Lucy Monoux, 1777-1843, was the daughter of a baronet, and rich, owning at least one farm and a large house with its own land. She wrote a will in 1841 leaving ownership of most of her estate to trustees who were to hold it for the use of Charlotte Gordon. Charlotte was born in Madras in 1804, daughter of William Hesse Gordon, paymaster for the East India Company. The family probably moved back to London before 1813. Charlotte was unmarried when the will was made. But there was a catch:

... in trust to pay such rents, profits and proceeds to the said Charlotte Catherine Gordon during the term of her natural life, provided she shall not marry any person not born a subject of Great Britain.

Lucy was serious about this:

And from and after the decease of the said Charlotte Catherine Gordon, or if she (the said Charlotte Catherine Gordon) shall intermarry with any person not born a subject of Great Britain, then immediately from and after such marriage, upon trust, to pay such rents, profits and annual proceeds unto, and to stand possessed of, such part of the remainder of my personal estate as shall not consist of money, or securities for money, and shall not have been disposed of as hereinbefore directed, for and for the sole use of the said Frances Sally Gordon for the term of her natural life, provided she do not marry any person not born a subject of Great Britain.

Spinster Charlotte could live in luxury and ease, but marry a foreigner and she'd be out on her ear the next day. The same for Frances, who was Charlotte's sister and second in line. If she married a foreigner, she was to be turfed out and one trustee got to keep everything himself.

I know it was common in the past for testators to try and exercise control over their legacy after their death, but I'm puzzled as to just what was going on here.

  • Was it common in 19th century English wills to stipulate that the beneficiary could not marry a foreigner?

I have tried searching other wills online, but unfortunately "intermarry" is Victorian legalese for "marry", so it turns up lots of results just talking about marrying anyone, not someone with a different status. I'm hoping someone here is familiar with the wills of the time.

I did wonder if this shows Lucy's racism. Charlotte was a child in India and may have had Indian friends and spoken kindly of them, and Lucy was horrified at the idea Charlotte might marry a brown person. But the will specifies "born a subject of Great Britain", prohibiting Charlotte marrying, say, someone from Germany. Queen Victoria had married a German the year before, so that was definitely socially acceptable, but Lucy wouldn't allow it. So was Lucy driven by an extreme nationalism, xenophobia rather than racism? Or, was there some obscure legal reason why the beneficiary of a trust couldn't be allowed to marry abroad, some quirk of ownership of the trust?

  • Did English 19th century wills ever specify that the beneficiary could only marry someone with white skin?

  • From knowledge of typical wills of the time, can we tell whether Lucy was expressing her racism? Or whether she was driven by extreme nationalism? Or some legal quirk?

Charlotte was at least slightly touchy about her origins. In the 1871 census, under "Where born", Charlotte has "Madras India British Subject".

In fact, Charlotte married a rich Englishman in 1842, inherited in 1843, and lived until her death in 1885 on the estate left for her use. Frances died before 1885, so the trustees sold everything off then.

A transcript of Lucy's will is here. A copy of the original can be bought at the National Archives. Or, with a subscription, is at ancestry.com.

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    I don't think you can get anything but a guess to the core question of "was Lucy driven by an extreme nationalism, xenophobia rather than racism?". Only Lucy herself would be able to answer. However, as a first step, it would be useful to get a legal definition of exactly who would be "a subject of Great Britain". I suspect it wasn't limited to people born in the British Isles.
    – Steve Bird
    Mar 3, 2017 at 9:45
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    I agree that Lucy's reasons will require guessing, but if other wills of the time had similar wordings, it could be less of a personal bias and more of a traditional wording. On the other hand, if this wording is common to wills of people born in India and other places under British rule, it could be symptomatic of a societal bias in relation to British subjects born and raised abroad. At any rate, is an interesting question. Mar 3, 2017 at 13:57
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    Nationalism (not racism - I think a British subject would have been anyone in the Empire at the time) wouldn't be unusual at the time. We'd just defeated Napoleon in 1815, had one quarter of the world under the crown, and didn't really like anyone (except maybe some Germans).
    – user13123
    Mar 3, 2017 at 14:00
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    As for Victoria marrying a German would have not been the norm - but she was mostly German herself, and also royalty were limited in their choice to other European royalty or the most senior European nobility at the time. Since we did not get on with anyone other than some German states less than anyone else at the time, Victoria had very severe limits on who she could marry.
    – user13123
    Mar 3, 2017 at 14:04
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    emrys57 - This question asks who qualifies as a British Subject. history.stackexchange.com/questions/35805/… The answers indicate that most people born in British possessions would count as British subjects, thus including millions of persons not usually considered white. If that is correct it may have been to exclude foreign men whose lands were not ruled by Britain instead of non white men. More research is needed.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 3, 2017 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


A little bit of both, but mostly "nationalism."

First of all, the will opposed a marriage of Charlotte to say a Frenchman or a German, (at least unless they happened to be British subjects like some Germans from Hannover). The idea then was that by marrying, a woman took on the nationality of her husband. So a foreign marriage would make her ineligible to inherit because she would, in effect, no longer be a British subject.*

On the other hand, people of British and some "colonial" blood were accepted as "British" (demonstrated by British subjects), if the British elements clearly predominated. In this case, the non-British elements could be no more than half, and ideally no more than a quarter. The British subject part protected a lot of people of "mixed" blood. The British did not adopt the American standard of "one drop" regarding non-British blood, and were less racist than the Americans.

British wills tended to be less explicit about things like skin color than say, American wills. ("Race" was not as everpresent an issue in British society as in American.) Clearly, testators wanted to keep their money out of the "wrong" hands, but they would use more "coded" language such as "British subject" in wills and other documents to accomplish this.

Put another way, the dividing line for Britishers was "British" and "non-British," whereas for many Americans, it was "white," or "non-white."

*Philosopher Samuel Johnson said that he would support his daughter as long as she remained single, but once she married, this support would cease so that her choice of a husband would basically be a choice of her standard of living.

  • I would love to tick your very insightful answer, but what I'd really like is a definitive answer to my questions about wills forbidding marriage to a foreigner or to someone of the wrong skin colour. So I'll hold off for the moment. But, thanks very much!
    – emrys57
    Mar 6, 2017 at 7:53
  • @emrys57: I did add two paragraphs about British and American language.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 6, 2017 at 19:43

While it is not to do with marriage, it is to do with nationalism, his Wikipedia article confirms that in 1877 Cecil Rhodes, the British colonial magnate (present-day Zimbabwe was formerly known after him as Rhodesia) wrote a will leaving much of his wealth

"for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world...the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity."

He later decided that this was too ambitious and in his last will hoped to achieve the same ultimate end by leaving money to enable American, Commonwealth and German students with leadership potential to study in Britain at Oxford University, in the hope that this would encourage links between future leading men of those countries and those of Britain. ("Rhodes Scholars"). Again according to Wikipedia,: 'Eight former Rhodes scholars subsequently became heads of government or heads of state, including Wasim Sajjad (Pakistan), Bill Clinton (United States), Dom Mintoff (Malta), John Turner (Canada), Norman Manley (Jamaica) and three Australian prime ministers: Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull'. Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State in the 1960s, was also a Rhodes Scholar.

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