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Offences against Status Equivalence

We have seen that even though endogamous royal-to-royal marriages were the preferred option in the royal marriage market, the permitted range of status equivalence was in fact wider, allowing bride and groom candidates from principalities into this highly select matrimonial circle. But this was also the social barrier beyond which proper royals were not expected to go. Yet monarchs did marry nobles: my data set includes 19 royal-to-noble marriages between 1500 and 1800. So although monarchs did not marry daughters of clergymen, they did not reject non-royals altogether. The nobility’s privileged position in this respect obviously owed to its being an integral part of state governance and therefore being allowed in the monarch’s proximity, sometimes even by marriage, even though such marriages eventually remained rare.

As Table 2.1 shows, there were virtually no royal-to-noble marriages in Catholic monarchies, but it is an equally important finding that these marriages clustered around a mere few monarchies in the Protestant part of the royal marriage market. Eight of them were contracted in Russia, five in England and three in Sweden. In Russia, tsars continued the tsarist tradition of marrying domestic noblewomen throughout the seventeenth century. England was exceptional in another way: four marriages to noblewomen—Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymor, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr—were laid to the account of one single ruler, Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) (Loades 2009, 113). In Sweden, two kings married noblewomen. After tenacious but futile attempts to find a foreign princess as his consort after his first wife’s premature death, Gustav I Vasa (r. 1523-60) married in 1536 a domestic noblewoman, Margareta Leijonhufvud; and after her death, he married in 1552 another domestic noblewoman, Catherine Stenbock, who was his late wife’s niece. The other Swedish king who married a noblewoman was Johan III (r. 1568-92). He was Gustav I Vasa’s son, and the noblewoman he married was his cousin once removed, Gunilla Bielke (Sundberg 2004. 60). We shall meet some of these noblewomen again in Chap. 3, where we discuss the highest rank of the nobility.

As well as being concentrated in a few monarchies, 15 of the mon- archs’ 19 marriages to nobles were contracted in the sixteenth century, in other words, at a time when monarchical reign was not yet at its height, particularly not in Russia and Sweden. And besides being contracted in the sixteenth century, these were mostly remarriages, except in Russia where marriages to nobles were common in the royal house throughout the seventeenth century. All the Swedish cases mentioned were kings’ remarriages, as were Henry VIII’s four marriages to noblewomen. The same was true in Denmark, where two kings married noblewomen. All in all, then, 9 of the monarchs’ 11 marriages to noblewomen outside Russia were remarriages. These findings are pivotal to elaborating the efficacy of status equivalence: outside Russia, virtually all rulers’ first marriages were contracted accordingly, that is, the spouses came from royal or princely families. Even arbitrary Henry VIII followed this obligation, while acknowledging Catherine of Aragon, a royal princess, as his first wife. Otherwise this marriage was unlawful because Catherine was the widow of Henry’s elder brother, that is, his sister-in-law. Based on these findings we can conclude that monarchs’ marriages to nobles in the sixteenth century did not augur the opening of the royal marriage market to inferior ranks. On the contrary, when monarchical reign rose to its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the royal marriage market closed its doors to those who were inferior to royalty, among them the nobility.

Departing from status equivalence was even harder for ruling queens than for kings. In my data set, only one ruling queen married a nobleman. She was Queen Jane of England (r. 1553), who was a nobleman’s daughter but related to her predecessor, King Edward VI. She lived only to rule nine days before her and her husband’s execution, to be succeeded by a genuine royal, Elizabeth I. Queens’ marriages to noblemen were fiercely resisted because of fears that a nobleman, if wedded to a queen regnant, could claim co-ruling rights, which in fact often happened when a ruling queen married a prince. This was seen as acceptable or even desirable, but a queen’s marriage to a nobleman was considered unthinkable because it would have upgraded a noble dynasty to a royal dynasty. The time for such elevations was over in the heyday of monarchism.

