Cadet branch

Cadet branch

The descendants in the male-line of a younger son of a monarch or patriarch collectively constitute a cadet branch of that ancestor's lineage. In the ruling dynasties and noble families of much of Europe and Asia, the family's major assets – titles, realms, fiefs, property and income – have historically been passed from a father to his firstborn son in what is known as primogeniture: Younger sons – cadets – inherited less wealth and authority to pass to future generations of descendants.

In families and cultures in which this was not the custom or law, as in feudal Germany, equal distribution of the family's holdings among descendants was eventually apt to so fragment the inheritance as to render it too small to sustain the descendants at the socio-economic level of their forefather. Moreover, brothers and/or their descendants sometimes quarreled over their allocations, or even became estranged. While masculine primogeniture became a common way of keeping the family's wealth intact and reducing familial disputes, it did so at the expense of younger sons and their descendants. Both before and after adoption of inheritance by primogeniture, younger brothers sometimes vied with older brothers to be chosen their father's heir or, after the choice was made, sought to usurp the elder's birthright.


In the parts of Europe where primogeniture prevailed, cadet sons were generally entitled to receive an appanage in patrimony, always substantially smaller than the eldest son's inheritance. Often, especially outside of Germany, the younger branch remained subordinate to the elder line as vassals or subjects.

Often, however, one or more younger sons was encouraged to take clerical orders, thereby forfeiting all rights of inheritance. Or a junior male might be encouraged to pursue a career in the military as an officer, or as a courtier or civil servant in the monarch's capital.


In such cases, primary responsibility for promoting the family's prestige, ment, and fortune fell upon the senior branch for future generations. A cadet, having less means, was not expected to reproduce a family. If a cadet chose to raise a family, its members were expected to maintain the family's social status by avoiding , but could pursue endeavors that might be considered demeaning for the senior branch, such as immigration to another sovereign's realm, or engagement in commerce, or a profession (such as law), academia, or civil service.

In some cases, cadet branches eventually inherited the throne of the senior line, e.g. the House of Savoy-Carignan in the Duchy of Savoy and the Kingdom of Sardinia; and the Counts Palatine of Zweibrücken in the Electorates of the Palatinate and Bavaria. In other cases, a junior branch came to eclipse more senior lines in rank and power, e.g. the Kings of Prussia and German Emperors who were junior by primogeniture to the Counts and Princes of Hohenzollern, and the Electors and Kings of Saxony who were a younger branch of the House of Wettin than the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar.

By contrast, it was also sometimes possible for cadet branches to sink in status, either due to diminished fortune or genealogical distance. Such was the case of the Capetian branch of the princes de Courtenay, the last male of which died in 1730 without ever having been recognized by the French crown as "princes du sang". Likewise, the line of the principi di Ottajano, a branch of the House of Medici who were eligible to inherit the grand duchy of Tuscany when the last male of the senior branch died in 1737, but for intervention of the Major Powers that allocated the sovereignty of Florence elsewhere for reasons of political expediency.

Notable cadet branches

*House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg; descendants of a younger son of King Christian III of Denmark (of the House of Oldenburg), who eventually became monarchs of Denmark and Norway, and of which Charles, Prince of Wales, is patrilineally a member.
*House of Bourbon; descendants of a younger son of Louis IX of France who, in the person of "Henri le Grand" inherited the throne of France from the senior Capetian line of the Valois in 1589; and from which sprung the Bourbon kings of Spain (including the Carlist and French legitimist lines), the kings of the Two Sicilies, and the sovereign Dukes of Parma, who currently reign in the Grand duchy of Luxembourg in a cadet line. Also from Louis XIII de Bourbon descends the cadet branch known as the House of Orléans, to which the Citizen-king Louis-Philippe, the Orleanist claimants to the throne of France (Henri, comte de Paris, duc de France) belong, as does the House of Orleans-Braganza, which reigned as Emperors of Brazil until 1889.

ee also

* appanage

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