Updated: Feb 7
Men as Cannon Fodders dying under the Banner of God, King and the benefit of women!
To understand the broader context of medieval inheritance one must comprehend a few dynamics. In English, common law for example (as everywhere else) allocating land ownership was basically based on the matrifocal gynocentric feudal system. The emperor, king or ruler who owned all of the lands allowed favored individuals to use it as tenants in exchange for service. Those tenancies were called "feuds", "fees", or "fiefs". The tenants in themself would further also convey rights down to others. It went from King to overlords; from overlords to vassals; and from vassals to serfs! The service one extracted in exchange for land 'ownership' could be anything from military service to the King or any other benefit the king or ruler could derive from it on a regular basis. Over time, the giving of service was replaced by something we're all accustomed to today namely the taxation and the tax system!
However, the key points of the feudal system were that ultimately the King remained the landowner and that a routine compensation of some kind was made to him. True personal land ownership was impossible because the aristocratic title one held was always acquiescent and subservient to the King. Now, an important issue in this system was whether the tenancy one enjoyed was "heritable", that is, able to be passed to an heir or heirs and if so what was the nature of "inheritance” in a system the "tenant/renter" does not own the land but still the ruler or the king. As a result, in ancient times a diversity of numerous types of 'ownerships' came into being to allow for flexibility in this regard. For example, land held in 'fee simple' was heritable, meaning that the heirs would continue to enjoy the tenancy (provided of course they continued to render service). However, as we will see all of those changes occurred within the aristocracy and weren't accessible to most people, peasants, and others.
In this same feudal society being a combination of sub-categories of matrifocal and patrilineal elements to ensure the exploitation of men, it was natural for a son to "inherit" the father, to follow in his father's footsteps, taking over a manor and the duty to fight. But once it was accepted that fees were inherited then a manor could be held by a disabled man. Or it could be divided between daughters. "So", as we read, "it could be more suitable to exchange military service to monetary compensation. Over the centuries this increasingly became the norm.
Therefore, knighthood was not inherited with the manor. As the code of chivalry developed in the middle ages, so that the prestige of the knight rose and with it the expense of maintaining armor and accessories. Knighthood became an honor, but one that some manorial lords preferred to avoid. Even today a knighthood remains an honor to an individual person. It is not inherited. The lord or lady of a manor was simply the person who held it. Manorial lordships are not part of the peerage".
Moreover, we find the following explanation and description of the reality in the Middle Ages: "Those holding manors direct from the Crown were called tenants-in-chief. Mainly these were barons and earls. In 1086 they held half of England. However, the king kept about a fifth in his own hands. His manors could be granted direct to knights, who would then be tenants-in-chief. The rest of the English manors were held by the Church - mainly by monasteries or cathedrals. The lord of the manor kept some land in demesne - farming it himself. The rest he let or left as common pasture and wasteland. There were two types of manorial tenant: villein and free. The freeman held land by deed and paid a fixed money rent. After centuries in which the rent remained unchanged while its value fell, such rents were nominal. The villein worked on his lord's land for certain days in return for his own"
It continues: "All tenants had to attend the manorial court, held usually in the manor house. (House names like Westbury Court are reminders of those days.) The lord or his representative presided. From the 13th century onwards the business did was recorded on court rolls. That included the lord's decisions on which villein would hold what land. As it became usual for the villein to be given a copy of the entry in the court roll relating to his holding, such a tenure became known as copyhold. In Tudor times copyholds began to be replaced by leaseholds. The 1922 Law of Property Act finally abolished copyhold tenure. Because manorial rolls might be needed as evidence of former copyhold tenure, it was decreed in 1924 that all manorial documents should be under the superintendence of the Master of the Rolls, who set up a Register of Manorial Documents to record their ownership and location.
A further description expands: "Not all manors had a resident lord. A lord who held several manors might choose to live in one and place a resident bailiff in charge of each of the others. Or the demesne farm could be let on a leasehold. In either case, a chief house for the manor would still be needed, but it might be known as the barton, grange or manor farm. The manorial lord not only built the manor house but frequently founded a church beside it or chapel within it. He could be involved in many other buildings in the manor too - see villages. Any building expenses would be recorded in the manorial accounts. Sometimes a survey of the lord's land would be made. A medieval survey was not a map, but a written record of property, listing tenants and their acreages, rents and/or services to the lord. Little if any mention of the tenants' houses can be expected, but the manorial mill should be listed. One type of survey - the extent, made on the death of any manorial lord or baron holding land directly from the Crown, did briefly describe the manor house and its surrounding farm buildings. A detailed inventory including contents might be made for special purposes, but medieval examples are very rare".
