From an email posted to Baen's Bar Honorverse dated June 17, 2005:

Grayson inheritance laws

    In response to your questions about Honor's title, what happened when she was declared dead, etc., etc..

    Under the Grayson Constitution, a steading becomes a permanent, standing territorial unit from the moment that it is first established. Note that this is the Constitution which Benjamin the Great had written after the Civil War. It regularized certain previously purely feudal aspects of the naturally evolving Grayson system and established the basis for future steadings. The surviving older steadings still retain a few legal trappings and traditions from the pre-Constitution era, sort of like Texas' once-upon-a-time right to divide itself into additional states in order to gain greater representation in the Senate.

    From the moment that Harrington Steading was created, it had a territorial, governmental identity. That identity cannot be legally destroyed on Grayson unless the Sword exercises its prerogative (which would require the approval of the Conclave of Steaders and the Conclave of Steadholders) to revoke its original charter, and that can only be done for specific, carefully defined legal reasons. General insurrection, treason, etc.

    The pre-Constitution steadings of Grayson were never the property of the Protector. The protectors before Benjamin the Great didn't "bestow" them on their original steadholders; they represented what were legally independent, colony footholds under the over all authority first of the Church and later of the Conclave of Steadholders. Remember that the Protector was chosen by the vote of the Conclave and was simply first among equals. After the adoption of the Constitution, which recognized Benjamin's paramount status as Protector "by God's will," all of the previously unclaimed territory of the entire planet was considered, in effect, a single, vast, as yet undifferentiated demesne (not to be confused with the Sword Steading which is the Protector's personal demesne) over which the Protector exercised authority, and it remains so today. (For your general information, there's still an enormous amount of planetary surface which falls into that "undifferentiated" category.) When a new steading is formed on Grayson, the Protector petitions the Conclave to approve the "grant in steading." The Protector initiates the move to alienate the territory of which the new steading is to be composed from his personal ownership, but the Conclave has to sign off on his decision. Once he does so, a new, permanent political unit -- for all intents and purposes an independent national unit in a planetary-wide empire -- comes into existence.

    Because of the peculiarities of the fashion in which society on Grayson evolved in the face of religious beliefs and survival imperatives, each of these permanent political units is an autocratic state with its own ruler. Honor, as Steadholder Harrington, is actually as much a head of state in her own right as any planetary president. The Constitution defines the line of inheritance for the title of Steadholder Harrington, and authority as the head of state goes with the title which bestows upon its owner "ownership" of the steading. But, under the Constitution, except for one of those very special, specific reasons mentioned above, the steading itself cannot go out of existence. If the line dies out, with no legal inheritor as defined under the Constitution, then the steading becomes a temporary charge of the Protector, in his status as what might be thought of as "Steadholder of all the Steadholders." It doesn't revert to his ownership, because he no longer owns it from the moment that it was created, but the authority to safeguard the eventual transition to a new steadholder falls upon his shoulders. He can either exercise direct rule over the steading until new arrangements are made, appoint a caretaker/regent to do the same thing, or immediately select someone to replace the dynasty which has just died out.

    What happened when everyone thought that Honor was dead was that Howard Clinkscales, as the Constitution required of him, prepared to surrender his staff of office as Harrington's regent to the Protector. Howard had been appointed as Honor's regent with the approval of the Conclave of Steadholders. His status as Regent continued after her death and would terminate only upon the formal declaration that she had died without legal heir, which was basically what he'd come to Benjamin's office to initiate. At that time, he was required to surrender his authority to Benjamin -- as Protector and head of state for the entire Grayson System -- which is what he prepared to do. Had Benjamin accepted the staff, it would have been formal recognition that the line of succession for Harrington Steading had been broken. At that point, he might have nominated a new steadholder (as, indeed, he proposed to do by nominating Clinkscales), or assumed the caretaker role himself. In either case, he would have had to report to the Conclave of Steadholders that the Harrington Steadholdership was now formally vacant and some arrangement to name a successor would have been put in train. Clinkscales uses the term "escheat" to describe the process, but he is referring not to physical ownership of the territory and "property" of Harrington Steading, but to the legal authority over which individual will come to own that property and the authority as Steadholder Harrington. My selection of that particular verb may have been sloppy in terms of the exact legal meaning under our current statute and common law, but it was the best one I could find to get at the relationship and process I was trying to set forth.

