No male heir

It seems like England had a lot of troubles whenever a king died without a son to take over. Why is it after Edward the 6th’s death that it was suddenly ok for women to take over the throne? We had a Jane Grey, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor in England and Mary queen of Scotts in Scotland. Was there a feminist revolution after the death of Henry the 8th? Or was every just so tired of the infighting that they decided to allow a woman be Regent rather than start up the civil wars again?

Henry had himself laid down a line of succession, which included his daughters. Edward VI made a change to exclude Mary and install Lady Jane Grey instead, which led to a short civil war. I’d have thought that gave enough impetus not to re-open the succession question, again, though Elizabeth constantly ducked the question of whether Mary Queen of Scots was the next heir (understandably, that might have given Catholics even more of an incentive to bump Elizabeth off and provoke, guess what, a civil war).

John Knox had published his “Monstrous Regiment of Women” against the rule of female monarchs (all the examples at the time he wrote it were Catholic as well as women, but it also got him into trouble with Elizabeth and broke his connections to the Church of England), but that didn’t prevent the Lords of Parliament from accepting Mary Queen of Scots back from France.

Not feminism, just general acceptance that there wasn’t a credible male alternative, and perhaps an assumption that female monarchs might be more biddable to powerful interests.

The Salic law established by the Franks was the framework for much of middle age European inheritance law, it initially wasn’t applicable to the Anglo Saxons who were not Franks and weren’t part of the Frankish Empire on continental Europe, but the Norman Conquest brought with it a ruling dynasty that followed a derivation of the old salic law.

Under original salic law women could not inherit real property (land–they could inherit personal property/money), and inheritance also didn’t “trace through” women. In some countries this evolved over time to allow for semi-salic laws in which inheritance could “trace through” a woman, although the woman still couldn’t inherit directly. So e.g., a King has a son and a daughter, the son predeceases the King without issue, the daughter has a son, when the King died the grandson through the daughter could inherit. This sort of thinking could apply to property inheritance among non-nobility / royalty as well.

Whether or not 2nd/3rd sons inherited some share of property tended to vary from place to place, generally they did and strict primogeniture wasn’t widely practiced until closer to modern times.

Everything is subject to change, though, there had already been abortive attempts or even outright instances of an English King being able to get his daughter on the throne at least for a bit of time. Empress Maud/Matilda was Henry I’s (William the Conqueror’s 4th son) daughter, and her brother predeceased Henry. [Note her title of Empress was related to her having married the Holy Roman Emperor, it wasn’t at all reflective of anything to do with England.] Henry basically made his vassals swear an oath that upon his death they would swear fealty to her, this wasn’t really the custom or strictly the traditional law, but the King in the 1100s could have a shaky relationship with the law. But so too could vassals have a shaky relationship with it, as they had armies of their own. Many of Henry’s vassals didn’t take seriously an oath made to support a woman, and upon his death many aligned with Stephen. Most chronologies show Stephen as King of England for most of the following era of warfare, except for a brief time when Maude forced Stephen from the throne. The reality is that both of them controlled portions of England intermittently and it was a generally poor time to be around. Their ultimate settlement disinherited Stephen’s heirs in preference for Maude’s, but allowed Stephen to hold the throne during his lifetime.

By the time of Henry VIII the nobility was far weaker and more incapable of such activities, and the law of the king more powerful, so it wouldn’t have been especially difficult for the King to modify the succession. In later eras Parliament explicitly controlled all aspects of the succession, and adopted a form of “cognatic-agnatic primogeniture” in which women could inherit but males had preference, that held for hundreds of years (there was a time when all Catholics were removed from the succession which modified it significantly and is why Anne’s heir was some 50+ spots removed from the succession otherwise, the Elector of Hanover was protestant so was eligible, all those above him were Catholic and were not.) Recently the law was changed so that males/females inherit equally–and I believe now all European monarchies have equal male/female royal inheritance.

The only good example of an English king before the Tudors who left a daughter but no son is King Henry I, whose daughter the Empress Matilda faced a civil war in her efforts to succeed him. The other medieval kings who died without a son (e.g., all three Richards) had no surviving legitimate female offspring either.

In the time of the Empress Matilda, the principle of primogeniture wasn’t really fixed in English law yet; William the Conqueror, e.g., famously split his domains, with Normandy going to his eldest and England to his second son. Although Matilda became her father’s preferred choice, he had at least semi-seriously considered several of his nephews and an illegitimate son. By the time Henry died, his daughter and her husband were already in open rebellion against him, and the “Nineteen Long Winters” of her cousin Stephen’s reign represented a continuation of war, not something new.

