I am in the process of attempting to buy a house in the UK; as it has stood for about a hundred years, the deeds feature some unusual clauses. For example, this conveyance from 1921:

(Subject to any necessary consent of the local authority) The right at any time or times prior to the expiration of a period commencing on the 22nd day of December 1920 and terminating on the 20th anniversary of the death of the last survivor of the issue now living of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria to make connection with all or any of the part of the hereinbefore mentioned storm water drains and sewers which shall be so constructed and laid on the Vendor's land by the Secretary of State and to make use of the said storm water drains and sewers for the passage and running of water and soil from the said King's Weston Estate or any part or parts thereof or any building erected or to be erectd on any part of the said Estate PROVIDED NEVERTHELESS that all such connections shall be made and maintained by and at the expense of the Vendor his heirs or assigns and to the reasonable satisfaction of the Secretary of State his successors or assigns and that the Vendor his heirs or assigns shall henceforth pay and bear a fair proportion of the cost of maintaining those parts of the said storm water drains and sewers and their accessories which shall carry the water and soil discharged thereinto by the Vendor his heirs or assigns and that if the capacity of the said storm water drains and sewers shall be insufficient to allow of the reception of the water and soil aforesaid or if consequent upon such reception the capacity of the said storm water drains and sewers shall at any time become insufficient to meet the drainage requirements for the time being of the Secretary of State his successors or assigns then in either of such cases the Vendor his heirs or assigns shall pay the cost of any necessary enlargements of the said storm water drains and sewers which the Secretary of State his successor or assigns shall think fit to make.

Apologies for the apparent lack of formatting - that is genuinely how it appears, punctuation apparently being a luxury at the time it was drafted. What I'm curious about is the use of the life (+20 years) of 'the issue' (her own children?) of Queen Victoria being used to establish a time limit on this clause.

Another condition, added in 1973, (which I'll spare you the similar wall-of-text for) starts similarly:

If at any time during the lives of the descendants now living of His late Majesty King George V and the life of the last survivor of them and twenty-one years after the death of such last survivor (such period being hereinafter referred to as “the perpetuity period”)...

I assume it was not permitted to specify a 'perpetuity period' that was unbounded. But how did unknowable time spans (rather than, say, 99 year terms) come to be favoured for legal documents of this type? Would it always be expressed in relation (ha!) to a monarch, alive or dead? How far up/down the family tree could one reasonably go? Is this still used today (and thus my ignorance is of legal rather that historical matters), and if not, what changed?

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    Vital information: When was this drafted? My intuition suggests that one can reference the issue of anyone already born, but not the issue of anyone not already born. Nov 29, 2020 at 16:51
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    I have added dates for the two quoted clauses. Nov 29, 2020 at 16:58
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    @PieterGeerkens: it says "the last survivor of the issue now living", which I take to mean the death of the last person living at the time of the contract who was a child, grandchild, great grandchild etc of Victoria. I imagine that the reason for choosing the issue of the monarch is that they would all be expected to be traceable, and so the date determinable; but why not a fixed term of years, I don't know.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 29, 2020 at 17:16
  • The first clause starting 1920-12-22, until 1992-05-28 (Eduard VIII, death 1972-05-28) and extended in 1973 to 21 years after the death of Elizabeth II's 4 children and Princess Margaret's 2 children. Nov 30, 2020 at 3:24

1 Answer 1


This is an attempt to escape the rule against perpetuities.

No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.

A ninety-nine year lease raises the possibility that the heir in question can not be the "life in being" required. For instance, John Doe takes a lease, and dies immediately. His son James Doe has a child immediately after the death, and then after twenty-two years, dies. This grandchild is the heir, but was not a life in being at the time the right (interest) was created, and it's been twenty-two years, and therefore the grandchild can not inherit the right.

"Royal lives clauses" were created to get around this. Because royal families are large and wealthy, the likelihood of one of them living to within twenty-one years is large. Other variations of this clause include "Kennedy clause" -- descendants of Joseph Kennedy. The only rule is that it has to be practical to determine the lives referred to. It's common to used a deceased monarch because of a greater number of descendants.

The use postdates 1682, which was the first formulation of the rule against perpetuities.

The rule against perpetuities has been modified in many jurisdictions, and therefore the clause is not so widely used, but it's still used where it applies.

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    So "as long as any descendant of Queen Victoria can be traced, plus 20 years" is one heck of a perpetuity. ;-) Nov 29, 2020 at 17:51
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    Any descendant now living
    – Mary
    Nov 29, 2020 at 18:03
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    Any descendant then living !
    – Ángel
    Nov 29, 2020 at 21:51
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    Also worth noting that a benefit to using royalty, as well as a large number of descendants, is that they're people who are not likely to disappear from the public eye. It would be straightforward for a future lawyer to identify all the descendants who were born before the relevant date and determine whether they're still alive - if you used someone less prominent this might get difficult to trace in future. Nov 29, 2020 at 22:37
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    @Andrew The use of royalty also discourages someone tracking down and murdering the whole family of the person in question. It's a lot harder to do that and get away with it when the person is well-known and powerful than if you just picked some regular person (e.g. the original lease holder or something). Nov 30, 2020 at 21:57

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