a great source for all the legal stuff. Anyway, this post is about what I've learned about the legal affairs contained in Judith Ivory's Black Silk. In my earlier post, I got some of it wrong, and some of it right but with details wrong. I am confessing all my errors & omissions here.
Let's take the paternity claim against Graham. He would have had to go to his QC's chambers, so I was wrong about that: it is, I gather, an issue of legal procedure. My bad. But I was right that the penniless chit (I'll call her Penny) wouldn't have been bringing the action for paternity directly. Instead, she would have applied to the Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor in her parish. Even though that's the Church of England, they also served as social security for impoverished parishioners such as Penny. (I'm assured there are two Church Wardens: One for the right side of the church and one for the left. I've no idea what that means.)
It's the Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor who would have approached Graham with Penny's claim that her twins were his offspring. Most likely, he'd have paid the Church Wardens off, although if he genuinely believed that he was not the father, he could have refused, and the Church Wardens could have brought the legal action to compel him to pay. But here's the really shocking part: In 1858, the standard wages for a working class man to support his family were ten pounds per annum. Ten pounds! So even if Graham pays Penny off, it will cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred pounds.
(Yes, that was a lot of money back then, but he's rich. It's a fraction of what he would have paid for "prime horseflesh," for example. So basically, it's a tiny sum, and it would have solved the problem.)
Right. Now to the suggestion that William (illegitimate son) could have contests Henry's will. According to my ex-husband, William had no standing to even bring an action. Plus, Submit is automatically entitled to both her jointure (meaning the amount that Henry would have settled on her at the time of their marriage, intended as a trust to support her in her widowhood) and her "widow's bench," an archaic term for the portion of the estate's assets that she was entitled to have as his widow.
So. Two things: Even if William (or anyone) sues, that can't prevent Submit from having access to these two sources of funds, which would have been substantial. I believe that her widow's bench (great term, hunh? those wacky Brits!) would have included housing on the estate, so no way would she have been ejected completely. And second, unless he's an heir he has no standing, and as he's illegitimate, he can't be an heir. (He may have been a legatee under the will, but he's not an heir to the estate, if you see what I mean. And it's totally okay if you don't.)
And not that this is relevant, but here's a fun fact my ex threw in. The classic example of an estate that reverts to the Crown is that of an illegitimate bachelor who dies intestate. Meaning: Because he's a bachelor, he has no wife or legitimate children to claim the estate. As he himself is illegitimate, his parents cannot claim the estate. And as he died without a will, no one can inherit. So it all goes to the Crown.
There you go: Church wardens and illegitimacy...