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What is an Apanage?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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An apanage or appanage was a grant of land given by the sovereign to members of the royal family who would be without inheritance in nations using the system of primogeniture. This system was widely used in France, as well as several other nations and legacies of apanage can be seen today in the form of provinces and districts once owned by younger members of royal families. In nations where monarchies have been replaced by other forms of government, the maintenance paid to support surviving members of the royal family is sometimes referred to as a form of apanage.

Under the rules of primogeniture, the entirety of an estate goes to the eldest son, with everyone else in the family getting nothing. This practice was adopted in a number of nations to replace the system of dividing estates equally among family members. Primogeniture was designed to maintain the integrity of estates, keeping them large and consolidating power, but it was extremely unwelcome among younger members of the family, who inherited nothing and were forced to seek elsewhere for their fortunes.

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The resentment created through the primogeniture system proved to be a problem in some regions, where family members might engage in blood feuds and civil wars as they wrestled for control of estates. Apanage was devised as a system for addressing this problem. The monarch would give younger sons grants of land with the understanding that the land couldn't be sold, transferred, or used as a dowry. In return, the sons agreed not to attack their older brothers, and the land they controlled would return to the crown in the event that their lines died out.

Members of the nobility sometimes adopted similar systems to prevent family strife. The system allowed families to maintain control of their holdings while ensuring that younger siblings did not grow restless. In practice, apanage was not always successful. In nations like France, it was not uncommon for residents of regions held in apanage to have more loyalty to their own lords than the king, and sometimes people took advantage of their popularity to assault the monarchy. Rivalries continued, with young siblings drawing on the wealth and power from the lands they controlled to contest for kingship.

As new systems of government were adopted, the apanage system was also phased out. Today, primogeniture is an unusual form of inheritance in many regions of the world and most royal families do not have the power and control they once wielded.

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