In France the king was entitled, at the death of foreign residents (except Swiss and Scots), to all their movable estates; the law was only abolished in 1819. Aubain means “alien,” and droit d'aubaine the “right over an alien's property.”
“Had I died that night of an indigestion, the whole world could not have suspended the effects of the droits d'aubaine: my shirts and black pair of breeches, portmauteau and all, must have gone to the king of France.” —Sterne: Sentimental Journey (Introduction).
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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