Home Language & Literature Families, Status and Dynasties: 1600-2000
Extension of the Heyday
Monarchical rule was on an ascending trajectory throughout the period from 1500 to 1800, reaching its heyday in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The year 1800 has here been chosen to mark the onset of its decline, although clearly it is impossible to set any hard and fast date. This is, nonetheless, as good a landmark as any: the French Revolution had delivered a shattering blow to monarchism, and the power of monarchs was gradually winding down. The following explores how the choice of spouse and succession in royal dynasties changed with the decline of monarchical rule, a question whose relevance derives from the findings that in their heyday, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in particular, royalty conscientiously adhered to the imperative of status equivalence.
The French Revolution was a horrifying experience for contemporary royalties who feared the spread of revolutionary ideas to their domains (Maltby 2009, 167). Such fears proved premature, however. As it turned out, the French Revolution and the political upheavals of 1848 were merely tumultuous interludes from which monarchism emerged more or less unscathed. Monarchism had been granted an extension, allowing it time for a slower and more graceful shutdown by the early twentieth century. At the same time, however, monarchism also experienced a phenomenal revival. Many newly established independent states opted for a monarchical form of government and elected their monarchs from old royal or princely dynasties, a development that unexpectedly gave younger sons an extra opportunity for status elevation. William, the second son of King Christian IX of Denmark, was elected King of the Hellenes in 1863; he ruled Greece as George I (Aronson 2014, 14-21). In the next generation of the Danish royal house, Charles, the second son of Frederick VIII, was elected King of Norway in 1905; he ruled as Haakon VII until 1957 (Aronson 2014, 241-6). The emergence of two new kings from the Danish royal house was consistent with its simultaneous rise to the apex of European royalty, not for its political merits but for its performances of royalism, which was also seen in the growing number of royal-to-royal marriages. Another dynasty that produced kings for newly established monarchies was the House of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha. The youngest son of Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was elected King of the Belgians in 1831, when Belgium gained independence from the Netherlands. He ruled Belgium as Leopold I from 1831 to 1865. Ferdinand I of Bulgaria came from the Kohary branch of the same ducal family. Ferdinand was elected prince regnant of Bulgaria in 1887, but he proclaimed himself Tsar of Bulgaria in 1908. The enthusiasm and excitement about monarchism also reached Finland at the time of independence in 1917. Landgrave of Hesse, Frederick Charles, who was married to the youngest daughter of Emperor Frederick III of Germany, was elected King of Finland in 1918, but he never took office, because two months after his election Parliament proclaimed Finland a republic.
Much more impressive social climbers than these younger princes were those two men who, without the advantage of a royal background, succeeded in upgrading themselves from almost nothingness to the pinnacle of state governance. They made their way to the top at the very beginning of the nineteenth century. One of them was Napoleon, a minor nobleman from Corsica, whose social rise was the greatest class journey ever made in Europe, as Lindqvist (2009, 222) expresses it. Napoleon managed to turn his war successes to his political advantage, just as the war lords did in the Middle Ages. He started out as the first consul, but declared himself emperor in 1804 and ruled France as Napoleon I until 1814 and, after a short imprisonment, for a period of three months in 1815. He was in fact quite excessive in his imperial manoeuvres. He installed his brothers and sisters as rulers of sovereign states: his eldest brother first as King of Naples and Sicily (r. 1806-08) and then as King of Spain (r. 1808-13, as Joseph I); his younger brother, Louis (r. 1806-10), as King of Holland; and other siblings as rulers of minor sovereign territories. Napoleon also took to extremes the regal style and splendour that was distinctive of royalty in the heyday of monarchical rule, that is, a plethora of performances of the power of monarchs. One such performance was his second marriage in 1810 to a royal princess, Marie-Louise, daughter of Archduke Francis II of Austria. These performances of regality did not help him in 1815, however, when he was deposed for good. Yet the Bonaparte dynasty did make a comeback, when Joseph I’s son Napoleon, after a four-year presidential term (1848-52), was crowned Emperor of the French in 1852 to rule France until 1870 (Maltby 2009, 171). Since then France has been a republic.
