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  • Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • n Tanistry In Ireland, a tenure of family lands by which the proprietor had only a life estate, to which he was admitted by election.☞ The primitive intention seems to have been that the inheritance should descend to the oldest or most worthy of the blood and name of the deceased. This was, in reality, giving it to the strongest; and the practice often occasioned bloody feuds in families, for which reason it was abolished under James I.
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Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n tanistry A mode of tenure that prevailed among various Celtic tribes, according to which the tanist, or holder of honors and lands, held them only for life, and his successor was fixed by election. According to this custom the right of succession was not in the individual, but in the family to which he belonged—that is, succession was hereditary in the family, but elective in the individual. The primitive intention seems to have been that the inheritance should descend to the oldest or the most worthy of the blood and name of the deceased. This was in reality giving it to the strongest, and the practice often occasioned bloody wars in families.
    • ***
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
    • n Tanistry an ancient Celtic mode of tenure, according to which the right of succession lay not with the individual, but with the family in which it was hereditary, and by the family the holder of office or lands was elected
    • ***


Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
See Tanist
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
Ir. and Gael. tanaiste, lord—tan, country.


In literature:

Tanistry continued in force there until the beginning of the last century.
"The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. VII. (of 12)" by Edmund Burke
The customs of "gavelkinde" and "tanistry" were attended with the same absurdity in the distribution of property.
"The History of England in Three Volumes, Vol.I., Part D. From Elizabeth to James I." by David Hume
Freehold and leasehold, primogeniture and entail, took the place of tribal ownership and tanistry.
"Irish History and the Irish Question" by Goldwin Smith
Two legal decisions swept away the customs of tanistry and of Irish gavelkind, and the English land system was violently substituted.
"Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 14, Slice 7" by Various