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The Salic Law: 6th - 20th century

The laws of the Salii, the dominant tribe among the Franks, are written down for Clovis in the early 6th century. They include a law stating that daughters cannot inherit land.

This law would have been long ago forgotten by all except experts in Frankish or legal history, if it had not been treated as a precedent by French jurists on a quite different issue - whether women may succeed to the throne. This becomes topical in France, twice in rapid succession, in the early 14th century.


In 1316 Louis X dies with a daughter but no son. He is succeeded by his brother, Philip V, after a parliament of barons and bishops declares (without any specific legal basis for the opinion) that women do not succeed to the throne in France. Twelve years later another brother, Charles IV, dies. He is the last of these royal siblings, and he leaves as offspring two infant daughters. Again a parliament declares that neither of these shall inherit.

They choose instead a cousin in the male line, Philip VI. The exclusion of a closer claimant through a female line, Edward III, becomes one of the causes of the Hundred Years' War.


Since the English claim to the French throne during the Hundred Years' War derives from the female line, it is not surprising that French legal opinion hardens during this period. It is now held not only that the French crown cannot be inherited by a woman, but also that it cannot be inherited through a woman.

In the 16th century this principle, under the name of the Salic Law, becomes accepted by custom as one of the fundamental laws of France. It is subsequently adopted by most other European dynasties, with the notable exceptions of Britain and the Scandinavian kingdoms. It is the Salic Law which separates Britain from Hanover on the accession of Victoria in 1837.


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