No. Spain still has male-preference primogeniture (although the present king has only daughters), as does Monaco, and Liechtenstein has strictly agnatic primogeniture–females don’t count, and the present Prince’s daughter and granddaughters have no inheritance rights at all. I believe you are correct that the remaining monarchies (Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Luxembourg) now all have absolute primogeniture, where the eldest child, regardless of gender, is the heir.

Partly due to the evolution of the modern state. The Wars of the Roses had exhausted the nobility which was prone to rebellion and power-grabbing, and Henry VII planted the seeds of a powerful, centralised state that could govern all corners of the kingdom from Whitehall. Henry VIII made great use of it.

By the time of Mary and Elizabeth therefore a lot of the old parochialism had begun to be partly eroded, and the nobility weren’t necessarily known for being soldiers above all else. There were still occasional rebellions, however.

But aren’t many of the lesser titles (dukes - barons) still male preference owing to the rules in place at the time of their creation?

Yes, almost all British titles are inherited by male primogeniture as set forth in the original documents granting the title (some Scottish titles, among others, don’t conform to this general statement). They’re not male preference, they’re male-only. The British throne, meanwhile, is gender-neutral.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the throne is male-preference and most noble titles are gender-neutral (since 2006).

In Belgium, the throne is gender-neutral, while most noble titles descend either via male primogeniture or to all male-line descendants (e.g., all of the children of the Count of Lannoy are themselves titled count or countess, but only the sons’ children inherit the title). A similar pattern holds in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Norway has no nobility, and I’m not familiar enough with the Swedish or Danish nobility to know. Insofar as I’m aware, there are no indigenous nobility in Monaco or Liechtenstein other than the ruling family and their descendants.

Most of England probably would have preferred a male heir but there wasn’t a good one handy in 1553.

You can sort of see their point if you accept the way their society worked. Countries were subordinate to monarchs and women were subordinate to men. So if you had a female monarch you ran the risk of her getting married to some idiot and that idiot would become the de facto ruler. Or you could get some foreigner who might not act in England’s best interests.

Right–which somewhat happened when Edward VI died, in fact. Mary married Philip, a Habsburg and son of the Emperor (he would eventually be King of Spain), and she actually insisted he be titled “King of England.” She intended for them to co-rule, she required his face be on coinage with hers and essentially intended for him to be a full King of England.

The issue they ran into is only Mary was interested in that, no one else in all of the English power structure was so interested. Parliament insisted on restrictions on his powers in their marriage law, including that he would have no powers or position if Mary predeceased him. Philip himself was only interested in England as a source of money and soldiers to fund his continental wars and advance his interests on the continent. While he did spend some time in England and Mary had a “hysterical pregnancy”, once she died (she only reigned 5 years before she died) he realized he had no real position in England and never bothered with it much again.

Despite what Mary “wanted” no official sources regard Philip as ever having been King of England at all.

Other than Parliament, of course.

No modern day sources, I meant–as in, no one today in an official capacity lists him as one of the English monarchs. Even Parliament basically treated him like a King Consort, since he was only King of England during Mary’s life, and had no independent authority. The closest he came was during the false pregnancy, parliament provided he would be regent if Mary died in childbirth (but the baby survived.)

Along with those excellent points, there’s also the question of how far personal military prowess was an important feature of kingship. Back in Maude and Stephen’s day, then answer to that was “a lot”. Kings were still personally leading armies into battle, engaging in hand to hand combat, and suffering the possibility of being killed or captured in battle (as, for instance, Richard III of England or David II of Scotland). That wasn’t entirely over by Mary and Elizabeth’s day (Henry VIII still led troops into battle), but it was on the way out. Armies were getting bigger, the Navy was becoming more important, activities like fencing and jousting were moving from ‘vital practice of a necessary skill’ to ‘sport’. Generalship was still important - big muscles and lots of swordfighting practice less so.

Lady Jane Grey really doesn’t belong on a list of ‘examples of how things were different for women by the sixteenth century’ - she’s like a Tudor Empress Maude, except wildly less successful (the ‘official heir’ who the nobles didn’t actually want to support).

