The answer given regarding Wards of Chancery already in a different post covered that wards often came about because of assets and so on, but how does this explain Phyllis's situation in Iolanthe? She says she doesn't have a mother — in that way it applies. She is also a shepherdess; if she has assets, are they small? Does it not matter to become a ward? Also can anyone explain how much contact Phyllis could have had with the House of Lords? Even if it amounted to little, having a scenario described would be helpful. Obviously it was her attitude and mostly her beauty that "endeared" her to them, but all the same I'm curious how this averagely could have come about.
One element of Gilbertian humour is the ridiculous and implausible starting points of the stories underlying his plays and librettos.
In the case of Iolanthe we have:
- A House of Lords who are all single and in love with Phyllis.
- An Arcadian shepherd, Strephon, who is half-fairy and unknown to him or his father, son of the Lord Chancellor. He and Phyllis just happen to be in love too.
- An entirely arbitrary rule forbidding fairies to marry mortals, which is particularly unfortunate as there don't seem to be any male fairies.
In this context, it seems a little pedantic to expect a strong explanation of why Phyllis is a ward in Chancery.
If you are interested in getting a deeper understanding of the cultural references and background of Gilbert and Sullivan's collaborations, I can strongly recommend Ian Bradley's The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. In this he references earlier drafts of the work which Phyllis's backgound was somewhat different. However, her being a ward in Chancery is fundamental to the whole story.
I found this information from the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive:
Adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley (Privately Printed, Undated)
That is why we find in this opera that "Wards in Chancery" are under the Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction. He is carrying out the duty of the King as parens patriae (father of his country) to look after, where necessary, the affairs of those not yet of age and presumably, therefore, not yet capable of looking after themselves. In point of fact there is a risk that the rules governing Wards of Court, originally made for their protection, may become burdensome to them in these days because the mere issue of a writ which seeks the administration of property belonging to an infant (and an infant in the legal world is anyone under the age of 21) constitutes that infant a Ward of Court. Anyone, therefore, who wishes to cause annoyance to an infant, who may be a girl of 18 or 19 years of age, has only to settle a sum upon her and issue a writ to administer it and after the issue of the writ even if no further steps are taken in the proceedings for an indefinite time, the girl, by the mere issue of the writ, becomes a Ward of Court and cannot even go abroad for her summer holiday without the leave of the Court as this would be going out of the jurisdiction of the Court without leave, which is not permitted.