Early Rules on Heiresses
I am not an expert on all this. I am merely putting down
what I have picked up. It would be nice for someone to
do some proper research on this but until that day, or
the day that I find what has already been done, here's
what I've gathered.
The earliest that I know of for any code of practice is the
Normans in France, though I've just heard of a reference to the strict rule
of arranged marriages in Scandinavia of that time; did the Normans borrow
from the Scandinavians, their ancestors? Anyhow the Normans brought to
England a seemingly well defined set of practices which further developed,
inevitably, over the centuries.
The core of all this was primogeniture, that the eldest son inherited
the estates and became ruler of his territory. The advantage of primogeniture
is that it kept the estate together and kept the power together. The opposite
was known as gavelkind where the estate and the ruling was split equally between,
at least, all sons. Gavelkind was practiced in Kent and Wales and remains the
practice in post-revolutionary France; the estates get broken up and there were
frequently squabbles about the division and the ruling of the parts. Not that
the same squabbles did not happen with primogeniture, for instance the civil
wars in England at the time of Stephen and in the Wars of the Roses. One problem
with gavelkind in Kent was that the holdings became so small that they were not
large enough to support Knights to fight for the king; so it was then abolished,
or at least the extension of gavelkind to any more holdings was abolished.
But what if there were no sons? The practice in England these days is that titles
go to the heir male, that is the brother of the chap who had no sons, or to the
brother and his descendants of the grandfather of the son-less chap. This can get
horribly complicated to assess and relies on well recorded births, marriages and
deaths, not easily available in Norman times.
In medieval times in England, if this chap without sons had some daughters, then
indeed gavelkind was practiced. His estate was divided between his daughters,
roughly equally. If there was only one daughter she got the lot but if there
were many, each got their share.
Just to confuse this, there is evidence that some early Normans and certainly
the Scots practiced primogeniture amongst the daughters. In such cases the eldest
daughter got all that was left by her father, excluding any dowries for the other
daughters, of course.
And if there were no daughters either, the estate went back to the feudal lord
for him to grant anew. He may then have granted it to a male relative but he did
not have to.
Next: Arms Heiresses