Primogeniture, Purgatory, and the Needs of the Dead

By: Paul Delany  

Philosophers have debated whether it makes sense to say that the dead have rights. In a pragmatic view, the dead may have some control over posthumous events, in particular the disposal of their property. Medieval rules of inheritance required the transfer of landed estates to the eldest son, known as primogeniture. From the 13th century on, the new doctrine of Purgatory gave people an incentive to provide prayers and good works that would shorten their period of suffering after death. This had three important consequences: greatly increased wealth for the Catholic Church; the establishment of endowments to yield a perpetual income; and a rule of testamentary freedom that partially supplanted primogeniture.

Posthumous Rights, Primogeniture, Purgatory, Endowments, Testamentary Freedom
The Politics of Religion
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Paul Delany

Emeritus Professor, English, Simon Fraser University, Canada
British Columbia, Canada