Sunday, August 5, 2012

Primogeniture - Part 1

Taylor Speer-Sims
July 22, 2012

           Primogeniture had been a law that originated with the rule of the eldest son. This rule then moved, through time, into the English common law system. The ideal had been to keep land and valuable titles in the family decadency. By entailing property, the hope was that the family property would remain in an honorable person. The first son had been favored for many reasons throughout centuries in different cultures. So, it was easy to place the honor on his head. However, there had been situations that the patriarch was unable to foresee. These encumbrances placed the property into possession, and sometimes ownership, of persons that had no initial relation to that of the man that had initiated the entail in the first place.


            Primogeniture allowed for the eldest son to inherit property and titles. This system ensured the continual, fluid succession of ownership and guaranteed that properties and titles would stay within the family. From its installation they naturally assumed that every eldest male heir would procreate other male heirs throughout perpetuity. If for some ungodly reason there had been no direct male to inherit, the next surviving male that was directly in line would then take over responsibility and receive all due rewards. This, however, proved easier said than done.

            Keeping sound integrity of the inherited rewards had been the reason that primogeniture had been established. Taking many years to be instituted, it found its way from feudalist ideals through to British common law where it had finally been written down as a true law, the ideal of the eldest son inheriting into perpetuity found its following. Acquiring land by both nefarious and legal means, men wanted to rise to a socially higher position than where they had been born. Although great in idea, entail had its problems in reality. There had been many difficulties that the law of the eldest son created, and many of the grand estates that the laws had been set up to protect, actually found themselves with residents that were not related to the family that had originally owned them.

Background of the Rule of the Eldest Son

                        The eldest son had always been a treasure to families, no matter the level of income. Having the chance for the family line to continue throughout eternity meant more than just bravado; it also meant a deep sense of love and joy for parents. More children for families meant love too, along with making the chance of the family dynasty to continue. In this system, however, the eldest son had meant more to families then their other offspring. One reason for more love given to the first born, was simply because they were the very first child born.[1]

                        The older child had more notice from the parents, sometimes just because they had been born first. It was simply easier to love a child when there had been no other children around. Parents heaped all of their hopes and dreams upon their only child. After all, the eldest had been the only child, and were treated as such, before any others came along. [2]  The eldest son was expected to take care of the parents and other children at their maturity, and so was given higher privileges than any of the other children. Many families were indeed afraid that this could be the only child because women died in childbirth and low fecundity.[3]

                        Fecundity rates, death in childbirth of the mother and infant morbidity rates had been a large factor in putting the eldest son on a pedestal. Each region of England, as well as the rest of Europe, had its own life-support potential.[4] Reasons for the above included diet, disease, living space, climate, and age and workload of the mother.[5] The higher the income of the family, the better care the mother and child had which would have created a higher fecundity and maturation age of the child. However, even this did not guarantee that every child would grow to adulthood and procreate, thus creating more generations of fine elder sons to continue the family line. Because of this, many were treated as special and were given the best of everything to help assure their growth to manhood.

                        Giving the firstborn son the best of everything was not a new concept to families of the 18th and 19th centuries. The first cut of meat went to the firstborns of Amerindians to show pride of family.[6]  The Celts doted on the eldest son as favorite and gave them the first chance to prove themselves worthy of holding titles or becoming Ri (chief like title). The Roman Caesars made sure to have their eldest son inherit their title, and if they did not have an heir, they would adopt a male to become a blood son.[7] Ancient Egyptians expected their eldest son to be better at everything. He received more schooling and was to have the best manners.[8] The firstborn sons of the Hebrews have been given more because of culture and tradition.[9]

                        The ancient Hebrews and Egyptians as well as the early Christians believed that the firstborn male was a gift from God(s). The importance of these sons was shown in the way that God delivered justice to Pharaoh in Exodus 11. There were a total of ten plagues that were released upon Egypt by the Hebrew God. The first nine were absolutely horrendous to the people of Egypt. None of those phased the heart of Pharaoh until the tenth took place. The very last of these plagues completely crumpled his tenacity and allowed the entire slave population to be released. [10]

                        What was this last accursed affliction that debilitated the mighty realm of the Egyptians, and their king along with them? The torment that broke the will of Pharaoh, was obviously, the death of firstborns. God must have believed that the first born was important to all people because at the beginning of Exodus, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence…”[11] Then further,  “And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill’ and all the firstborn of beasts.”[12] If the Jews did not place the God’s mark on their own door, their sons, too, received the wrath of God. This clearly showed the preference for the firstborn over any subsequent children.

