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Primogeniture

Feudal rule of inheritance by which the entire in herited landed estate, excluding only the widow's dower or jointure, passed to the eldest son or, in the absence of sons, to the daughter or daughters (as co-heiresses). The rule applied to free lands (held by knight service) and was operative only in cases of intestacy. By the Statute of Wills (1540) English men and women had freedom of testation, although there were certain restrictions. There has been much debate about the importance of this rule in English society.