Vanity Fair

Hands up if you have read Vanity Fair. I must admit I have read this – and watched the series – and loved it!

This classic novel, by English writer William Thackeray, was first published in the magazine Punch in 1847; not as a book but serialised in a magazine. This is set around the times of the Napoleonic wars and charts the life and loves of two friends. 


For those of you not familiar with the story I shall give you a synopsis. There is a young orphan girl Becky Sharpe and she is destitute, with nowhere to go. A strong-willed and determined girl she aims to make her fortune on the back of others. 


Becky Sharpe befriends a lovely, well-refined girl called Amelia; Amelia has considerable wealth but is gullible and not worldly-wise. Becky is manipulative and conniving and aims to use her rich heiress friend to her own advantage. 

Becky Sharpe is forced to become a governess and marries into wealth, while Amelia marries a man disinherited by his father. 

Lets now look at the legalities in more depth..
Closer analysis of this story and the law around inheritance and succession offers good discussion points. 

The right to gift your property, chattels, real estate etc. to whom you wish is specific to English and Welsh Law and differs from the rules of many civil law jurisdictions. 

Matilda Crawley knows that her family want to inherit her enormous wealth but she has the upper hand and keeps them all guessing as to who will inherit her fortune. If Captain Rawdon is not left anything, he has no claim. However, if this had happened after 1975 then, possibly, he would have been able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. 

Captain Rawdon relied on the charity of his aunt to maintain his lifestyle so may qualify as a ‘person being maintained’. Historically though he had no rights. 

In 1814 the primary piece of legislation governing Will writing (The Wills Act 1837) hadn’t yet come into force. In 1796 there was an introduction of taxing estates and this was to help against Napoleon.

Disinheriting a relative was also prevalent in the Osbourne’s story line. George disobeyed his Father’s request to go to war and the request to marry Amelia. George was at risk of disinheriting himself.

In the early 1800s, Inheritance law was different from when Vanity Fair was set and in 1894 a new inheritance tax legislation was introduced to help the government pay off a £4m deficit. 

Death tax (as it became known), in some form, has been in place since 1694 and many tax avoidance schemes have been used by people, like Mr Osbourne, who will gift or give away assets over a lifetime to avoid any charges. 

We do not advocate tax avoidance but with proper estate planning you can minimise any potential inheritance tax due.

Karen Wells,
Avalon Legal

For further information contact

Avalon Legal on

07506 583669

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