                        Another indication of preference for firstborn sons in religion was Christ himself. Christ had been the only, but still firstborn, Son of the Hebrew God, especially in human form. Jesus had also been the firstborn of Holy Mary, who would later become arguably as important as her son.[13] Christianity became popular in the west after Constantine. Constantine had been the eldest son of Constantius Chlorus, the Caesar of the West.[14] Constantine became a hero to later Christendom because he had changed the mighty heretical Roman Empire into one that followed Jesus.[15] As Christ had been firstborn, and his first state champion had also been firstborn, it was easy to see the relationship of Christian followers with their own eldest son.

                        The rights of the senior male child increased as time went by. Rights began as duties but then blossomed as religion and economics dictated. Some said that the rights of the eldest went as far back as Adam. However, it was not until after the decline of Rome that primogeniture became popular throughout Europe.[16] Rome had been interested in other cultures beliefs and customs. And so, they had started to bring forth the idea of having their eldest son inheriting and accumulating more with each succeeding Caesar.[17] As Rome split into different states, the idea of feudalism, with its succession rights, began to flourish throughout Europe.

                        The feudalist system was founded after the division of the great Roman Empire and resulted in smaller ones that did not hold the authority that the original had. Because there was not as much power of the state, the ruler also did not have as much power as they would have wished. Making the subservient class pledge themselves to the higher ones created a sense of superiority for the nobility. This was an economic and state system that was centered upon the lordship of a certain region. While there were debates as to its origins, the point remains that feudalism was prevalent in Western Europe from the 10th century and continued in some locations until the 15th century. Feudalism created a need for keeping property in the family that was not necessarily there beforehand.[18] A hierarchy was created with a king at the top, his sons, and then with a line of subsequent nobility. Each pledging fealty to a man directly above him in the ladder of command, yet not all pledging to the king.

                        Kings wanted their might to be felt by all. What better way than to have his representatives in other areas of the realm as well? One way had been to send nobles, which had pledged themselves to him, out into the world. Another had been to populate the realm with men who would automatically (or so he thought) be true to his authority. Many of these men had been from the king’s own bloodline. This had also been true of the lesser nobles, such as dukes within his own dukedom, counts within his own county, and so forth throughout the different size domains. “The history of individual succession walked hand in hand with the history of landed sovereignty.”[19] The eldest son had the larger titles, and thus the larger tracts to manage for his father.[20]

                        Receiving the right to rule and/or manage from their father, often sons pursued their own agenda. Ironically, the idea had been to have their sons follow in their own footsteps. This irony did not seem to matter to the man that did not want to follow in his father’s steps because he had wanted to be the patriarch in his own right. It was the point of being in charge of a dynasty, or house, mattered. This, too, had been a part of Christianity’s foundations for God said to Moses “…These be the heads of their father’s houses.” [21] This indicated to all that they may have been a man, but it would have been better for them to be the leader of their own house. Men felt the need to have been the “father” in God’s statement, not to have the name of their forebear be the one that God mentioned.

                        Men wanted to have their own destinies and be the sire of great dynasties, even nations. This had been important because it perpetuated the idea of primogeniture. The first son wanted the rights of the properties of his parents in their entirety. Having sons to carry out the father’s name had been instilled throughout Christendom.[22] This idea continued throughout the feudalist period, through the Renaissance, and also through the Georgian times into the Regency and beyond.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Andrea Kleppe. Personal communication with author. July 1, 2012
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bonnie Speer. Personal communication with author. June 28, 2012.
[4] Stephen Molnar and Iva M. Molnar, Environmental Change and Human Survival: Some
Dimensions of Human Ecology. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.), 23.
[5] Ibid, 132.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Billy Bowman. Personal communication with author. July 1, 2012.
[8] Sameh Abadeer. Personal communication with author. June 27, 2012.
[9] Kleppe.
[10] Holy Bible, The. Exodus; Exodus 11.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Holy Bible, The. St. Matthew 2.
[14] Marcel Le Glay et al. A History of Rome, 4th Ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2009.), 526-527.
[15] Ibid, 608.
[16] Evelyn Cecil, Primogeniture. (London: Spottiswoode and Co., 1895.), 3. (accessed June 23, 2012).
[17] Bowman.
[18] Norman Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993), 174-199.
[19] Cecil, 22.
[20] Ibid, 220.
[21] Holy Bible, The. Exodus 6:14.
[22] Cecil, 20.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Great T-Shirts and More!

See other gifts available on Zazzle.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...