Posted by The Mysterious H.C. on November 22, 1997 at 23:11:03:
A "settlement" is a legal term for a document that places constraints on the disposition of money or porperty.
A "marriage settlement" could do various things, but what it typically did was ensure that any money that a woman brings in to the marriage will revert to her or her children in case the husband dies.
The settlement must be signed before the woman marries, in the case of money she already owns, because if no legal restrictions have been placed on her money at the time of marriage, then it is her husband's, to do as he wishes with it. (This is why "fortune-hunters" are so eager to get heiresses to Gretna Green, where none of the legal restrictions that her family would have probably insisted upon for a marriage approved by them will be in force.) But settlements often include other money that the families will contribute... Note that real estate theoretically can not be alienated away from the woman or her children (don't know all the complex legal details here).
For a little discussion of settlements in Sense and Sensibility, see the Austen-L page.
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