Things I shouldn’t say


To the extent that I have a reputation in the online community of authors and readers, I’ve staked it on trying to speak clearly, intelligently, and correctly about things that I know about. I may not always succeed, but I always make the effort.

This is particularly true when it comes to legal matters. That’s why I post about the First Amendment, the Google Book Settlement, and the legality of text to speech on Amazon’s Kindle. It’s also why I post about annulment and debtor’s prison. Even if I think I know something cold, I don’t post anything legal without checking and double-checking the law first–even if I am posting a one-off comment on Dear Author.

While people may not always agree with my legal analysis, I want them to trust that I can back up what I say with solid, intelligent arguments. I want you to be able to trust that when I comment on Dear Author historical first pages saying, “this is legally possible” or “this is legally not possible,” that I’ve thought it out and looked it up and can provide pages of citation, if necessary. In fact, I will often provide them before I’m asked.

I don’t say anything about legalities without checking that I am right, and for good reason. My reputation on this question really, really matters to me–both because of what I say online, and because I write books that sometimes have legally intricate subplots.

At its heart, Unveiled, my upcoming February release, is about the interaction between two families: the Dalrymples, the children of the current Duke of Parford. They were declared bastards when the marriage that produced them was found to be bigamous. Then there’s the Turners, distant cousins who stand to inherit when the duke dies.

The Dalrymples aren’t taking this lying down, though: they’ve asked Parliament to legitimize them and restore their inheritance. This pending bill is a big part of what pits Ash Turner, my hero, against Margaret Dalrymple, the heroine.

I’ll stake my reputation as an author on the validity of that legal arrangement: the bastardization, and the ability of Parliament to legitimize bastards and restore their inheritance.

The correct statement of the law on legitimized bastards is this:

Where a person is admittedly a bastard by birth, there is no way, generally speaking, in which he can be made legitimate, except by Act of Parliament.

The Laws of England.

That exception–that you can become legitimate and inherit by Act of Parliament–is what Unveiled depends on. The disinherited Dalrymples are not seeking legitimation through ecclesiastical decree. They’re not relying on some technicality in canon law. They’re going directly to Parliament and saying, “We will not be able to inherit unless you pass a law that says we can.”

I know Parliament can do this for two reasons. First, and most generally, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty says that Parliament can make or unmake any law it wishes. The only thing it can’t do is bind future Parliaments. So if there’s a law that says that bastards can’t inherit, Parliament can undo that law.

Second, we know that this can happen specifically because bastard children have in fact inherited by Act of Parliament. For instance, Parliament legitimized the children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancester, allowing them to inherit from their father everything except the possibility of succession to the throne. Parliament also legitimized the children of Sir Ralph Sadler, whose wife was a bigamist (she believed her first husband was dead), and stated that their children “shall att all tymes hereafter for ever be had, reputed, taken, esteemed and adjudged legitimate and lawful children begotten of the body of ye said Ralph Sadler, and shall be inheritable as well to the same Ralph Sadler…to all intents, constructions, and purposes, as they hadde been ingendered, begotten, and borne, in lawful, perfect, and indissolvable matrimony.” You can read the entire text of that Act here.

I modeled the putative Act of Legitimation in Unveiled after the real-life Act passed for the benefit of Ralph Sadler’s children.

For a more comprehensive discussion, footnote (g) on this page of The Laws of England collects cases of legitimation by Act of Parliament, including a discussion on the particularities of inheriting through such legitimation.

So if you are wondering, for any reason, whether the arrangement in Unveiled is valid…it is. I research these things very thoroughly. If you ever have questions about the validity of any of the legalities I mention in my book, please e-mail me and I will be delighted to share with you the reams of research on the subject. And, lesson learned: next time, include an author’s note. Just in case.

I’m not allowing comments to this entry, not because I want to squelch discussion, but because I don’t want to tempt myself to say any more than I have.

That tells you that this is a more passive-aggressive post than it really should be–and I wouldn’t have said any of this if I didn’t think that this reflected not only on Unveiled itself, but on the character and reputation that I have painstakingly tried to establish.

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Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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