Cadet branch

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In history and heraldry, a cadet branch consists of the male-line descendants of a monarch or patriarch's younger sons (cadets). In the ruling dynasties and noble families of much of Europe and Asia, the family's major assets—realm, titles, fiefs, property and income—have historically been passed from a father to his firstborn son in what is known as primogeniture; younger sons—cadets—inherited less wealth and authority to pass to future generations of descendants.

In families and cultures in which this was not the custom or law, as in the feudal Holy Roman Empire, equal distribution of the family's holdings among male members was eventually apt to so fragment the inheritance as to render it too small to sustain the descendants at the socio-economic level of their forefather. Moreover, brothers and their descendants sometimes quarreled over their allocations, or even became estranged. While agnatic primogeniture became a common way of keeping the family's wealth intact and reducing familial disputes, it did so at the expense of younger sons and their descendants. Both before and after adoption of inheritance by primogeniture, younger brothers sometimes vied with older brothers to be chosen their father's heir or, after the choice was made, sought to usurp the elder's birthright (cf. Jacob and Esau).


In the parts of Europe where primogeniture prevailed, cadet sons were generally entitled to receive an appanage in patrimony, always substantially smaller than the eldest son's inheritance. Often, especially outside of Germany, the younger branch remained subordinate to the elder line as vassals or subjects.

Often, however, one or more younger sons were encouraged to pursue a dignified career, such as taking up clerical orders (thereby forfeiting all rights of inheritance), becoming a military officer (e.g. Prince Eugene of Savoy), a courtier (e.g. Philippe, Duke of Orléans), a civil servant (e.g., Prince Henry the Navigator) or taking up permanent residence abroad as a foreign prince (e.g., the House of Guise).


In such cases, primary responsibility for promoting the family's prestige, aggrandizement, and fortune fell upon the senior branch for future generations. A cadet, having less means, was not expected to produce a family. If a cadet chose to raise a family, its members were expected to maintain the family's social status by avoiding derogation, but could pursue endeavors that might be considered demeaning for the senior branch, such as emigration to another sovereign's realm, or engagement in commerce, or a profession such as law, academia, or civil service.

In some cases, cadet branches eventually inherited the crown of the senior line, e.g. the Bourbon Counts of Vendôme mounted the throne of France (after civil war) in 1593; the House of Savoy-Carignan succeeded to the kingdoms of Sardinia (1831) and Italy (1861); the Counts Palatine of Zweibrücken obtained the Palatine Electorate (1799) and the Kingdom of Bavaria (1806); and a deposed Duke of Nassau was restored to sovereignty in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (1890).

In other cases, a junior branch came to eclipse more senior lines in rank and power, e.g. the Kings of Prussia and German Emperors who were junior by primogeniture to the Counts and Princes of Hohenzollern, and the Electors and Kings of Saxony who were a younger branch of the House of Wettin than the Grand Dukes of Saxe-Weimar.

A still more junior branch of the Wettins, headed by the rulers of the small Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, would, through diplomacy or marriage in the 19th and 20th centuries, obtain the royal crowns of, successively, Belgium, Portugal, Bulgaria and the Commonwealth realms. Also, marriage to cadet males of the Houses of Oldenburg (Holstein-Gottorp), Polignac, and Bourbon-Parma brought those dynasties patrilineally to the thrones of Russia, Monaco, and Luxembourg, respectively. The Dutch royal house has, at different times, been a cadet branch of Mecklenburg and Lippe(-Biesterfeld). In the Commonwealth realms, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and his male-line descendants are cadet members of the house of Glücksburg.

By contrast, it was also sometimes possible for cadet branches to sink in status, either due to diminished fortune or genealogical distance from the reigning line. Such was the case of the Capetian branch of the princes de Courtenay, the last male of which died in 1733 without ever having been recognized by the French crown as dynastic princes du sang despite their undisputed but remote male-line descent from Louis VI of France. Likewise, the principi di Ottajano, an extant branch of the House of Medici eligible to inherit the grand duchy of Tuscany when the last male of the senior branch died in 1737, were bypassed by the intervention of Europe's major powers, which allocated the title elsewhere. Although the Romanovs mounted Russia's throne in 1613 due to kinship-by-marriage to a tsar (Ivan the Terrible) descended from the 9th century founding ruler Rurik, when in 1880 Tsar Alexander II wed Catherine Dolgorukov, a Rurikid princess, the marriage and its progeny were deemed morganatic.

Notable cadet branches[edit]

  • In the case of the House of Saud the surname "Al Saud" is carried by any descendant of Muhammad bin Saud or his three brothers Farhan, Thunayyan, and Mishari. Al Saud's other family branches are called cadet branches. Members of the cadet branches hold high and influential positions in government though they are not in line of succession to Saudi throne. Many cadet members intermarry within the Al Saud to reestablish their lineage and continue to wield influence in the government.[2][3]Sons, daughters, patrilineal granddaughters and grandsons of Ibn Saud are referred to by the style "His Royal Highness" (HRH), differing from those belonging to the cadet branches, who are called "His Highness" (HH) and in addition to that a reigning king has the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.[2][4]

See also[edit]