At the bottom of the pile were monarchs’ marriages to commoners, which were thought to represent the most severe infringement of the imperative of status equivalence. For this reason the number of such marriages remained very low. Only three rulers in my sample managed to legally marry a commoner between 1500 and 1800. Two of these cases fell upon kings and one upon a crown prince. The first of these rebellious kings was Erik XIV of Sweden (r. 1560-68), who in 1567 married a commoner, Katarina Mansdotter. The king had made persistent efforts in several royal courts to negotiate a marriage contract, but these negotiations broke down one after another. Katarina, a prison warder’s daughter, was said to be unusually beautiful (Sundberg 2004, 45-6) and only 14 when she met the king. She served as a maid in a house the king used to visit. When the king began to show an interest in Katarina, he had her installed as a chambermaid for his half-sister Elisabet. Within a few months, Katarina was his mistress, but it was widely thought she would remain just one more in a string of the king’s mistresses. However, due to the failure of his marriage intentions in European courts, Erik finally decided to wed Katarina, against the will of the Council of Estates, which recommended a royal match or at least marriage to a domestic noblewoman, a choice his father, Gustav I Vasa, had made twice. Erik XIV married Katarina with simple ceremonies in 1567 and one year later with solemn ceremonies, followed by her coronation the next day (Rangstrom 2010, 57-71). Because Erik and Katarina were far from status equals, the community in the king’s vicinity reacted. To demonstrate their disapproval of this mismatch, many of those who were invited to the wedding ceremony declined to attend. Non-attendance was particularly high from German principalities and the highest domestic aristocracy. Afterwards, in 1582, a law was issued which stated that the heir to the throne cannot marry a non-noble (ofralseperson). Any heir who does so will lose their right to the crown (Tegenborg Falkdalen 2010, 141-4).

The second rebellious monarch comes from Russia, Peter I (r. 1689-1725). His marriage to a commoner was the second time he married. His first wife was the daughter of a middle-ranking nobleman (Poe 2004, 193), but his second marriage to Martha Skavronskaya was by every criterion morganatic. She was a maid of peasant origin. Peter I fell in love with her while still married to his first wife, but he and Martha, nonetheless, began to live together like a married couple. Peter married Martha, first privately in 1707 and then formally in 1712, by which time Martha had borne five children by him. Before their formal marriage, Peter divorced his first wife, who was sent to a convent (Hughes 2008, 72-4; Farquhar 2014, 50-60). It is clear from all this that Peter did not care much about the rules that had been imposed upon royals. Even though Peter gained the right to a morganatic marriage for himself, he fiercely resisted his son Alexis’s liaison with a serf of his tutor (Hughes 2008, 72). In addition, Peter actively strove for royal matches for his offspring.

The third kingly marriage to a commoner was contracted in England, where James (II) (r. 1685-89) took Anne Hyde as his first wife, privately in 1659 and officially in 1660, in other words, well before he was installed as King of England. Anne Hyde was the daughter of a lawyer. Her father made a distinguished career in state governance, becoming the chief minister of King Charles II in 1660. Owing to this elevation, he was created Earl of Clarendon in 1661. Anne’s father was thus employed in state governance and close to the king, as evinced by his ennoblement. Anne’s marriage to James took place just before her father’s appointment as chief minister and his ennoblement. Anne was also pregnant when she was wedded to James.

No queen regnant officially married a commoner. Tsarina Elisabeth’s marriage to a court choir singer was secret and, since no official marriage followed, her morganatic marriage was not legalized contrary to her father’s marriage to Martha.

Marriages between kings and commoners were marked by great distances in status, which aroused fierce opposition above all from those who lived in the king’s proximity, in other words, the aristocracy. It was unbearable for them to see how their inferiors surpassed them in the royal marriage market, from which they were excluded, and how the queen then took the most privileged place on courtly occasions, both formal and informal. And indeed, when wedded, the two socially unequal lovers became equal in royal status. The official marriage—or the authority of marriage—had the magic power to transform the wife, even of humble origin, into a royal, that is, to elevate her to her husband’s status and to obliterate her past. This transferred her from her father’s status to her husband’s status, a mystical metamorphosis that did not happen to males.

But these three marriages were exceptional in other respects, too. The two monarchs and one monarch-to-be found their brides not through agreements bargained by officials but on their own, in fact in the same way as kings used to find their mistresses. And these three women actually started their journey up to royal rank as the monarchs’ mistresses. Moreover, Anne Hyde was pregnant at the time of her wedding, while Martha Skavronskaya and Katarina Mansdotter had borne children by the king before their formal marriage. In addition, for all of them, the next intermediate station en route to royalty was a secret marriage to the monarch. Their secret marriages were in fact officiated as the decree ordained, by a priest in the presence of witnesses (Brundage 1990, 497-9), but monarchs also needed the Council’s acceptance, whether voluntary or enforced. That is why secret marriages were void. One further final step was therefore needed on the way to royalty, an official public ceremony. Between 1500 and 1800, three monarchs took this step. Their small number clearly demonstrates the supremacy of status equivalence over love, which everyone knew would risk the consummation of status equivalence, as the stories of mistresses go to show.

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