The fee tail allowed a patriarch to perpetuate his blood-line, family-name, honour and armorials in the persons of a series of powerful and wealthy male descendants. By keeping his estate intact in the hands of one heir alone, in an ideally indefinite and pre-ordained chain of succession, his own wealth, power and family honour would not be dissipated amongst several male lines, as became the case for example in Napoleonic France by operation of the Napoleonic Code which gave each child the legal right to inherit an equal share of the patrimony, where a formerly great landowning family could be reduced in a few generations to a series of small-holders or peasant farmers. It therefore approaches the true corporation which is a legal body or person which does not die and continues in existence and can hold wealth indefinitely. Indeed, as a form of trust, whilst the individual trustees may die, replacements are appointed and the trust itself continues, ideally indefinitely. In England almost seamless successions were made from patriarch to patriarch, the smoothness of which were often enhanced by baptising the eldest son and heir with his father's Christian name for several generations, for example the FitzWarin family, all named Fulk. Such indefinite inalienable land-holdings were soon seen as restrictive on the optimum productive ability of land, which was often converted to deer-parks or pleasure grounds by the wealthy tenant-in-possession, which was damaging to the nation as a whole, and thus laws against perpetuities were enacted, which restricted entails to a maximum number of lives.
An entail also had the effect of disabling illegitimate children from inheriting. It created complications for many propertied families, especially from about the late 17th to the early 19th century, leaving many individuals wealthy in land but heavily in debt, often due to annuities chargeable on the estate payable to the patriarch's widow and younger children, where the patriarch was swayed by sentiment not to establish a strict concentration of all his wealth in his heir leaving his other beloved relatives destitute. Frequently in such cases the generosity of the settlor left the entailed estate as an uneconomical enterprise, especially during times when the estate's fluctuating agricultural income had to provide for fixed sum annuities. Such impoverished tenants-in-possession were unable to realise in cash any part of their land or even to offer the property as security for a loan, to pay such annuities, unless sanctioned by private Act of Parliament allowing such sale, which expensive and time-consuming mechanism was frequently resorted to. The beneficial owner (or tenant-in-possession) of the property in fact had only a life interest in it, albeit an absolute right to the income it generated, the legal owners being the trustees of the settlement, with the remainder passing intact to the next successor or heir in law; any purported bequest of the land by the tenant-in-possession was ineffective.
Fee tail was established during feudal times by landed gentry to attempt to ensure that the high social standing of the family, as represented by a single patriarch, continued indefinitely. The concentration of the family's wealth into the hands of a single representative was essential to support this process. Unless the heir had himself inherited the personal and intellectual strengths of the original great patriarch, often a great warrior, which alone had brought him from obscurity to greatness, he would soon sink again into obscurity, and required wealth to maintain his social standing. This feature of English gentry and aristocracy differs from the true aristocracy which existed in pre-Revolution France, where all sons of a nobleman inherited his title and were thus inescapably members of a separate noble caste in society. In England all younger sons of a nobleman were born as mere gentlemen and commoners, and without the support of wealth could quickly descend into obscurity, the eldest son alone being a nobleman. On this eldest son was concentrated the honour of the family, and to him alone was granted all its wealth to support his role in that regard, by the process of the fee tail.
Fee tail was never popular with the monarchy, the merchant class and many holders of entailed estates themselves who wished to sell their land.
A fee tail can still exist in England and Wales as an equitable interest, behind a strict settlement; the legal estate is vested in the current 'tenant for life' or other person immediately entitled to the income, but on the basis that any capital money arising must be paid to the settlement trustees. A tenant in tail in possession can bar his fee tail by a simple disentailing deed, which does not now have to be enrolled. A tenant in tail in reversion (i.e. a future interest where the property is subject to prior life interest) needs the consent of the life tenant and any 'special protectors' to vest a reversionary fee simple in himself. Otherwise he can only create a base fee; a base fee only confers a right to the property on its owner, when its creator would have become entitled to it; if its creator dies before he would have received it, the owner of the base fee gets nothing. No new "fees tail" can now be created following the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.