- Title LIX. Concerning Private Property 6. But of Salic land no portion of the inheritance shall come to a woman: but the whole inheritance of the land shall come to the male sex.
- From: Medieval Sourcebook: The Law of the Salian Franks
is the traditional law that regulates the dynastic succession in the former French monarchies
. The name "Salic" derives from the Salian Franks
, a Germanic people who inhabited and eventually ruled most of the western portion of the European continent between the 6th and 10th centuries. The law in question is in fact only one of many laws compiled into one body in the 7th century, and states not that only men should inherit, but rather that 'of Salic land, no portion of inheritance shall come to a woman.' This law by no means covered all matters of inheritance -- only those lands considered "Salic" -- and there is still debate as to the legal definition of this word, although it is generally accepted to refer to lands in the royal fisc. Only several hundred years later, under the Capetian
kings of France
and their English contemporaries who held lands in France, did Salic law become a rationale for enforcing or debating succession. By then somewhat anachronistic (there were no Salic lands, since the Salian monarchy was long dead), the law was resurrected by Philip V
to support his claim to the throne by removing his niece Jeanne from the succession, following the death of his nephew John
. When the Capetian
line ended, the law was contested by England, providing a putative motive for the Hundred Years' War
Shakespeare uses the Salic law as a plot device in his play Henry V, and states that it was upheld by the French to bar the claim of Henry V from the throne of France. The play Henry V starts with the Archbishop of Canterbury being asked if Henry's claim can be upheld despite the law. The Archbishop says that it is not a French law but a German one.
The Salic law is responsible for some interesting chapters of history. The Carlist Wars occurred in Spain over the question of whether the heir to the throne should be a woman or a distant male relative. The War of the Austrian Succession was triggered by the Pragmatic sanction in which Charles VI of Austria attempted to overturn Salic Law to ensure the succession of Maria Theresa of Austria.
The British throne lost claim to that of Hanover when Queen Victoria was crowned; Hanover practiced the Salic law, while Britain did not. Salic law was also an important issue in the Schleswig-Holstein question.
Finally, though it is sometimes claimed that Queen Elizabeth II is duke, not duchess, of Normandy, because of Salic law, she in fact claims no such title (nor could she, if Salic law pertained), though she is toasted in the Channel Islands (the only part of the former duchy of Normandy still held by her) as "Our Queen the Duke."
See also: Hundred Years' War