As we have seen and discussed it above in most European countries, the aristocracy which mainly meant the king and queen, other parts of the nobility as well as the church-owned most of the land, while the peasants were totally dependent on their landlords. But as time went on, and these lords became established in their manors, they grew more confident and more independent. Later, as we will see, they were the link through which in a well ahead development around the 16th-century land ownership gradually began to change when they started to set up their own legal system to rival the King's one. Then at the bottom of the pyramid were the peasants yet they did not really own the land. So, to demonstrate in an easier way let's say that in such a system X granted land to Y. The grant was by way of subinfeudation (as almost all grants in this period were). X remained lord of the land. Y was required to discharge the free external service (liberum forense servicium) for this amount of land. The meaning of the phrase free external service refers to the services that X owed to his lord for the land (while Y continued to pay services to X).
So, not only did X (and his lord up to the king) remain the lord of the land, he also remained vitally concerned about who was on the land. When Y died, his son, for instance, might to ought to have "inherited" the land which in fact means more that he was allowed to stay on the land with his family in a subordination to the lord paying him money, taxes and defending the land in war times yet the land was not his and wasn't granted automatically. So, an "inheritance" does not take place automatically in medieval times, it does not equal land ownership too in the Middle Ages. And this means that the feudal system wasn't patriarchal where the everyday man owned land and property inheriting it to his son but he was allowed to stay on the land to work for his feudal lord giving his sons only the duties, none of which the women had, but without any benefits and rewards coming out of it. And ultimately, he had to be slaughtered on the battlefields too so that God, King, and women could benefit from it.
To break it further down we must, therefore, differ between the aristocracy and the vast majority of ordinary people. First, let's begin with the aristocracy. Land ownership in the Middle Ages, as we have seen above, was closely tied to national security, not gender. As we said under the feudal system all land was owned by the king or queen. It was either the queen or king who granted territories to their earls and barons in return for military aid in need. They, in turn, granted lands to men who agreed to fight often having no other choices and being indoctrinated by the society to die under the banner of God, King and (the benefit) of women. Thus, the great benefit for the king was the ability to protect the land and its people without a standing army and the massive costs relating to it at the expense of men and not women of course (that were safely protected at home).
It was the medieval root of the gynocentric code of chivalry that granted women the privilege of being protected by men without being expected to any compensation and doing something in return. Only to be later replaced by a more oppressive feminist state apparatus, this specific exploitative system of men broke down in the later Middle Ages as for instance the feudal tenure was finally abolished in England, Ireland and Wales in 1660 which is also the period of time that the lower aristocracy began slow reforms to make an overall change in the laws of ownership and inheritance. Till then the basic administrative unit was the manor. Ideally, a manor was enough of land to support a cavalryman - a knight's fee. He needed not only food and clothing for himself and his family, but weaponry, arms and horses too. The land required varied according to the quality of the land. England, for example, had about 5,000-6,000 knights' fees. And this again was the root of the medieval inheritance laws, again, not gender or discrimination of women. But let's further examine this.
What we can see and recognize in this regard as the reasons for the eldest son (in some cases the youngest one), to inherit the father was not, as we said, due to gender discrimination against women but rather national security concerns that discriminated against men. First, based on the gynocentric social contract of chivalry women were exempt from military service granted the right to protection of men while not taking part in the national effort. They were, of course, exempt from paying the highest sacrifice namely their lives (additionally to the duty to provide for women. Hence, being mainly the duty of the eldest son, it was other male siblings that were discriminated against while girls, as we can see, have received their inheritance in various forms. And as to the vast majority of men, so in the feudal matrifocal society, the only right a father and his sons had was not an actual property the "right" to die in the name of God, King, and women and as long as he was willing to serve as cannon fodder not to be thrown away with his family while the rest of them were protected. Therefore, neither the father nor the eldest son inherited nothing of the same infamous "rights" feminists want us to believe.
As we will see, despite this medieval reality, women were never discriminated and as standing opposed to the vast majority of men, including the affluent aristocracy, received their portion of the inheritance, something which even male siblings did not. In London, for example, the father’s estate was divided into three ways with a third reserved to pay the testator’s debt and for the salvation of his soul, a third was put aside for his children’s inheritance, and a third was reserved for his widow’s life use. The widow could take her inheritance into another marriage, but after she died, the surviving children inherited her portion. These laws kept wealth circulating, and women became conduits of wealth. One of the effects of population decrease that I mentioned above was, as this thesis shows, that widows and their minor children became increasingly wealthy. The accumulated wealth of widows, heirs, and heiresses who survived the plague became concentrated in the hands of fewer people by the late 14th and the first half of the 15th century.
So, the eldest son may have inherited the father's estate but as standing opposed to daughters who received an inheritance and dowry while the widows had a dower and inheritance, all younger sons were lucky if they could get a monetary settlement or a military position. This familial division of wealth in favor of women reflects and mirror also the social myth of patriarchy. A minority of men are standing at the front to help all women at the expense and the discrimination of all men. Hence, even in the case of the eldest son when marrying, the wife standing at the center matrifocal center of attention deciding and controlling about family resources, his inherited finance and estate still reside in the hands of women. So, medieval and specifically London law was clear about the rights of women in terms of property and by all other means.
