Disgruntled son of baronet will take ‘name and arms’ case to Supreme Court

19 January 2012

The England & Wales Court of Appeal has ruled that a baronet’s failure to adopt the ancestral family name did not disqualify him from inheriting the family castle.

Sir John Howard-Lawson inherited Corby Castle in north Cumbria in 1962 and sold it for GBP2.5 million in 1994. It had been the family seat for four hundred years.

His own son Philip Howard later demanded a share of the proceeds, amounting to GBP1.5million. He claimed that Sir John had not complied with the archaic terms of a will executed by his great-grandfather Philip John Canning Howard, which instructed all subsequent heirs to change their surnames to Howard and adopt the family coat of arms. Such “name and arms clauses” were traditionally used by the landed classes to keep the family name and arms linked to the estate.

The clause in this particular will was astoundingly tortuous, rambling on for well over 700 words, and making provision for a myriad of highly unlikely eventualities, noted the EWCA.

To satisfy the clause, the beneficiary not only had to adopt the name and arms, but also establish his legal right to do so by an application to the College of Arms, all of this before a deadline set by the will. A court had decided in 1961 that Sir John’s father William had not met this test, which had led to William forfeiting the succession and Sir John becoming life tenant of the landed estate.

Philip Howard’s claim is that Sir John himself never satisfied the name and arms clause either, since his petition to the College was not lodged until after the year allowed him had expired. Therefore he too was disqualified as beneficiary of his great-grandfather’s will.

Philip lost his case in the England & Wales High Court in January 2011. He then went to the Court of Appeal, which has just ruled against him once again. The details are too arcane to go into here, but briefly, it decided that Sir John had at least applied to use the surname and coat-of-arms within the time specified in the will, and had thus complied sufficiently to avoid forfeiture.

Sir John was awarded GBP23,000 costs, even though he had represented himself in court. But Philip Howard is not giving up. He now intends to take the case to the Supreme Court.





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BAILII (2011 EWHC decision)


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