Yesterday, we looked at Primogeniture, a procedure where the first born (usually the first born male) inherits everything, but what do you know of Ultimogeniture?
Ultimogeniture, also known as postremogeniture or junior right, 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. The tradition has been far rarer historically than primogeniture, inheritance by the first-born.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Ultimogeniture serves the circumstances where the youngest is “keeping the hearth,” taking care of the parents and continuing at home, whereas elder children have had time to succeed “out in the world” and provide for themselves—or having received their share of land and moveable property earlier, for example when marrying and founding their own family (in whose case we cannot speak of a true ultimogeniture pattern). The system has proved relatively impractical for impartible inheritance during more recent centuries. Ultimogeniture has been more suitable to officeholders and owners who have themselves been adults already for several decades (such as monarchs who happen to be elderly) and are leaving children who are more or less all mature adults.
Like other forms of hereditary succession, ultimogeniture has known its fair share of problems. Elder siblings deprived of property could potentially use their experience to coerce younger siblings into relinquishing some or all of their inheritance. In addition, fratricide, among other means, was often committed to eliminate potential challenges from younger siblings and their political supporters, as in the case of Alexander the Great’s succession to the Macedonian throne.
In medieval England, the principle of patrilineal ultimogeniture (i.e. inheritance by the youngest surviving male child) was known as Borough-English. In 1327, a court case found it to be the tradition in the borough of Nottingham, whereas in areas influenced by Anglo-Norman culture, primogeniture was prevalent. The tradition was also found across many rural areas of England where lands were held in tenure by socage. (The term soke (/ˈsoʊk/; in Old English: soc, connected ultimately with secan (to seek)), at the time of the Norman conquest of England generally denoted “jurisdiction”, but due to vague usage probably lacks a single precise definition. The law term, socage, used of this tenure, arose by adding the French suffix -age to soc.) It also occurred in copyhold manors in Surrey, Middlesex, Suffolk and Sussex.
In the German Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg, land-holdings traditionally passed to the youngest son, who might then employ his older brothers as farm workers. Patrilineal ultimogeniture was traditionally the predominant custom among German peasants.
In some southwestern areas of Japan, property was traditionally apportioned by a modified version of ultimogeniture known as masshi souzoku (末子相続). An estate was distributed equally among all sons or children, except that the youngest received a double share as a reward for caring for the elderly parents in their last years. Official surveys conducted during the early years of the Meiji era demonstrated that the most common family form throughout the country during the Edo period was characterized by stem structure, patrilineal descent, patrivirilocal residence and patrilineal primogeniture, but in some southwestern areas this combination of partible inheritance and ultimogeniture was sometimes employed.
In early Greek myths, kingship was conferred by marriage to a tribal nymph, who was selected by ultimogeniture or success in a race.
Many Biblical characters such as Isaac, Jacob, Ephraim, Moses, David, and Solomon are described as youngest sons or daughters — leading some scholars to infer a prehistoric ultimogeniture tradition in the Holy Land, although such theory is mostly speculative and contradicts explicit biblical evidence. (Deuteronomy 21) The preeminence of youngest siblings is common to most folkloric and theological traditions around the world and has received many different interpretations.
Ultimogeniture of the ancestral seat was traditional in Mongolia. Genghis Khan passed the Mongolian homeland of the Mongol Empire to his fourth son, Tolui as the empire with its conquests was partitioned between his four sons. Among Mongols, each son received a part of the family herd as he married, with the elder son receiving more than the younger son, and the youngest son receiving the family tent in addition to his part of the family herd.
Likewise, each son inherited a part of the family’s camping lands and pastures, with the elder son receiving more than the younger son. The eldest son inherited the farthest camping lands and pastures, and each son in turn inherited camping lands and pastures closer to the family tent until the youngest son inherited the camping lands and pastures immediately surrounding the family tent. Family units would often remain near each other and in close cooperation, though extended families would inevitably break up after a few generations.
In areas of northern Myanmar and southwest China, where it is traditional among the Kachin for older sons to move away on reaching maturity and for only the youngest son to remain and inherit.