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Bensington Manor and ultimogeniture: A study of the influence of family dynamics on manorial inheritance practices in early modern England

Shawndra Lynn Holderby, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

In the fairy tale tradition of England the youngest son is often the hero of the tale. During the medieval and early modern period, when these tales were circulating, the practice of primogeniture, inheritance by the eldest son, was the dominant form of inheritance in England. But alongside the more popular primogeniture other older forms of inheritance such as ultimogeniture, inheritance by the youngest son, continued to survive throughout the medieval and early modern period. Evidence for this survival can be found in manorial records, such as those for the manor of Bensington in Oxfordshire. The practice of ultimogeniture set up a distinct family dynamic with the youngest son inheriting the bulk of the family's land holdings. The manorial documents of Bensington also reveal close ties among immediate family members. Instead of discovering a family of indifferent members, as earlier studies suggest, the evidence reveals brothers providing financial support for unmarried sisters, and family members caring for mentally and physically disabled siblings. ^ The manorial documents of Bensington only allow for a glimpse into the world of its tenants. In order to complete the picture it is necessary to supplement with another source, the fairy tales of England. The fairy tales allow for a more intimate study of the concerns of peasants in the early modern period. By analyzing the tales alongside the more traditional manorial documents of Bensington Manor it is possible to gain insight into the specific family dynamics set up by the continuing practice of ultimogeniture. ^

Subject Area

History, European

Recommended Citation

Holderby, Shawndra Lynn, "Bensington Manor and ultimogeniture: A study of the influence of family dynamics on manorial inheritance practices in early modern England" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3009727.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3009727

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