It’s really Elizabeth who’s the game changer here, IMO, and her personal grit and determination to rule by herself, without ceding any part of her power to a husband. Mary QoS tried to pull that off, but failed. Mary of England didn’t even want to try. And it didn’t really ‘take’ as a general principle - the next time England gave power to a female monarch (Mary II) she followed the traditional ‘fade into the background and let your husband take the decisions’ pattern.

But in that case the husband’s co-kingship didn’t solely derive from his marriage. Up until the birth of James VII and II’s son (somewhat late and surprising, hence the widespread scepticism about it from Protestants, including his daughters, even before the birth), William was the nearest legitimate male Protestant blood relation - and a notably successful military leader against Louis XIV, which also endeared him to a Protestant parliament. He had always been waiting in the wings, and was the one they wanted from the outset - Mary added some additional legitimacy and a dash of grace and charm to the coup d’état.

Which is what I’ve always heard called semi-salic inheritance, something very distinct from the transmission of inheritability through the female line. I thought it might be one of those false friends but uncle google seems to agree that this is what “semi-salic” refers to, male primacy.

Not really; people knew that women could lead Armies; (and Catherine did at Flodden when heavily pregnant) and Kings were already mostly delegating most of the actual decision making to their advisors.

The basic argument against women was that it would give outsiders undue influence over the monarch, whomever she would marry would dominate her, and of course enough women died in childbirth that it was risky, and lack of a clear heir meant war. This was not just restricted to women; when nobles married into the Royal Family, they advanced, look at the amount of power the Woodviles and Boylens gained upon marriage of their daughters to the King. Which is why they were married off to foreign Princesses and this could still cause problems…

Of course these arguments were shown to be false, while QUeen Mary II was only monarch with her husband, her successor was Anne, whose husband played no real political role.

In the case of Henry VIII he had no family males surviving at all. His father was an only child and his mother’s brothers were the Princes in the Tower. If he had had younger brothers, he might not have been as concerned at the succession as he was historically, they could have been given the Crown, or convinced to support Mary.

[Nitpick:] The system which England had for many centuries, where daughters inherit if and only if any brothers and their heirs are extinct is called cognatic primogeniture.

Semi-salic inheritance, at least in some usages refers to a stricter male-only system that is identical to Salic inheritance unless the entire dynasty becomes extinct. “All-male descendance is applied, including all collateral male lines; but if all male agnates become extinct, then the closest female agnate (such as a daughter) of the last male holder of the property inherits.” (In strict Salic law, nobles would need to elect a new King when a dynasty goes extinct.)

For example, two daughters of Grand Duke William IV of Luxemburg inherited their Grand Duchy only because the entire 900 year-old House of Nassau had gone completely extinct (excepting the offspring of morganatic or extramarital unions).

Japan also still has male-only succession to the throne:

This was all playing out while I was living there. They were debating changing the law to allow female succession.

After the Japanese lost the war the US decided to allow the emperor to retain his throne, with the condition that the he would be subject to the authority of the occupation and later the constitution.

The US had the Japanese change the succession law in order to remove all of the older alternative branches of the imperial household, leaving succession only to Emperor Hirohito, his sons and Hirohito’s brothers and their sons. The line could not pass through daughters to their sons.

This was specifically made to remove any possibility of outsiders’ influence on the imperial family.

The problem was that not enough sons were produced. Hirohito had three younger brothers, of which only the youngest one had any children.

Hirohito did his duty and producing an heir, now Emperor Akihiro; a spare; and four daughters, the surviving ones became commoners after marriage, as per the 1947 law. The spare never had children.

Emperor Akihiro also produced an heir, now the Crown Prince, a spare and a daughter.

The Crown Prince married Princess Masako, a graduate of Radcliffe and who has been very popular but has suffered from debilitating depression and anxieties, not appearing in public for extended periods of time. They only had one child, despite rumors of extensive fertility treatments.

The crown prince’s younger brother had two daughters and seemed content to not have more. When it became clear that the Crown Prince would not have another child, they finally did have a son.

The younger sister married and became a commoner as per the Imperial Household Law. She does not have children.

Hirohito’s youngest brother, the only one with offspring did have a total of five children, of which three were sons. One of the boys never was married and the other two had a total of give girls between them.

There are only three people remaining in the line of success. The Crown Prince, his younger brother and the brother’s son.

There seems to be broad Japanese public support, notwithstanding opposition among some conservatives, to permit daughters of the Imperial House to take the throne as empresses. I’m surprised some PM hasn’t really pushed for it.