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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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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


  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
References in periodicals archive ?
Contradicting the views of these expert historians, I try to demonstrate, first, that Peter Is succession law was by no means conceived as a "break with the past" but just the opposite: it was an attempt to preserve Russian tradition against contemporary Western birthright ideology and its notorious demand for "indefeasible primogeniture." Second, I argue that Peter's ideas on succession as explained in Feofan Prokopovich's Pravda voli monarsbei were neither "arbitrary" nor "demiurgic" but deeply rooted in the older traditions of medieval political practice and thought that had been practiced throughout Europe.
Elle ne conservera cette place que si elle n'a pas de frere, l'ordre de succession au trone suivant l'ordre de primogeniture masculine.
Under Section 23 of the Black Administration Act, (25) which takes its cue from the age-old African customary law rule of male primogeniture, the property must devolve upon the eldest surviving male relative, in this case the grandfather.
Women become the instruments of God's will in building a Jewish people that eschews primogeniture, creating the stereotypes of the interfering Jewish mother and the cowed, effeminate Jewish son.
The rule of primogeniture refers to the right of the eldest surviving male to inherit the estate of the parents.
Even if the male-preference primogeniture rule has been changed, surely the whole rotten edifice which props up the succession to the British throne should be demolished.
The 16 Commonwealth nations of which the Queen is monarch agreed unanimously to end the rule of primogeniture, under which a younger son takes precedence over older sisters in the order of succession.
The Yemeni leader may no longer seek to pave the way for his son to take the reins since the days of Middle Eastern primogeniture are over.
According to the survey, published in Country Life magazine, fewer than one in five people felt the centuries old succession rule of "primogeniture", which places male descendants ahead of females, was important.
Apparently, the British public believes that primogeniture, in which male children take precedent over females, is outdated and sexist - and the coalition government plans to change it.
Some succession models rely on primogeniture, with power handed from father to eldest son, as has been seen in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
THE ISSUE OF PRIMOGENITURE in Jane Austen's novels is most often discussed in terms of its effect on women, especially daughters.