After the death of his father in 1706, Ernst Ludwig inherited the duchy of Saxe-Meiningen jointly with his brother, Frederick Wilhelm, and his half-brother, Anton Ulrich. His father, in his will, had stipulated that the duchy never be divided and that it be governed jointly by his sons.
The oldest brother, Ernst Ludwig, strove to establish autonomy for himself and his descendants. Immediately after the death of his father, Ernst Ludwig signed a contract with his brothers; in consideration of certain inducements, the brothers had to leave the government of the duchy in his hands. This introduction of primogenitur failed, however; his brothers managed to govern again after Ernst Ludwig's death, acting as guardians for his sons.