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.
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 some of their share earlier, for example when marrying and founding an own family. Remembering the then usual low age at death, the system has been relatively impractical for impartible inheritance during past 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.
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. It also occurred at copyhold manors in Surrey, Middlesex, Suffolk and Sussex.
In medieval Scandinavia, where partible inheritance was the norm, there are indications that within that partibility tradition, youngest son had a privilege to receive the parent's house, or ancestral seat, or family manor. This may simply be a reflection of a practicality that elder brothers, when marrying, had often already acquired or built their own houses, and were not in need of another, whereas the youngest much more rarely had done so, either living with his own family at the ancestral house to care for parents, or having not yet grown old enough to marry.
The tradition of youngest having the privilege of receiving the ancestral seat was so strong that in some wealthy noble families with more manors than needed for each heir to have a place, the privilege of ultimogeniture was still practised. The privilege may have held some possibility to get a practically larger share than elder siblings, for example to compensate for grants the parents already routinely had made when providing benefits to young families of elder siblings. There are also indications that the ancestral seat could have passed to a daughter and her family, with sons receiving other properties. This may have been the consequence of another tradition, that daughters received family properties from those held by mother, and that sons received their inheritance from their father's familial holdings.
In Kyūshū and some other 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, except that the youngest son received a double share as a reward for caring for the elderly parents in their last years. This tradition was prohibited by the Meiji legal code in the late nineteenth century.
Ultimogeniture seems also to have been practised in the Ancient Near East. In early Greek myths, kingship was conferred by marriage to a tribal nymph, who was selected by ultimogeniture or success in a race. http://uk.geocities.com/lucath/myths.html Some scholars have noted that many Biblical characters are described as youngest sons or daughters and have inferred a prehistoric ultimogeniture tradition in the Holy Land. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=729&letter=J
Ultimogeniture of the ancestral seat was also traditional in Mongolia, where Genghis Khan passed the heart of the Mongol Empire to his fourth son, Tolui http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200301/the.arts.of.the.mongols.htm as the empire with its conquests was to be partitioned, and in areas of Myanmar and China, where it is traditional among by the Rawang and T'ring people for older sons to move away on reaching maturity and for only the youngest son to remain and inherit. http://victoria.linguistlist.org/~lapolla/rda/EO.htm
Like other forms of hereditary succession, ultimogeniture was laden with 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 employed 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.
Other methods of succession
- Main article: Succession order
- Degree of kinship, i.e proximity of blood
- Elective monarchy, election from among one family
- Rotation (Taking turns: seniority, tanistry, lottery and election are used and practical ways to organize rotation. Rotation may have aimed at some balance between branches of the House or the Clan.)
- The Penguin Dictionary of British History, ed. Judith Gardiner
- Are the Japanese Selfish, Altruistic or Dynastic? Charles Yuji Horioka
ultimogeniture in Chinese: 幼子繼承制
ultimogeniture in Japanese: 末子相続