Monday, November 22, 2010

Question: Royalty Marrying Commoners

From Kate's biography it looks like she is a commoner. Does this not negate William's chances of being King. Can Charles even become king being married to Camilla. I was under the impression that the princesses had to be of royal blood.

There is no stipulation that members of the royal family need marry other royals. When Prince William marries Kate Middleton it will have no effect whatsoever on  his chances of becoming king. Prince Charles' position as second-in-line is also unaffected by his 2005 second marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.

In Queen Victoria's day, at one point it was out of the question for members of the royal family to marry beneath their rank and station. If a royal did so they risked banishment. If they held military rank they could be stripped of that as well. Such marriages were called morganatic, whereby the lesser-ranking spouse and any children they may have, did not share the royal titles or any inheritances that go with it. However, the Queen was an ardent matchmaker and could turn a blind-eye to royal status when it suited her to do so.

One example of this is the marriage of Queen Mary and King George V. Queen Mary's (then Princess May of Teck) father was the product of a morganatic marriage. While both her parents held royal titles, Princess May was a mere Serene Highness as opposed to a Royal Highness, thus making her not royal enough to marry royalty, but too royal to marry a commoner. Queen Victoria bypassed this issue and allowed her to marry her grandson, the future King George V. Given that no one would think of Queen Mary as anything less than royal now, it's rather ironic that she wasn't considered royal enough at the time.

As royal houses fell during the First World War there was a shortage of eligible princes/princesses. For practical purposes royalty started looking towards the aristocracy for spouses. This is still an option however it seems as though members of the royal family are choosing to marry for love and compatibility as opposed to trying to make alliances between royal or aristocratic houses.

Like the Crown Princes of Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and even the Crown Princess of Sweden, Prince William has chosen a commoner for a spouse. And like them, his (and Prince Charles') position in line to the throne is completely unaffected by it.

© Marilyn Braun 2010


Cheryl Ciucevich said...

It is true that there have been guidelines determining the validity of marriages of members of the ruling house. However, in most, if not all of these cases, I think the question of eligibility based on rank was an issue of dynastic rather legal concern. Even now, the various claimants to the Russian imperial throne are divided over just such concerns. Part of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna's self-proclaimed (but widely recognized) role as head of the Romanov house is based on the "fact" that her father, unlike other imperial grand dukes, married a woman of sufficient rank. Of course, her claim ignores the fact that there was a ban on female rulers instituted by Tsar Paul, who despised his mother, Catherine the Great.

As you note with the example of Queen Victoria, questions of eligibility could be overcome whenever the ruling head of the dynasty chose to make an exception. Even questions of religious difference could be excused as long as children were raised according to the church of the ruling family.

It occurs to me that religious issues often trumped rank when, after the reformation, the Protestant kingdoms avoided alliances with Catholic royals. This left England to seek partners from lower ranked Germanic houses, as when Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves. But, the English had started marrying "below" them even earlier: of the 10 consorts in the Houses of York and Tudor, only two were truly royal: Catherine of Aragon and Philip II of Spain. Anne of Cleves was a daughter of a German duke and the other seven were drawn from the English aristocracy.

Marilyn Braun said...

You know, it's times like this when I wish I was interested in the British royal family beyond Queen Victoria. Alas it is not the case.

Other than Prince William not being allowed to marry Catholics or marry without the sovereigns permission, there are (currently) NO stipulations that his spouse needs to marry royalty.

Certainly there are lots of reasons why marriages were forbidden. When I say someone can be stripped of their rank and banished, I'm referring to Prince Alexander Hesse and his 'scandalous' marriage to Julia Hauke - a lady in waiting to his sister. The Tsar forbade him to marry her but they eloped anyways, he lost his military rank and had to leave court. He did eventually resume his career, as well as return to court, the initial reaction to his marriage was to be stripped of his rank for marrying someone inferior to his royal status.

Now, the last 'dynastic' royal marriage could be said to be Charles & Diana's where, as the Spencers were long associated with the royal family, it was a desired union. In this case the Queen Mother and Diana's social climbing grandmother Ruth Fermoy were behind it. But even this was based on, I guess you could say, snobbishness than any particular stipulation. Had he married who he loved in the first place, despite being a commoner, well history would be different.

Charles was even 'exptected' to marry a virgin, though this was euphemically called 'a past'. However, like with marrying royalty, this is rather unrealistic given the options out there. He wasn't supposed to get divorced or marry a divorcee either. Rules can be bent to suit the occasion, especially if they're unrealistic.

While people might turn their noses up at Kate and her background, William has chosen who he wants to marry based on what he feels will make him happy and not based on any antiquated class system which has no place in our democratic society. Royalty itself has no place in a democratic society either but that's another story. Rather ironic given the topic of this blog but oh well! Never said I was a monarchist did I?

But I digress, if Prince William's happiness depends marrying a commoner, then there's nothing to stop him from doing so other than her religion or the consent of the sovereign.

Again, William is not alone in marrying for 'love' or personal preference. The king of Norway King of Sweden married commoners. I believe even the Emperor of Japan married a commoner, along with most of the Crown Princes/Princesses out there. Had they not been allowed to marry these women, well then we'd probably have a lot of miserable heirs with no one to succeed them.

Some of those royals faced opposition in their marriages but the success of the unions speak for themselves. Hopefully that is also the case with William & Kate too.