About Humfrey Jennings, Jr.
The steel tycoon Humphrey Jennings was one of the richest men in England during the 18th century. His grandson William was an eccentric bachelor who died in 1799 with an unsigned will tucked in his coat pocket. The battle over the estate dragged on for more than a century. Decades after Williams' death, potential heirs were still crawling out of the woodwork. (See, for example, "A Miserly Monte Cristo; the Enormous Wealth of William Jennings", New York Times, Feb. 19, 1882, p.4.) Many speculate that the convoluted Jennings litigation inspired Charles Dickens's satirical novel Bleak House, which centers around a probate lawsuit that is "so complicated that no man alive knows what it means". The anticipation of fortune (never realized) drives some of the characters to madness and even suicide.