Salic patrimony

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Salic patrimony or inheritance or land property refers to clan-based possession of real estate property, particularly in Germanic context. It meant partitioning the clan demesne between male agnatic heirs, and often (but not necessarily) also a succession to supreme chieftainship of the clan within an agnatic extended family only upon entrusting the common domain to one of the agnates.

Characteristics of the practice[edit]

See also: Terra salica

Lands belonged to the entire clan or house, which was a composition of agnatic relatives. Real estate (in medieval West-European society, that sort of property was often called demesne) meant landed property, which was basically a farm, but may have been larger territory, even a kingdom. Royal domains in several countries were such properties. To usual medieval feudal power structure, the actual holding of royal domain manors, fortresses and arable lands was the stronghold to exercise governmental control over surrounding areas. Partitions of such properties thus meant practical sharing of areas of influence and control over territories, thus creating partitioned kingdoms and fiefs.

When a father died, all his sons were entitled to receive a share of real estate. When a holder died sonless, the clan, which means his agnatic relatives, succeeded in the possession of his lands. Share of the family demesne, share in its possession, was a birthright of males born in male line to the "clan".

This pattern, sort of partible inheritance but only between male heirs, was inherent in archaic societies, such as in Germanic tribes of early medieval period. It however sometimes continued in one or another form in feudal societies too, and even early modern states.

For example, in 11th and 12th centuries, the Hereditary Kingdom of Norway was several times partitioned between males of the reigning dynasty. At the time, the Kingdom of Norway was looked upon as a property of the king. As such it would be divided among his heirs, like any other private estate under Ancient Norwegian property laws. First such partition between brothers took place in 1067 when Olav III of Norway, returning from England, demanded his younger brother Magnus II of Norway to cede him his portion of the kingdom. Magnus was to rule the northern half of the country and Olav the southern. This division is the beginning of a long series of partitions of the kingdom between the sons and heirs of the ruling king.

The Kingdom of Franks was partitioned during both Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties. A permanent future division took place in 842, when three sons of late Emperor Louis I partitioned the royal lands in Verdun, thus creating the division between France and Germany.

Often this inheritance pattern of division clashed with other, more centralized needs: a clan, tribe or people needed a chieftain to lead them. If and when one of agnates was elected to chieftaincy, the pattern of Salic patrimony meant that he held the clan property on behalf of the whole agnatic kin, and:

  1. was not entitled to decide its fate unilaterally
  2. was to be succeeded by other agnates, not by just anyone such as a relative related through a female line or a legatee of testament

The usual preferential order of succession to chieftainship was to the next brother of a chief. And generally, to an experienced (but not too elderly) agnate of the clan, which basically favored seniority until lifespans grew longer, even to feebleness and infirmity, in average.

In elective monarchies, this led to custom that it was not necessary to choose the eldest brother to the throne, that each agnate (for example, any of the sons of a previous monarch) was almost as possible successor. Germanic-descending peoples had such customs long into modern era, despite of primogeniture having been officially adopted.

The possession mode of Salic Patrimony however was the regular and protected form of succession to various fiefs (such as counties, duchies, margraviates, landgraviates) of the Holy Roman Empire. Its original fiefs became partitioned a number of times throughout the history, until in around 16th-18th centuries, these changed mostly to primogenitural succession. This partitioning was one of chief reasons behind why Germany had become so filled with "independent" petty states (rather, petty monarchies) until the beginning of 19th century.

Impact on other inheritance practices[edit]

Much later, in some circumstances, succession of chieftainship, headship of the clan, changed into primogeniture. When this happened, Salic patrimony pattern usually meant strict use of so-called Salic Law succession, the one to preserve all agnates' rights over any females.

When rulers of petty principalities of Holy Roman Empire changed, one at a time, during 16th-18th centuries their succession system into primogeniture, it has been reported by research that each such change was specifically accepted by the emperor, because such change violated the rights of the junior males of these petty dynasties and was basically against the original understanding of the fief's inheritance law. In cases of arrangements inside a dynasty, the Imperial Court had the task to protect the birthrights of underaged and possibly those of unborn or otherwise potential heirs. Also in several cases, the changes were adopted by a pact between agnates of the birthrighted house, all of them accepting. Later, when the Empire had been dissolved, in many cases changes of succession laws of states originating from the Empire, for example when allowing for Semi-Salic succession, dynastifying a morganatic relative or ceding some territories, were deemed to require the consent of all agnates of the house.

Notions of this patrimony and shared inheritance are present in much-later legal positions of dynasts, after the actual partitioning custom had already ended centuries earlier. From documentation and behavior, royal princes of France in, for example, 18th century regarded the throne as their common property, common inheritance, which was entrusted to the senior dynast of them, who therefore was king of France. The same princes each were regarded to have some sovereignty already, being eligible to succeed to the throne, and it was shown by their titles and prerogatives.

Wider context[edit]

The succession and inheritance pattern described by the term Salic Patrimony has been, with minor variations, the usual pattern of landholding in almost all tribal society levels. Ancient Irish and Gaelic, early medieval Iberian, Scandinavian Viking, medieval Slavic and Baltic and early Roman cultures followed similar patterns. In British Isles, Gavelkind is an example of inheritance law representing similar principles.

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