London men who had real estate to dispose of recorded their wills in the Husting court of wills and deeds so that the city had a record of the transmission of property. Although property and estate were assigned to the eldest son, still those men inherited only 60 percent of them to the eldest male offspring, compared to 44 percent of their daughters. This means that girls and boys roughly inherited property at the same ratio. Taken the fact, that the majority of sons didn't inherit anything at all but girls did it means that in overall terms it worsened the male's situation. Additionally, women without brothers or with brothers who died before they came of age received all the real estate and chattels if any were mentioned. Feminist, as in the referred study brings this as an indicator of discrimination of women but, in reality, maintaining the not eldest son's situation as not inheriting almost anything at all, while sharing heritance of the eldest son at roughly equal rates means discrimination of men nor women. Additionally, the reason for assigning the property to the eldest son was that their need to oppress men through military service and for the benefit of all women, while the domestic finances were under female control. And this is for sore the explanation while there is still an insignificant percentage of elder sons who inherited estate and property, not women and why families might have adopted an infant son. It's not discriminating against women who were taken care of and cared for while using men as cannon fodders. This is the reason why this dynamic could be observed more in small than bigger families.
Women in London could inherit at sixteen if they married or at the usual age of majority, twenty-one if they did not. For example, historical records suggest that although married women could inherit through marriage none of the sons were described as receiving inheritance on marriage. The number married suggests that women already in their twenty-one or younger were no exception to the rule. The bride received the bulk of her claim to family property. Inheritance, of course, did not have to come with marriage in London. In the Archdeaconry court and Commissary court, many daughters seem to have been of age already. But a pie baker left the property and his capital tenement to an unmarried, adult daughter. He left another daughter, who was still a minor, £10 to have when she married. And a carpenter, who left two minor daughters, provided for them to receive their bequest in equal shares when they came of age or married. When real estate was transferred to an heiress, the presumption was that she would marry and that the progeny of the marriage would become heirs. In the failure of surviving heirs, however, the property reverted to the next of kin. If the real estate came from the mother, then her next of kin inherited. Her husband could not take the property and leave it to his family. In other words, women enjoyed the same rights to lineal descent of property as did men.
Furthermore, this was not only the English custom but equal laws of inheritance existed also throughout northwestern and other parts of Europe. Female inheritance laws, dowry, and dower were closer there to those of borough law in England. In Paris and much of France, the noble custom of primogeniture related to national security was disregarded, and instead, the older system of dividing property equally among all surviving children was still practiced in the sixteenth century. Even daughters who had received the dowry could claim further beneﬁts. In Ghent, a similar situation of partible inheritance existed without regard to sex or age. Furthermore, regarding London women-owned there a considerable amount of real property. This, in turn, is why women put themselves under the pressure of getting married because the national security needs didn't simply vanish. Therefore, both in London and Ghent, the families of the bride wanted to protect their property and make sure that rightful heirs received it after the woman died.
Additionally, Ghent, unlike London, had a well-established clan system that was perpetuated for the sake of supplying future male soldiers and led to the discrimination of fathers in custody rights as they were allowed to keep male siblings only if tutoring and preparing them for wars but not having custody rights as we understand today (which mothers could obtain at least partially. London’s laws resembled the inheritance and dowry system of northern Europe in giving daughters and sons equal or nearly equal access to parental wealth by law although in practice discrimination men which reminds a lot modern the written modern law that gives ab appearance of equality but through gynocentric interpretation discriminates against men. This acquisition of property through inheritance gave northwestern European women in the Middle Ages an advantaged relationship to their property and movables than then men. In Florence, the dowry stayed with the husband’s family or reverted to the wife’s natal family at widowhood. Widows in Florence were less likely to remarry than northern European women.
Why were men reluctant to marry in ancient Rome?
Marginal voices of men in the Roman Empire
Graffiti from Pompeii
Widow and Ward: The Feudal Law of Child Custody in Medieval England
Sue Sheridan Walker
Bell and Howell Information and Learning Company, Feminist Studies
Female Forms of Power and the Myth of Male Dominance: A Model of Female/Male Interaction in Peasant Society!
Susan Carol Rogers
Roles of Women in the Middle Ages
Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 2 vols. 
Back to The Best Interests of the Child
Medieval Women in Feudal Europe, Yoav Levin
The Wealth of Wives, Barbara Hanawalt
Feudalism as Economic Foundation of Gynocentrism, Yoav Levin
History in Deed: Medieval Society & The Law in England, 1100-1600:
Glossary of Medieval Land Holding Terms:
Medieval manors and their records:
Lord of the Manor:
The Feudal Land System
The Myth of the Oppressed and Submissive Medieval Woman: