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Delivering Stability—Primogeniture and Autocratic Survival in European Monarchies 1000–1800


Building a strong autocratic state requires stability in ruler-elite relations. From this perspective the absence of a successor is problematic, as the elite have few incentives to remain loyal if the autocrat cannot reward them for their loyalty after his death. However, an appointed successor has both the capacity and the motive to challenge the autocrat. We argue that a succession based on primogeniture solves the dilemma, by providing the regime with a successor who can afford to wait to inherit the throne peacefully. We test our hypothesis on a dataset covering 961 monarchs ruling 42 European states between 1000 and 1800, and show that fewer monarchs were deposed in states practicing primogeniture than in states practicing alternative succession orders. A similar pattern persists in the world's remaining absolute monarchies. Primogeniture also contributed to building strong states: In 1801 all European monarchies had adopted primogeniture or succumbed to foreign enemies.

Corresponding author
Andrej Kokkonen is Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Box 100, 405 30 Gothenburg (
Anders Sundell is Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science and The Quality of Government Institute, University of Gothenburg, Box 100, 405 30 Gothenburg (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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