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Title: "Corrupt bargains and unconscionable practices" : the expectant heir in seventeenth-century Chancery
Author: Saunders, Helen Ruth
ISNI:       0000 0004 8500 478X
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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The 'expectant heir' Chancery suits have been identified in modern case law, and much of the relevant academic literature, as the origin of the modern doctrine of unconscionable dealing. These suits typically saw young heirs seeking relief from improvident bargains entered into while, short of ready money, they waited to succeed to their estate. The usual relief granted by Chancery was to set aside the bargain on payment of the amount the borrower had actually received, plus reasonable interest, and the basis for this relief has been the subject of conjecture by legal scholars. One prevalent modern theory reflects the contemporary doctrine of unconscionability: that is, the court was protecting the perceived weakness (through youth and inexperience) of the heirs. Another explanation is that Chancery's jurisdiction to relieve expectant heirs reflected the court's concern with protecting the wealth - and thus status - of the ruling classes; however, both these explanations are drawn only from cases appearing in the printed reports, the earliest of which dates from 1663. In contrast, this thesis also analyzes unreported expectant heir suits - and similar suits involving non-heir profligate obligors - found in the enrolled decrees of Chancery, across the whole of the seventeenth century. As a consequence, and by adopting a contextual case study approach, assessing these suits in light of the historical, economic and social context in which they were brought, pleaded and decided, this thesis suggests a qualitatively different understanding of Chancery's jurisdiction to relieve expectant heirs: that the seventeenth-century court of Chancery was at least as concerned with preventing the disruption of the normal operation of the culture of credit which existed at that time, as with the protection of individual obligors or the assets of the dominant classes.
Supervisor: Jones, Neil Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Chancery ; Expectant Heirs ; Unconscionability ; Bonds ; Relief Against Penalties ; Culture of Credit