Mysteries in the wills of the ancestors

I recently acquired copies of the wills of my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland (WCM), and his two sons Charles William Morland and Henry Courtenay Morland. (You can search for wills and buy them for £10 from the Government’s probate search website.) Henry, the younger son, is my great grandfather. It’s fascinating what puzzles and clues to the past you can find in a will, although I now feel that we have more questions than answers about these particular ancestors

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William Courtenay Morland with his wife, Margaretta, and their eldest son, Charles

Henry married twice, first to Lady Alice Nevill with whom he had a daughter, Violet. The family gossip has it that he was ‘beastly’ to Alice, and she took to drink and died tragically young, aged 40. His second marriage was to Bessie Laird, daughter of John Laird of Birkenhead, of shipbuilding fame. Henry and Bessie had two sons, William and John. He was also “beastly” to Bessie. I have written about Henry, and the complex character that he was in an earlier post.

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Henry Courtenay Morland

Violet never got on with her father, and they particularly fell out when she became an actress, and also converted to Catholicism. Family gossip also tells us that Henry cut Violet out of his will, so I was intrigued to see whether this was so. Sure enough, Violet is not mentioned in Henry’s will. But, there is an interesting twist to this tale, revealed in Henry’s father’s, WCM’s will. Perhaps WCM found out that Henry was planning to leave Violet out of his will, because he added a codicil to his will to make sure she was provided for.

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William Courtenay Morland with his grandson William

The codicil to WCM’s will is dated 1904, five years before he died, and just after the birth of  Henry’s sons by his second marriage. He states in it that when he originally made his will he had been under the impression that Henry would be leaving Violet a sum of money, but that he had since discovered that she would be inheriting less than he had thought. In his original will, WCM bequeathed to Henry all of “my land at Playden in the County of Sussex known as Boonshill for his own use and benefit absolutely”. Now, by this codicil, he revokes that bequest and instead he places that land, and also another farm at Playden, Cliffs Farm, in trust for Violet, stating that he is “desirous of making such further provision for the said Violet Alice Morland”.

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Violet with her half brother William

The Court Lodge estate passed from WCM to his eldest son, Charles William Morland. Charles and his wife Ada had no children, so it then passed from Charles to Henry’s eldest son William.

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Charles William Morland

Henry himself never owned the estate, although he did live here from when Charles died in 1926 until his own death in 1934. But although he never owned Court Lodge, and so couldn’t bequeath it to the next generation, he did have his own personal wealth to bequeath. As I mentioned above, he left none of it to Violet. He left some specific legacies to his wife and sons: £500 to Bessie, £1,000 to William and £220 to John. The legacy to John appears to come with the condition that he “dispose of it in accordance with my [Henry’s] wishes”, which is a bit odd, and rather controlling.

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Henry Courtenay Morland in later life. I am reminded of Col. Melchett from Blackadder

But the most puzzling thing by far in Henry’s will is how he deals with his “residuary estate”, or the remainder of his assets after all other legacies and expenses have been settled. He leaves it to his younger son John, presumably because William was well provided for having inherited the Court Lodge estate. But the will also specifies what should happen to the residuary estate should John die before Henry leaving no heirs of his own: it would in that case go to William. And if William were also to die before Henry leaving no heirs, it would then go to Bessie, his wife. And then, after Bessie’s death, it would go to someone named Helen Keelan, daughter of Colonel Keelan of the Manor House, Pembury.

Of course, John didn’t die before Henry, so the residuary estate will have gone to him. But what if both John and William had died before Henry leaving no heirs? The residue of Henry’s estate would then, ultimately, have gone to a woman named Helen Keelan. But who was she? No one in the family seems to know.

We are currently doing some research to try and find out more about Helen Keelan, and what her connection to Henry was.

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