Dividends and In the Wake of the Plague, part 2

Sometimes you can read reports or books for seemingly different reasons and they have a part of a chapter as background and it means something more than what the author had likely desired. Recently read a book called In the Wake of the Plague (about the Black Death) and how the world was changed written by Norman F Cantor, published by Simon & Schuster, NY, 2015. In the book, the focus is on what happened in England, but the reality of Europe was similar to matter where a person was.

90% of the wealth of England in 1340 lay in land. Of this land, 40% was owned by the king and royal family and the high aristocracy that usually carried the titles of duke, earl, baron or lord. Another 30% was held by ecclesiastical officers (the church) and corporations. About 30% was held by rural upper middle class who came to be called the gentry, the remaining 2% was in the hands of free peasants, later called yeomen.

In England, before the Black Death there was about 1/2 million people in the gentry class. In 1400 that number was half. The family income varied from the equivalent of $50,000 to $3 or 4 million. The lesser gentry was sometimes called esquires. About half the gentry were considered knights to be Sir … If a person was a Knight there were other duties such as increased military and tax liabilities, extra hospitality and entertainment budgets. If the King toured the country, he often stayed at Knights’s homes.

Marriage, the production of progeny (or male heirs) and inheritance were the core of gentry life. If the King favored the gentry family, he often added lands or income. In the country a person could increase the wealth by good estate management. In the gentry class and above, a good marriage is one in which the bride brought in a dowry to the new family. If the family was fortunate to have children to inherit the estates, it was possible for the estate to remain intact for centuries.

When the Black Death was over, many people died including those that would typically inherit the estates, this lead to many squabbles which meant send in the lawyers. One of the beneficiaries of the many deaths was the need for common lawyers to settle out the issues. The lawyers became so expert in doing the things that needed to be done that a body of real estate law was created and largely remains in tact today.

The other beneficiaries were the women of the gentry class. The common law had a procedure for protecting widows, partly because the gentry landlords engaged in serial marriages with wives who died like flies in childbirth and were often gone by 30 years of age. The law said every widow had a right to “dower” or 1/3 of the income of her husband’s estate until she died. Within 40 days of her husband’s demise, she was suppose to leave the family estate, but at least she had income to live off. With these rules or laws, people lived lives around and with them.

Linking to dividend paying stocks, the most important aspect is the stock continue to pay a dividend, then it can be spent, saved, buy more assets, go towards an inheritance and continue the family name, but it all starts with income on a continuing basis. It may not be overnight riches but it can be lasting and fulfill your and your families desires both in and out of the grave.

There are more questions than answers, till the next time – to raising questions.

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