‘In the Shadow of Big Brother’| Identities and Roles of Noble Cadet Sons in the Long Eighteenth Century

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Together with Jonathan Spangler (Manchester Metropolitan University) I wish to submit a panel proposal for the upcoming “International Conference on Eighteenth-Century Studies” (ISECS) in Edingburgh, July 14-19, 2019 (https://www.bsecs.org.uk/isecs/en/). This panel will focus on the identity and the role of noble cadet sons in the long eighteenth century. We are looking for a third panelist that preferably works on another polity than France and the Habsburg Monarchy.

Although the study of early modern nobilities and all aspects of noble life is flourishing, historical attention has been unevenly distributed in several respects. From a geographical perspective, some regions are underrepresented. Similarly, much more attention is given to the higher nobility than to lesser nobles. By examining the identities and roles of noble cadet sons, this panel focuses on another group within the nobility that has often been neglected. Usually the heads of noble houses attracted most attention.

The status and room for maneuver of noble cadet sons depended upon a series of factors that differed greatly across Europe. Noblemen mostly passed down their noble status to all their legitimate descendants, but in several countries they could not pass the title to all descendants. More fundamental were the laws of inheritance. In order for the family patrimony not to be fragmented among too many children, noble cadet sons often remained unmarried and childless. The growing popularity of entail systems forced many of them to enter princely or ecclesiastical service in order to earn a proper living. Individual cadet sons were usually subordinate to their house and constituted pawns in shrewd family, career, and property strategies that denied them the freedom to control their own future. On the other hand, they were in a continuous waiting position. Fertility problems and the imminent extinction of the noble house could force them to marry and turn them into a pater familias at any moment.

As a result, noble cadet sons faced different challenges from their eldest brothers, played different roles in noble families, and developed distinct identities in relation to their relatives. The speakers in this panel address these topics for three different states, examining legal, economic, and social factors that influenced the status of noble cadet sons. By doing so, they not only point up the agency of a numerous but often neglected group within the nobility, they also demonstrate that noble cadet sons could be vital for the survival, ascendency or consolidation of noble houses.

If you wish to participate in this panel, please send an abstract of no more than 400 words and a short bio to Klaas.VanGelder@UGent.be before December 17, 2018.

Contact Info: klaas.vangelder@ugent.be


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