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 (sole inheritance by the first-born) or partible inheritance (division of the estate among the children).
Advantages and disadvantages
Ultimogeniture might be considered appropriate in circumstances where the youngest child had been assigned the role of "keeping the hearth", taking care of the parents and continuing at home, whereas elder children had had time and opportunity to succeed in the world and provide for themselves. In a variation on the system, elder children might have received a share of land and moveable property at a younger age, for example when marrying and founding their own family. Ultimogeniture might also be considered appropriate for the estates of elderly rulers and property-owners, whose children were likely to be mature adults.
There are several disadvantages for realms and families that adopt ultimogeniture, one such drawback is the fact that elder siblings, especially the first born of the relevant gender, will be heavily incentivized to sidestep the tradition, even more so if primogeniture inheritance is a familiar concept. And since the elder siblings likely have more time and opportunities to gain power, wealth, experience, and influence prior to the inheritance – simply because they were born earlier – ultimogeniture traditions are more likely to be disregarded or even discarded.
Coercion, assassination, fratricide, or even patricide can be committed, backed by all the advantage an elder sibling would have, such that ultimogeniture is sidestepped. To clarify, those who stand to gain by ignoring the stipulation under ultimogeniture are more likely to have the facticity to do so, when compared to other succession laws. For example, under primogeniture tradition, the younger siblings will stand to gain if they can by-pass said tradition, but the elder siblings still have the aforementioned advantages, so primogeniture traditions tend to persist.
- Many folkloric traditions around the world include important figures who were youngest siblings, although they are subject to various interpretations. Several important Biblical characters—including Isaac, Jacob, and David—are described as youngest sons or daughters, leading some scholars to propose a prehistoric practice of ultimogeniture among the Hebrews, although this form of inheritance is not espoused by the preserved text. In some early Greek myths, kingship was conferred by marriage to a tribal nymph, who was selected by ultimogeniture or success in a race.
- In England, patrilineal ultimogeniture (i.e., inheritance by the youngest surviving male child) is known as Borough English,[n 1] after its former practice in various ancient English boroughs. It was only enforced against those who died intestate and frequently—though not universally—also included the principle of inheritance by the deceased's youngest brother when there was no issue. Less often, the practice was extended to the youngest daughter, sister, aunt, &c. Its origin is much disputed, although the Normans—who generally practiced primogeniture—considered it to be a Saxon legacy. A 1327 court case found it to be the practice of the English burgh at Nottingham, although not of that town's "French" district. The tradition was also found across many rural areas of England where lands were held in tenure by socage. 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.
- 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.
- Among Mongols, each son received part of the family herd as he married, with the elder sons receiving more than the younger ones, but the ancestral seat was inherited by the youngest along with his share of the herd. Likewise, each son inherited part of the family's camping lands and pastures, with the elder sons receiving more than the younger ones, but further afield from the family tent. (Family units would often remain near enough for close cooperation, though extended families would inevitably break up after a few generations.) Similarly, Genghis Khan's empire was divided among all four of his sons, but the Mongolian homeland was passed to his youngest, Tolui.
- The Kachin of northern Burma and southern China traditionally instruct elder sons to move away upon maturity, leaving the youngest son to inherit the family property.
- Alternatively rendered as borough English and Borough-English.
- Deut 21.
- 1, archived from the original on October 27, 2009.
- EB (1911).
- EB (1878).
- Yearbook of 22 Edward IV. fol. 32b.
- "Saxe-Altenburg", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed..
- Wall, Richard Wall; Hareven, Tamara K.; Ehmer, Joseph (eds.), Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives, pp. 343-344.
- The Influence of the Great Code "Yasa" on the Mongolian Empire.
- "Borough-English", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. IV, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878, p. 64.
- "Borough English", Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. IV, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911, pp. 273–274.
- The Penguin Dictionary of British History.
- Horioka, Charles Yuji, Are the Japanese Selfish, Altruistic or Dynastic? (PDF).