A Case in Chancery

On 24 December 1779, when he was about eight years old, John Enys took out a complaint in Chancery against his sister and the trustees of his father’s will.

Samuel Enys, John’s father, had died on 1 January 1776 when he was only 26 years old and John not quite four.  A couple of years before he died, Samuel had made a will, in which he appointed John his whole and sole executor and also appointed his wife Sarah, his uncle Samuel Enys, and his brother-in-law James Pettit Andrews, as trustees of his will and guardians of his children (John and his sister Lucy Anne).

Although the Chancery case was brought by John Enys and ‘John Hingeston …., his next friend’, I think it is likely that it was instigated by his uncle Francis Enys, who later inherited the estate after John’s death.  Francis may have had concerns that John’s mother, Sarah, who had recently remarried, was taking money from the estate to which she was not entitled and a case in Chancery would have been the best way to ascertain the facts and correct any wrong doing. 

In bringing the case, John states the following

  • during his life, his father possessed a large real and personal estate
  • before he died on 1 January 1776 he had executed a will
  • when he died he left a widow and two children
  • John was appointed executor and residuary legatee in the will
  • Sarah Enys (widow), Samuel Enys (uncle) and James Pettit Andrews (brother-in-law) were appointed trustees and executors during John’s minority
  • the will was proved by one or more of the trustees, who had since taken all the income from the estate
  • Sarah Enys (the widow) had now re-married
  • he, John, had applied to the trustees for an income from the estate for his maintenance and education but had not been able to reach an agreement with them

John then applies to the court of Chancery for the case to be investigated and a judgement made as to whether the will has been properly executed and administered.  He also asks the court to appoint an administrator for the estate, ensure he receives a proper allowance and that he may have the care and protection of the court.

One short section of the ‘Complaint’ is worth quoting in full both to give a flavour of the content and the language; it concerns the inheritance of Lucy Anne, John’s sister.

“And the said Lucy Enys insists that under and by virtue of the said will of your orator’s said late father she will, upon attaining her age of twenty one years or being married, become entitled to the sum of three thousand pounds to be raised and paid to her out of the real or personal estate of your orator’s said late father and that interest for such sum of three thousand pounds at the rate of four pounds per cent per annum from the time of your orator’s said late father’s death until she shall attain her said age of twenty one years ought to be paid to her or applied for her maintenance and education out of the rents and profits of the real estates or the produce of the personal estate of your orator’s said late father.  But your orator humbly insists that, if the said will of your orator’s said late father was not duly executed or attested in such manner as is necessary for passing or charging real estates, his real estates will not be subject or liable to the payment of such sum of three thousand pounds or of any interest  for the same to the said Lucy Enys.”

Statements were taken from the various parties to the case, all of whom confirmed that Samuel Enys had indeed possessed a large estate and that he had written a will which had been proved by the executors in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  Each added certain other information.

John Hersent Thorpe and Sarah his wife (formerly Sarah Enys) – 14 Nov 1780

Added that, although they had received some sums of money in respect of Sarah’s dower and for the children, they had not received anything from Samuel’s estate.  With the consent of the other trustees, Sarah had also had the use of Samuel’s house in Donnington, near Newbury, Berks, to which certain items had been transported from Enys in Cornwall.  The house and other items had been surrendered back to the trustees upon her remarriage.  They were not aware of any requests from John for money.  Sarah was aware that she was not entitled to both her dower and also to the bequest made to her in the will and she had therefore, about a year after Samuel’s death, elected to take her dower rather than the bequest and had signed an instrument to that effect.

 James Pettit Andrews and Ann his wife – 14 May 1781

Added that John and Lucy lived with and had been maintained by their mother, Sarah Enys, now Sarah Thorpe.  Also that James had managed and taken care of the estates and received some of the profits of them which he was willing to account for.

 Samuel Enys (the uncle) – 12 June 1781

Added that he had not received any income from the estates in question but that he believed that James Pettit Andrews had managed them and received some of the rent and profits of them.

 Lucy Enys – 19 June 1781

Since Lucy was a minor, aged only 7 when the statement was taken, she was asked to choose who should be her guardian and sign her statement on her behalf; she chose her mother Sarah Thorpe.

She added that she hoped the court would protect her inheritance as detailed in her father’s will.

 I have not been able to trace the judgement of the court, but entries in the London Gazette of March and May 1793 (calling for creditors of Samuel Enys to come forward) indicate it had been settled.  Also two account books of the receiver appointed by the court have survived which give some indication of the outcome. These relate to the period 1782-1792.  In these the properties owned by Samuel Enys at the time of his death are listed, together with the income and expenses related to them.  Both of them include estates from which Sarah was entitled to receive dower, which is calculated, and some from which she was not entitled to receive dower many (possibly all) of which were inherited by Samuel from his father during the period of his marriage.  Lucy received an inheritance of £80 a year (about £6,000 at current prices) for these years and John £280 a year (over £21,000 at current prices).  Sarah’s income was not paid until after her death in 1785 (it was left to Lucy in her will); it averaged about £286 a year for the years 1782 to 1785.  However the Receiver also did well out of the matter, receiving a salary (dependent on the funds handled) averaging £120 a year (about £9,000 at current prices) plus expenses (including a trip to London in the first year).

Between the start of the case and her death, Sarah’s second husband died and she married for a third time.  Sarah was only 33 when she died and Lucy was 12.  In her will she appoints guardians for Lucy (her husband Henry Eyre and her brother-in-law James Pettit Andrews) but there is no mention of guardians for John, so it is likely that he was made a ward of Chancery.

Sources:  Documents in National Archives

C 12/1657/4 Enys v Thorpe 1779

C 12/1663/7 Enys v Enys 1781

C 101/2785 Enys v Eyre

C 101/2786 Enys v Eyre

Jane Wood



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