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Related to Equal primogeniture: Lineal primogeniture, Agnatic primogeniture


in law, the rule of inheritance whereby land descends to the oldest son. Under the feudal system of medieval Europe, primogeniture generally governed the inheritance of land held in military tenure (see feudalismfeudalism
, form of political and social organization typical of Western Europe from the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire to the rise of the absolute monarchies. The term feudalism is derived from the Latin feodum,
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; knightknight,
in ancient and medieval history, a noble who did military service as a mounted warrior. The Knight in Ancient History

In ancient history, as in Athens and Rome, the knight was a noble of the second class who in military service had to furnish his own mount
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). The effect of this rule was to keep the father's land for the support of the son who rendered the required military service. When feudalism declined and the payment of a tax was substituted for military service, the need for primogeniture disappeared. In England, consequently, there was enacted the Statute of Wills (1540), which permitted the oldest son to be entirely cut off from inheriting, and in the 17th cent. military tenure was abolished; primogeniture is, nevertheless, still customary in England. In the United States primogeniture never became widely established. For other traditional types of inheritance, see gavelkindgavelkind
[M.E.,=family tenure], custom of inheritance of lands held in socage tenure, whereby all the sons of a holder of an estate in land share equally in such lands upon the death of the father.
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; borough-Englishborough-English,
a custom of inheritance in parts of England whereby land passed typically to the youngest son in preference to his older brothers. Of Anglo-Saxon origin, the custom was abolished by law in 1925.
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  1. the condition of being the first-born child.
  2. the right of succession or inheritance of the first-born child. INHERITANCE systems vary between societies and are extremely important for the transmission and hence accumulation of property. Many Northern European societies practice primogeniture and this may be associated with greater accumulation of wealth and property than where these are dispersed amongst several members of a family. In particular, primogeniture prevents land-holdings being divided into ever smaller plots. In many societies, the first born usually means the first-born male.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In monarchies, the principle under-lying the inheritance of royal power. It developed in the period when, in conflict against feudal fragmentation, centralized states were being formed. Under primogeniture, the throne passed to the eldest son. In Russia the principle of primogeniture was solidified in 1797 by Paul I.

(2) The procedure for transferring landed property by inheritance in such a way as to avoid parceling estates. It was introduced in Russia by a decree of 1714 and was in force until 1731.



inheritance of immovable property (primarily land) on the principle of the first born in the family or kin.

The principles of primogeniture first appeared in the ancient laws of India, which established property privileges for the eldest son in the family, and in the law of Athens. In the feudal law of England, France, Germany, and other European countries, the right of primogeniture was established in the 11th to 13th centuries in order to avoid the division of real estate. The eldest son was recognized as the heir of the fief; the other children were excluded from inheriting any portion of it. The right of primogeniture was legislatively fixed in England by the Westminister statutes, which established the succession of fiefs according to law (and not according to testament). The principle of primogeniture became widely applied as well in the inheritance of peasant allotments—for example, in France, according to the customs of Beaumanoir, the eldest son was to receive two-thirds of his father’s allotment. In prerevolutionary Russia survivals of the right of primogeniture with regard to entailed and family estates continued up until the Great October Socialist Revolution.

Bourgeois law rejects the right of primogeniture as contradictory to the principle of freedom of inheritance; this, however, does not exclude its application. The right of primogeniture continued longest in Great Britain. In Hitlerite Germany the principle of primogeniture was legislatively reinstituted for the property of peasant farmsteads, which was to be inherited by one heir and only according to law.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Law the right of an eldest son to succeed to the estate of his ancestor to the exclusion of all others
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005