[2.] See the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia's entries for "Gavelkind
," "Borough-English," and "Primogeniture."
While some generalizations about Irish society in the pre-Famine decades hold true such as its dependence on the potato, others such as increased female fertility and early marriages to explain the demographic growth, and the role of gavelkind
inheritance in the declining fortunes of Catholic landholders, do not.
The Irish system of individual land tenure was known to the English as gavelkind
, so named because it reminded the Norman settlers of a local feudal system in Kent called gavelkind
One wonders, though, whether the ideological valence of dividing the land is so clearly defined: early modern critics of primogeniture lauded the ancient Kentish custom of Gavelkind
land tenure (partible inheritance), and engrossing of estates was a key strategy of "improvement." In the second half of the chapter, Sullivan extends and complicates this view in a subtler reading of Richard II, in which Gaunt's "sceptered isle" speech serves as a paradigm for "a vision of the nation as Gesellschaft, as an abstraction that is nonetheless the locus for powerful forms of identification" and subject to various kinds of self-interested appropriation.
[asking for retention of ancient customs, among them gavelkind
, to which William agreed] tho' the father suffer for a felony, yet his son succeeds to his estate, according to the rhime, and the son to the plow, &c.' (English Post, 19, 23125 Nov/1700).
Instead of primogeniture, by which an eldest son inherited his father's land and other property, the penal legislation mandated gavelkind
(repealed in 1778), whereby an estate was divided equally among all male children, thus obstructing consolidation of assets in one son's hands.