Thursday, August 9, 2012

Win a morning-after gift with Wallis

I recently stumbled across a new phrase I had to check online: Morganatic marriage.

It was used in the context of a book on that black sheep of the House of Windsor, Edward VII – you know the one who abdicated so he could marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.

Duke of Wales and Wallis Simpson in Kitzbuhel, 1935.

Apparently he requested permission to make a Morganatic marriage, which would have allowed him to remain on the throne but denied the title of Queen to Wallis. Famously, this never happened and he instead decamped to Paris, elevating his stuttering, shy brother to the throne instead, thus creating another great role for Geoffrey Rush and giving us the wonderful Elizabeth II (although, as Edward and Wallis never had children, she would arguably have been next in line anyway).

So what is a Morganatic Marriage?

According to Wikipedia: "In the context of European royalty, a morganatic marriage is a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. Now rare, it is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom traditionally held his bride's right hand with his left hand instead of his right."

This raised a whole load more questions for me.

  • Why is it called morganatic? 
  • As most royal land and 'bling' is 'borrowed', not owned, what's the downside?
  • With so many royal rules being diluted or changed, does this still happen?

So the word apparently comes via a German variation on a Latin phrase that refers to the morning gift  or dowry, which was traditionally given to a bride on the morning after her wedding. A morganatic marriage is, according to 17th Century historian and philolgist Charles du Fresne, "a marriage by which the wife and the children that may be born are entitled to no share in the husband's possessions beyond the 'morning gift' ".

Hold on a minute - a morning gift? All I remember from the morning after my wedding is a massive headache.
I'm guessing few other girls get 'morning after' presents nowadays, either, unless a coffee on the way to your surprise honeymoon counts (and the chances are you booked the honeymoon anyway, right?).

This is an oversight I believe girls should remedy – and soon. But back to morganatic matrimony.
There's a good reason dowries were stopped...

It was more common on continental Europe – Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, Denmark etc – where the rules were stricter about royalty marrying royalty. In the UK, it seems, we're quite happy to have commoners as queens (and consorts, as the Duke of Edinburgh is himself descended from a morganatic union – the 1851 marriage of Prince Alexander and German-Polish noblewoman Countess Julia von Hauke, later made Princess of Battenberg – So, ironically, Prince Charles and his sons are also descendants of a morganatic marriage.)

One of the more famous morganatic marriages of recent times was in 1900 between the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Bohemia aristocrat Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa. His father initially forbade it but eventually relented (although he refused to go to the wedding himself). Sophie was made Princess of Hohenberg and her children inherited that name and rank but were excluded from imperial succession. Sadly she was pregnant with their third child when the pair was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 – the event that triggered World War I.
Franz Ferdinand, Sophie and their children, 1904

When you see the list of all the other cases in history when these marriages were later recognised – or the children eventually succeeded to a throne somewhere, a neighbouring country if not their own – then it all seems a bit silly.

The enforced interbreeding and likelihood of creating unhappy marriages (and, consequently, increasing the risk of affairs and subsequent challenges to the throne from illegitimate offspring) is probably what fuelled many of Europe's 19th and 20th century revolutions.

It certainly didn't help Russian Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, who eloped to Paris to marry a commoner Olga Valerianovna Karnovichin in 1902. You'd think he'd be happy enough staying there, but he loyally returned to serve in the Russian army during WWI and his nephew Tsar Nicholas II rewarded him by elevating Olga and her children to Princess and Princes Paley in 1915. Sadly that act got Paul and his son Vladimir killed by revolutionaries in 1919, although his wife and daughters escaped to Paris.

Sophie of Merenberg. How about that waist? 
Tsar Nicholar II also banished his cousin Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia to England when he insisted on marrying Sophia of Merenberg, herself the product of a morganatic marriage. Unwittingly he saved them from the Russian Revolution and one of their daughters went on to marry the wonderfully named Marquess of Milford Haven, aka Prince George of Battenberg, part of the family later known as the Mountbattens, related to QEII.

While Britain still hasn't really worked out what will happen when Good Queen Elizabeth II dies (will divorcee Camilla be allowed anywhere near the throne? will she be Queen Consort? Will Charles pass the baton directly to Wills?), these issues are still being kicked around.

And even if Australia is a republic by then, you can bet your bottom dollar they will be examined ad nauseum, whether you're interested or not.

In the mean time, I suggest all you married ladies bring up the subject of the morning after pressie, and maybe suggest you'll give up all claims to his title if that generous tradition is reinstated.

Source: Wikipedia

Would Wallis have been a good queen?

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