Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Salic Law

From Susan Abernethy:
The Salic Law (Lex Salica) was written in a mixture of Latin and Germanic text and for the most part clarified points of law in relation to monetary compensations (wehrgeld) and civil law regarding men and land. Clause Six in Title 59 deals with inheritance rules for family lands not held in benefice and states “concerning Salic lands (terra Salica) no portion or inheritance is for a woman but all the land belongs to members of the male sex who are brothers”.

An ordinance added by the Merovingian King Chilperic c. 575 expanded on this allowing daughters to inherit in the absence of sons: “if a man had neighbors but after his death sons and daughters remained, as long as there were sons they should have the land just as the Salic Law provides. And if the sons are already dead then a daughter may receive the land just as the sons would have done had they lived”. The monarch is never mentioned in these passages. Salic Law was modified under Charlemagne and was in evidence until the ninth century. It then slowly disappeared and became incorporated into common laws on a local level. By the fourteenth century, Salic law was forgotten and not in effect.

During the succession crisis of 1328, the jurists relied on this concept that women could only inherit personal property to keep the crown from passing to a woman or through her to her children. It was unthinkable to nominate any of the daughters of the previous kings. By doing so, there would be a recognition of the right of women to the throne in addition to the possibility of endless squabbles regarding the law. It was used as propaganda to defend the rights of the Valois against the claims of Edward III of England.

Wellman mentions the French humanist Jean de Montreuil. In 1413, he wrote a dissertation entitled “Treaty Against the English”. This clause clarified that men inherited land and women could only inherit personal property and thus couldn’t inherit the crown. After this, it became a fundamental principle of French law.

Just to be clear, this didn’t apply to all areas of France. Excellent examples are the duchy of Brittany and the kingdom of Navarre. Salic Law did not pertain to Brittany’s succession and when Francis II of Brittany died in 1488, his daughter Anne inherited the land and the title. The laws of Navarre did not prohibit a woman from inheriting the crown and on a number of occasions the kingdom was directly inherited or transmitted by heiresses. (Read more.)

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