    What Benjamin initially had in mind was to replace the Harrington Dynasty with the Clinkscales Dynasty, following Honor's death. His refusal to accept Howard's staff of office from him was neither a refusal to meet his constitutional obligations nor an abandonment of authority on his part. Had Howard been confirmed as the new Steadholder Harrington, it would have been a perfectly correct exercise of Grayson constitutional law. When Howard refused the Steadholdership and Benjamin still declined to accept his regent's staff of office, he was effectively selecting Howard as the caretaker regent for the steading while he "conducted a search" for the appropriate person to nominate as the new, permanent Steadholder Harrington. Legally, he could have taken much longer to select a new Steadholder than he actually did, and legally he could have named virtually anyone to the position, assuming that the Conclave of Steadholders ratified his choice. He could not simply have handed the steading over to Honor's parents as a matter of inheritance, but he could quite legally have named Allison or Alfred as the new Steadholder Harrington in their own rights, by selection and confirmation, not by inheritance. Instead, he chose the option of passing the steading to Honor's younger sibling, using his authority to establish a caretaker régime to hold the door open for Faith until she was born. The fact that there was a legal precedent for inheritance passing to an as yet unborn child simply helped to clear his path to that objective. What he was able to present to the Conclave of Steadholders was effectively a fait accompli -- "Look, this is not simply my choice as Lady Harrington's successor but her legal successor under the precedent established in the case of Thomas the Second."

    It was because Honor didn't know who her successor would be in the event that she died without issue that she had left her Skydomes fortune to the "next Steadholder Harrington" rather than to a specific individual by name.

    As far as what happened when Honor pulled her Lazarus imitation. Under both Grayson's municipal law code and interstellar law, if someone is believed to have been dead and then turns up alive, he was never legally "dead" in the first place. His property returns to him, as do any aristocratic titles, wealth, etc. There are provisions governing the many messy details which inevitably result from what proves to be an unfounded presumption of death. For example, if the person presumed dead was married and his or her spouse has remarried, then the new marriage is considered valid, and the original marriage is annulled. Or, if property has passed legally to another individual, the original property holder can recover whatever of that property still exists, but cannot recover property which has been sold to a third-party in good faith, nor can he recover damages from the individual who had legally inherited the property if that property has been destroyed, allowed to decrease in value, etc.. Thus, Honor could have moved to reclaim the unexpended portions of her various bequests, but chose not to, both for personal reasons and because, quite frankly, she didn't need to reclaim the bequests when the vast bulk of her fortune had been willed to the next Steadholder Harrington and therefore remained intact to be restored to her.

    As far as the question of dividing the inheritance of her Grayson and Manticoran titles is concerned, she can't legally do it. She may be more than one legal entity residing in the same body, but the inheritance laws of her various planets all pass through the same body she happens to be living in. Therefore, the next Duchess or Duke Harrington and the next Steadholder Harrington -- assuming that she produces an heir of her body at all -- will be the same person, who will probably be two legal individuals residing in the same body, just as she is. She could abdicate one or both of her titles, in which case Elizabeth and Parliament, on the one hand, or Benjamin and the Conclave, on the other hand, could choose to settle the abdicated title(s) on whichever of her multiple children they chose. Going at it that way, and assuming that she secured the approval of the heads of state and legislatures involved, she could separate the titles while still keeping them in her own line, but it wouldn't be by simply "willing" one title to one child, and the other title to another.

    As far as the inheritance of other steadings on Grayson is concerned, when the Conclave of Steadholders accepted Benjamin's insistence that female children be included in the line of succession, they grandfathered in the special status of male heirs who already existed. That is, if any Steadholder had a male child at the time that the change in inheritance laws was accepted, that male child took precedence over any female child. However, any male child born after the change in inheritance laws would take his place with all of his other siblings strictly in birth order. In Abigail Hearns case, she is her father's oldest child, but she has two brothers, both of whom are younger than she is. Both of them were born before the change in inheritance law, and therefore both of them come before her in the succession to her father's steading. If her father subsequently had a third son, however, he would come about eighth or ninth in the succession, after his older brothers and Abigail and the various sisters older than he is. Does that make sense?

    The Protectorship is exempt from that particular change in the inheritance laws. Because of that, Rachel is not and legally cannot be Benjamin's successor as Protector. She has a couple of younger brothers, both of whom would take precedence over her, and if both of them predeceased her, then the title would pass to Michael Mayhew and/or through him to any of his male children.

    Hope that helps.

    Take care,

    David

"Oh, bother!" Pooh said, as Piglet came back from the dead