Morganatic (HLD 254)

1 Dec 2020

I often get distracted by a word. All it took this time was me doing a bit of investigating about Queen Mary (of Teck – the current queen’s grandmother) after a reference to her on a TV show.

She got the title of Queen because she was married to a King (George V), but that’s not going to be today’s history lesson. Today I got distracted because in the bit I was reading about Mary of Teck, it was mentioned that her father was the product of a morganatic marriage.

Now I had heard the term before, and usually in reference to a child being in essence illegitimate, so I had assumed morganatic to be a ‘not totally legal’ marriage.

But in actual fact, a morganatic marriage was perfectly legal, just a marriage to someone who was not quite good enough. They were common. Or common-ish. They weren’t as aristocratic or as royal as you. You could marry someone from the lower class if you absolutely had to, but don’t expect your children to inherit anything, and have it always noted in history that this was an uneven marriage.

Well. There go all the fairy tales, and good romance stories we’ve heard over the years!

A Prince falls in love, marries an impoverished girl, they live happily ever after? Kind of. Their lovingly produced offspring will be known as the product of a morganatic marriage, and will never inherit their Dad’s princely title. But they will be happy. Probably happy to know that because they are not considered part of that elite class of people who have to marry into their own realm, they can marry whoever they like!

Of German origin, the morganatic system provided protection for the ruling class, apparently. It spread a little bit outside Germany, but its legacy still shows up in history. One quote I read stated that “No society as far as we know has ever existed in which a man might marry whom he pleased”. It then went on to a very interesting legal history of morganatic marriages that discussed not only royalty, but clans, religious societies, Greek history and so forth. I read a page or two then moved on.

Being the product of a morganatic marriage… it was probably a negative thing in the era that these people lived, but quite frankly if you knew that your parents actually liked each other, and chose to be together despite the opinions of others, and stayed together despite the ongoing stigma involved with their relationship, I think you’d be ok with it.

And, more importantly, because they have eliminated a level of inbreeding that was rife in royalty for centuries, they might not have as many congenital health issues…

In modern royalty, morganatic marriages are far more common – just not labelled that way. William and Kate’s children would, in a previous era, be labelled as the product of a morganatic marriage, and not in line to the throne because of this.

I am going to set myself a challenge one day, when I don’t have housework to do, and google pictures of people who were ‘products of morganatic marriages’ and see if they look happier than those who weren’t.

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