Primogeniture: The WordY FrYdaY NerdY!

 Primogeniture is the right of the eldest child of the family to inherit the entirety of estate or property from parents which excludes any other siblings from it.

In some cultures Primogeniture especially gives privilege to the firstborn boy and excludes any other siblings from gaining property. According to some traditions Primogeniture meant that the firstborn received all the estates, property and authority and then he apportioned it to other siblings as per his decision.

If you have watched Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), you might recall the role Primogeniture played in that movie. What is so intriguing about Primogeniture?

I am haunted by the question: what would have been the basis of such a legacy system in past. Was it merely superstitious tradition or something which was based on more substantial grounds?

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Ultimogeniture (postremogeniture) is the tradition of inheritance by the last-born of the entirety of, or a privileged position in, a parent’s wealth, estate or office.

This tradition has been far rarer historically than Primogeniture. The idea supporting Ultimogeniture is that the last-borns stay with parents and take care of them when first-born have gone out in the world to achieve success and make it big!

The idea behind ultimogeniture seems to have more reasonable basis when compared to Primogeniture. If I think about Primogeniture-I can come up with only a few things in its support, but, these do not seem to have been the only causes of its coming into the existence and all of these premises are moot points.

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In the system where Primogeniture meant righteous apportioning of inheritance by eldest of children to other children and where control used to stay with the eldest sibling: The reason might have been the belief that since eldest sibling was most experienced he was most suitable candidate to manage the estates and property; whereas it would have been risky to allot maximum power to the relatively inexperienced younger siblings.

Though not supported practically and wholeheartedly by the modern science, the concept of Jing as in Neidong and other Taoist traditions-seems to have supported Primogeniture to a great extent. According to Taoism the amount of Jing anyone of us has is determined by the amount which was in the sperm of father and the egg of our mother at the time of conception. This amount can never be increased in your life-time (Unlike ‘chi’ or life-force-energy which can be increased). It is also suggested that levels of Jing decrease in men because of ejaculations and in women because of menstruation. It is therefore said that the chances of producing healthy off-springs reduce as the age of the couple increases. It has been proposed that the chance of getting healthy child in a conception where age of mother is more than 35 years is very less and there is a high risk of getting a child with Down’s syndrome. Verity of none of these claims is beyond doubt.

The oriental Primogeniture had a stricture that an heir to the throne must be a male. This is simply a reflection of Patriarchal sexist society where Polygyny was common. The successors to the monarchies were first of all required to be warriors and military commanders: which is more usual for males than for females. But what caused it to be the first born male child?

What do you think were reasons behind the origin of Primogeniture?

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42 thoughts on “Primogeniture: The WordY FrYdaY NerdY!

  1. there are two other points for consideration of the origins of primogeniture. One is the basic survival -of -the- fittest concept, whereby the alpa-male of an animal pack –or in this case human males in primitive times, instinctively wanted to assure that their male offspring would survive and remain dominant over others.

    my second point is that in not only ancient times, but up into fairly recent eras as well, the male heads of families sought to protect the traditional and legal position of their own sons over subsequent male children of their wives after they died. Especially in warrior societies there. was the chance of a man been killed in battle, and the likelihood of their widows remarrying and having sons by the second husband–which could rise to top status and replace older sons who had moral if not legal rights.

    primogeniture laws usually referred to male children, but also protected first-born rights, including those of daughters, especially in families with all female off-spring in line to inherit.

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    1. Thanks for bringing in new points and fresh perspectives into this discussion. You are well read in history I feel. These points are food for my thought. Much appreciated. Best wishes 🙂 🙂

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  2. Royal succession is the same – it’s always the first born son that inherits the crown. The same attitude filters through the other tiers of a community. Some kind of natural grading or maybe the first is considered the cream of the crop if there are other siblings

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        1. Which one?
          This one, in Oxford, certainly beats it:
          pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a word that refers to a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano; medically, it is the same as silicosis.

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                1. I think so, I would be glad to see what you bring out of your Pandora’s box! The word I suggested was also kind of medical but found in the Oxford!

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    1. in the case of the son of England’s King Henry VIII, the king’s daughter Mary succeeded to the throne after her younger brother Edward died. He was Henry’s only son. According to the rights of succession, the oldest son obtains the throne even if there are older female heirs. After Queen Mary’s death, her sister Elizabeth succeeded her as the Monarch.

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      1. Nice to meet another history fan. It’s been a man’s world for a long time but things are certainly changing fast right now. Not fast enough some would say and in UK men get more per hour than women. Thanks for that interesting comment Mindand

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  3. Very interesting. Being something of a history buff I’ve heard of primogeniture for years. Like Jackie, I was not previously aware of the word “ultimogeniture.” Perhaps the thinking originally was, someone has to take care of the family’s ability to survive first and foremost and that fell to the oldest male. Male because the woman was destined to marry a man and move in with his family and take care of them. And lastly, someone had to see that the old folks were cared for. It may have functioned well for many centuries, but it does make the children predestined to a preplanned life with no consideration of the child’s interests, plans, talents, or abilities. All of this is pure conjecture, of course. Good article.

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    1. Your ideas make a lot of sense Karen. Yes it was a custom without taking into consideration all those aptitudes of persons involved. I feel as another commentator said, it was required because society needed a norm to follow a model to avoid wasting time on property related issues after the demise of parents. Thanks for kind words and feedback.

      Anand 🙂

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  4. Good morning! This is a very good read. I learned something, too, – didn’t know there was a word “ultimogeniture.” But I have seen this concept in practice among the Amish of Lancaster County, PA. In many traditional, or old-order, families, the older children go out to their own farms or businesses when they marry, and the youngest child inherits the family farm, moving into the main farmhouse upon marriage. Another home is built for the parents to live in when the youngest marries. We saw one farm with 3 homes- grandparents, parents, and youngest! It’s a pretty amazing idea.

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    1. Good Morning Jackie,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am glad you found this word interesting. I also found your comment so informative because you give a live example of it. It’s good to learn from friends than to learn just from books.

      Sincerely,
      Anand

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  5. This was a fascinating read. I don’t have any educated comments as to why, but it’s very interesting. I do know that structure was a very important concept in many societies. Everyone had a station and knew what was expected of them based on that station. This might be one way they reduced disputes over inheritance. No need to argue over who gets what. They all just know.

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  6. I don’t have a comment for your question, but I do want to thank you for this thought provoking and researched article, family dynamics are always interesting, my family was very dysfunctional so there wasn’t much to take with me into my world, I had to rebuild it as I went along…I found this very interesting

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    1. Thanks for your wonderful feedback. Yes I am also interested in social architectures and how they came to be. Glad to know that you built it on your own. Thank you 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Primogeniture: The Wordy Fryday Nerdy! | Blogging 101: Alumni

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