The Tale of the Fee Tail in Downton Abbey
Ruhl, J. B.
Under the fee tail arrangement at work in Downton Abbey, known as a fee tail male, possession of the property passes from the first grantee of the entailed estate, who (of course) is a male, to his lineal male heirs. Because of rules of primogeniture prevailing at the time, the estate passed to the grantee's oldest son. Then that male heir passes the estate on to his oldest son, who passes it to his oldest son, and so on. But what if the fifth lucky fellow in this chain has no sons? In that sad state of affairs, the estate will hunt around for another male heir in the lineage from the original grantee of the estate in fee tail male. If there are no such heirs, the estate reverts to the original grantor (or his assignees or heirs). Either way, the wife and daughters of the gentleman in this predicament are out of luck, which illustrates the point of the fee tail-to prevent the estate from leaking outside the family.