For the sake of this discussion, let us just focus on one: cognatic primogeniture. Cognatic succession can be anathema to a dynasty. If a dynasty is patrilineal, then cognatic succession can allow a title—or all the tiles—to separate from that patrilineal line. Thus, cognatic titles can appear over generations as wayward travellers, traversing several dynasties in only a few generations. Such problems rarely impact agnatic succession systems, or seniority, or elective monarchies because all of those systems favour men more absolutely. But cognatic succession systems, even if they favour elder male children over female children, inevitably will revert the succession to a female line (a cognate).
There are numerous polities throughout Western European history that have allowed women to succeed, and sometimes those titles pass through numerous female holders. Generally—although not always—a female title holder will share her titles with her husband so long as she is alive, at which point the titles pass to her eldest child or to her nearest relative. Thus, just because a system allows female transmission of titles does not mean she gains exclusive use of those titles. Some women certainly insist upon exclusive regnal prerogatives, but not all of them. In other words, men still often become counts or kings when their wives hold the rights. Legally, this practice is called suo uxoris (by right of wife) and suo uxoris titles rarely outlast the woman from whom the titles derive.
There are a number of important cases of monarchies which were ruled, and indeed dictated, by the precepts of cognatic succession. Some of the most famous—England, Denmark, Russia, and Spain—rarely actually operated off of cognatic succession or, when they did, they often skipped women in favour of eldest sons. But a few polities, specifically many in France, experienced multiple female rulers throughout their existences.
The Lost Kingdom of Spain
Perhaps the most notorious European kingdom to experience the potential upheavals of cognatic succession was the Pyrenean kingdom of Navarre. Established in the mid-ninth century as one of two crusader states that began the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, Navarre's dalliance with cognatic succession did not begin until the Jiménez line of kings went extinct in 1234. Because of its Basque origins, Navarre had accepted the tenets of cognatic succession even if it never used such laws. The crown passed to a French lord, Thibaut IV, count of Champagne, whose mother had been the sister of the last Jiménez king, Sancho VII. For the next 80 years, the Champagnois ruled Navarre.
|The kings and queens of Navarre, 1150 – 1643|
|Jeanne I, queen of Navarre and countess|
of Champagne and Brie
Yet another upheaval came in 1425 when Charles III's daughter, Zuria I, succeeded him. Her husband, Juan II (future king of Aragón) seized the royal title more decisively than was usual and when she died in 1441, he kept the royal title against her will, depriving his son and eldest daughter their due rights. Their younger daughter, Leonor, succeeded briefly in 1479 only after he had died. Her grandson, François Phoebus, reigned for four years after her death, and then her daughter, Catherine, became the next queen, ruling alongside her husband, Jean III d'Albret. During their reign, most of the kingdom was conquered by Aragón, leaving only a small portion on the northern side of the Pyrenees for them to rule.
|Jeanne III d'Albret, queen of Navarre and|
countess of Foix
The Itinerant French County
The case of cognatic succession can get just as extreme, if not more so, when impacting a county. The tiny county of Boulogne on the French side of the English Channel is one such case. Originally granted to Baudouin II of Flanders as a fief, it passed through a series of men until the line came to an end with Mathilde I in 1125. Mathilde was married to none other than Stephen of Blois, the future king of England. Stephen never became count of Blois, but he did assert his wife's titles from 1125 until 1151, when Mathilde died. At this point, the title passed to two of his sons in succession before falling to his eldest surviving daughter, Marie I. Like Mathilde, Marie ruled alongside her husband Mathieu of Alsace, but their marriage was not amicable. In 1170, they divorced, but Mathieu continued to claim the comital title until his death in 1173 (she lived until 1182). While this practice was unusual, it was not unheard of and paralleled the usurpation of Juan II of Aragón, above.
|The rulers of Boulogne and later rulers of Auvergne, 1087 – 1653|
|Jeanne II, duchess of Berry and countess of Boulogne|
|Catherine de' Medici, queen of France|
and countess of Auvergne
Cognatic succession, therefore, can work in opposition to the generally clean successions provided by male-dominated modes. While from a gender standpoint it should make no difference whether a title passes to a son or a daughter, the geo-political situation in Western Europe until recently meant that most titles were held and descended through male lines to stop rogue cognatic titles such as Navarre and Boulogne-Auvergne from causing trouble. Their capacity to briefly attach themselves to others' titles meant that polities allowing cognatic succession such as these proved difficult to permanently attach to any one dynasty for more than a few generations.