A title of nobility normally goes into abeyance under English law when the holder has no son but has two or more daughters.

When a man has several sons, his eldest son becomes his heir upon his death. If the man is a baron, his eldest son becomes the next baron. If a man has sons and daughters, the sons come first regardless of age, and the eldest son is still his heir.

Normally under English law, peerages do not descend to females at all. (It is more common under Scottish law.) But some do, and if a man has no sons, only a daughter, she becomes his heir at his death, and she becomes the baroness.

When he has no sons, and two or more daughters, they are all his joint heirs. They are called coheirs or heirs portioner or co-parceners. No one of them becomes the next baroness. The barony is suspended -- it is in abeyance -- between them.

This state continues until all but one of the daughters dies. She, as the sole heir, now becomes the baroness. The further complication is that the other daughters might themselves have heirs. If the barony is in abeyance between two daughters Anne and Betty, and Anne has a son John, then dies, the inheritance is still in abeyance between the two lines. It is John and Betty who are now coheirs. If John has three sons, five daughters, a gazelle, and a hammerhead shark, then dies, his half of the line of inheritance continues to be represented. Only when all branches but one are extinct, and the split heirship resolves itself into a single surviving heir, does the abeyance cease, and someone once more becomes the baron(ess).

In practice the situation often does not become this convoluted, because the Sovereign may terminate (or determine) the abeyance in favour of the eldest daughter (or her heir if she is already dead).

When the abeyance is allowed to continue so long that it is no longer possible to tell who all the coheirs are, the title is said to be dormant. It is much harder to determine or revive a dormancy.

Abeyance (Old French abeance, 'gaping'), a state of expectancy in respect of property, titles or office, when the right to them is not vested in any one person, but awaits the appearance or determination of the true owner.

In law, the term abeyance can only be applied to such future estates as have not yet vested or possibly may not vest. For example, an estate is granted to A for life, with remainder to the heir of B, the latter being alive; the remainder is then said to be in abeyance, for until the death of B it is uncertain who his heir is. Similarly the freehold of a benefice, on the death of the incumbent, is said to be in abeyance until the next incumbent takes possession.

The most common use of the term is in the case of peerage dignities. If a peerage which passes to heirs-general, like the ancient baronies by writ, is held by a man whose heir-at-law is neither a male, nor a woman who is an only child, it goes into abeyance on his death between two or more sisters or their heirs, and is held by no one till the abeyance is terminated; if eventually only one person represents the claims of all the sisters, he or she can claim the termination of the abeyance as a matter of right.

The crown can also call the peerage out of abeyance at any moment, on petition, in favour of any one of the sisters or their heirs between whom it is in abeyance. The question whether ancient earldoms created in favour of a man and his 'heirs' go into abeyance like baronies by writ has been raised by the claim to the earldom of Norfolk created in 1312, discussed before the Committee for Privileges in 1906. It is common, but incorrect, to speak of peerage dignities which are dormant (i.e. unclaimed) as being in abeyance. (J. H. R.)

Being the entry for ABEYANCE in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

A*bey"ance (#), n. [OF. abeance expectation, longing; a (L. ad) + baer, beer, to gape, to look with open mouth, to expect, F. bayer, LL. badare to gape.]

1. Law

Expectancy; condition of being undetermined.

⇒ When there is no person in existence in whom an inheritance (or a dignity) can vest, it is said to be in abeyance, that is, in expectation; the law considering it as always potentially existing, and ready to vest whenever a proper owner appears.



Suspension; temporary suppression.

Keeping the sympathies of love and admiration in a dormant state, or state of abeyance. De Quincey.


© Webster 1913.

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