During the middle ages, how often did kings give land for their sons to govern? In particular sons who were not heirs or even far in the line of succession.

If they did give land would it be small like a barony or would they give lordships and duchies as well?

The question arises from the thought that it would be easier for landed sons to create a succession crisis upon the death of their father, or even during his reign.

if the question is too broad consider answering for one of the following specific kingdoms:

England, France, Norway, Hungary, Leon, Alba (Scotland), Poland, Denmark.

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    Offhand, I'd say it was the norm for all legitimate sons to receive royal titles that included an income stream. Prior to the industrial revolution, such income would be predominately from land holdings. Most large holdings came with administrative responsibilities that, even if delegated, would highlight to each son that all the nobles outside of the family were grasping jackals; to be guarded against by trusting only blood relatives. Not giving land to offspring put power into hands outside the royal family - an infinitely more dangerous proposition. May 4, 2014 at 8:54
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    Another clue about norms was that Prince John of England was called "LackLand" because he was not given lands. I don't think it kept him from intriguing.
    – Oldcat
    May 30, 2014 at 18:12

2 Answers 2


The original poster asked for (among others) Denmark and Norway, which I'll cover along with Sweden. I'll limit my answer to the later part of the medieval age, from ca 1200 and forward, this was when the rules of the Danish nobility were finalised (Sweden were later, and Norway never had much of a nobility).

Denmark has few examples: The later king Christopher II only became a duke when he was 31 years old. The son of Valdemar Atterdag, Christopher, had a dukedom (he died before he could ascend to the throne). During the Kalmar Union, the later kings John and Christian II were not made dukes before ascending, but John's brother Frederick was.

Norway has only one possible example from the period, Haakon Magnusson. He was indeed made a duke, when he was 14 years old.

For Sweden, the first duke was created in 1255, Magnus Birgerson, younger brother of king Valdemar, but he held no special land for this. Their father Briger jarl was not actually king, but was the de facto regent. Of his other sons, Eric was made a duke when Magnus took the throne from his brother, and Bengt instead went into the church, after this, all sons of kings where made Dukes with duchies at about 20 years of age, unless they had actually succeded to a throne. Magnus' two younger sons Eric and Valdemar were made Dukes. Their brother Birger became king when he was 10 years old, his son Magnus was styled "Duke of Sweden", without any land attached. Eric's son Magnus eventually became king (too young to have held a duchy), of his sons, Eric rebelled when he was 17 and took control of most of Sweden, and his brother Haakon became king of Norway at 15. After this, we have only Albrecht of Mecklemburg's son Eric, who was "lord of Gotland", before we reach the Kalmar union. (After it, the tradition was taken up again, with similar results of constant rebellions).

To summarise: In Denmark, the tradition existed, but was never strong and it was mostly discontinued before the end of the medieval period. In Norway, the only possible Duke was also made one. In Sweden, this was done as a rule, and resulted in rebellion.


There were many ways how these successions worked in different countries.

To summarize the well written source in Wikipedia, giving the key words:

One was Primogeniture
Where all goes to the firstborn, this was usually working with male successors, but for example in Basque culture they always preferred the firstborn without gender preference. Semi-Salic agnatic-cognatic hereby means if all the male successors died, in succession women came in the similar order to men. Some form of Primogeniture was widespread in Western-European kingdoms.

Secondly there is Agnatic Seniority
A principle where the oldest patrilinear successor takes the titles. This method used by for example Kievian Rus, Kingdom of Poland, and in the present day by the Saud house.

For the third there Elective Monarchies
The monarch's person was elected by and from the rightful electors. Best example was the Holy Roman Empire.

Ultimately what you are curious of mostly the Gavelkind
In some regulations there was a compulsory share of the titles between the successors. So the most important titles left for the first successor, and the rest was divided between the immediate successors. Of course not all of them since the succession list could be huge with bigger families.

Adding few comments: there were various local uses of these principles, other - less spread - methods, and the succession often meant of the main title (Grand Duchies, Kingdoms, Empires), often occured that brothers received lesser titles by grants to cool them down, especially if the successor was young and healthy since in that case their succession would be hopelessly far in time.

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    Maybe it's not so clear but the question isn't about succession, it's about the landing of sons of the king during his rule. Apr 30, 2014 at 14:42
  • @SaalHardali, to clarify, do you mean like the dukedoms in England (and the Principality of Wales) in that the king's children govern them WHILE the king is still in overall power of England?
    – Mac Cooper
    May 30, 2014 at 20:32
  • @MacCooper Precisely! It could be a duchy, an earldom or any other landed title. May 30, 2014 at 20:59
  • Well then in England it's been going on a while: the king's son being Prince of Wales began, according to Wikipedia, in 1301. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_Wales. However, it may be useful for you to think about how much right over the land the monarch's child must have to count in your opinion: for instance, only two dukes in England actually gain anything from their land: the others are merely titles, AFIAK. For instance, the Duke of York holds a Dukedom, not a Duchy: it's a title, and (AFAIK) gets no revenue from it.
    – Mac Cooper
    May 30, 2014 at 21:10
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    @MacCooper You are talking about modern (British) practice. In earlier times a grant of land/title with its associated fiefdoms provided wealth and power. This consideration no longer exists - Prince Edward is Earl of Wessex, which doesn't actually exist!
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 11, 2016 at 2:34

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