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Much has been made of wider kinship networks and their roles in medieval aristocratic political life, yet lit-tle attention has been given to relations between the closest lifetime kin: siblings. Jonathan R. Lyon provides an engaging study of the most prominent aristocratic families in the German Kingdom between 1138 and 1250, making the case that networks of brothers, and sisters (to a lesser degree), served successfully to curb the authority of Staufen kings and emperors. Lyon challenges the normative European model of lineal descent and title holding based on primogeniture by pointing out that medieval German aristocrats prac-ticed partible inheritance. Furthermore, he emphasizes the key element of generational family size as a second factor determining the composition of medieval polit-ical communities. Should there prove to be the oppor-tunity to endow more than one son with title and lands, goes the logic, siblings would not have been in constant conflict over inheritances, but rather enabled to func-tion collaboratively as natural allies. Indeed, like Gerd Althoff before him, Lyon questions the received view that partible inheritance is to blame for the so-called German Sonderweg in which centralized authority structures did not develop by the later Middle Ages.


Originally published as:

American Historical Review 119: 4 (October 2014) 1137-38: Jonathan R. Lyon, Princely Brothers and Sisters. The Sibling Bond in German Politics, 1100-1250 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Huffman, J. P. (2014). Jonathan r. Lyon. Princely brothers and sisters: The sibling bond in german politics, 1100–1250. The American Historical Review, 119(4), 1337–1338.