The other notable social climber was Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, a French general and commoner who, contrary to the Bonaparte dynasty, after being elected King of Sweden, established a royal dynasty, which furthermore produced monarchs for Sweden (Lindqvist 2009). Jean Bernadotte was the younger son of a clerk, whose father was a tailor from a relatively a humble social background. But Jean’s father married an ‘almost’ noble woman, who put ambitious pressure on her two sons to advance in their careers, hopefully as judges or at least civil servants. She understood that state governance provided the best opportunity for promotion to an influential position. However, Jean chose a military career, which finally led him to exceed all his mother’s expectations. His nomination by Napoleon as Prince of Ponte Corvo afforded him a faint glimmer of royal glory, but he never went to this small principality in Italy that Napoleon had conquered. A more tempting opportunity presented itself when Karl XIII of Sweden (r. 1809-18) became severely ill. As the king had no issue of his own, it was necessary to elect an heir. Carl XIII had already adopted and designated a Danish prince as his heir—one more indication of the Danish royal house’s rise to royal eminence—but the prince died unexpectedly in 1810. Several claimants to the throne were put forward, among them royal princes and dukes, but also French generals whose standing had improved with the successful Napoleonic wars. In 1810, the Council of Estates finally decided to elect
Jean Bernadotte as heir to the Swedish throne, to be installed as king after Carl XIII’s death. Jean Bernadotte ruled as Karl XIV Johan from 1818 to 1844. Even though he was pleased to be able to claim Sweden as his realm—it was genuinely royal and politically more noteworthy than tiny Ponte Corvo—Bernadotte dreamed of one day being a regent of France. However, the Bourbon dynasty, after having been restored to the throne, retained power for the whole of Karl XIV Johan’s lifetime.
As time passed on, four of the eight monarchies in my sample were abolished. The first to fall was France, where the reign of the last monarch, Napoleon Ill, ended in 1870. The last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, was deposed in 1917 and murdered with his family in 1918, and the last Austrian and German emperors were deposed in 1918. The remaining four monarchies—the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Spain—still exist today. The family of present-day European kingdoms additionally includes the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, as well as the small principalities of Luxembourg, Monaco and Liechtenstein. Interestingly enough, apart from Spain and Belgium, the monarchies that remained were Protestant. Furthermore, with the exception of the United Kingdom, the surviving monarchies were less influential in terms of their political position. Succession was arranged as before by primogeniture, but important changes were made. For example, in Denmark Salic agnatic primogeniture was substituted in 1953 for male-preference cognatic primogeniture, which in turn was replaced in 2009 by absolute cognatic primogeniture (Almanach de Gotha 2015, 144). All other existing monarchies made similar changes, meaning that the firstborn child, whether male or female, would inherit the crown.
In contrast to the heyday of monarchical rule, when performances of power were well matched with the actual power of monarchs, the nineteenth century witnessed a growing imbalance in this regard. Here and there, the pomp of ceremonies was curtailed (Lindqvist, n.d., 73), as if they were no longer justified. At the same time, the public showed ever greater hunger and enthusiasm for royal ceremonies, flooding the public places where royalty appeared with their high-ranking entourage (Hughes 2008; Rangstrom 2010). Moreover, royalty continued to live in magnificent palaces, as if monarchical power had remained unchanged.
As the power of monarchs continued to diminish, performances, which used to be a true reflection of the actual power of monarchs, began to turn into theatrical-like performances that lacked justification in terms of real political power. The extent to which the choice of spouse was in line with this tendency is shown in Table 2.4. As it was not until the 1960s that things began to change more radically, information is given for the period from 1800 to 1959.
Apart from two special cases, all monarchs between 1800 and 1959 got married, as they used to do in 1500-1800. One exception was Napoleon II (r. 1815), who ruled for less than one month at the age of four. He is best not categorized as unmarried. The other exception was Edward VIII (r. 1936) who, after holding the reins of the United Kingdom for less than a year, was forced to abdicate because of his resolution to marry a divorced commoner, which the government did not accept (Crofton 2008, 232-4). Edward is an important case because he augured the historical shift from a rigidly structured royal marriage market to a more liberal one, a process which eventually was not completed until the 1960s. Edward could not marry his beloved commoner, in contrast to Erik XIV of Sweden, James II of England and Peter I of Russia much earlier and in contrast to all monarchs and heirs to the throne from the 1960s on, who
Table 2.4 Statuses of monarchs' spouses in selected European monarchies, 1800-1959, numbers (see footnote a in Table 2.1)
met with no resistance. In a way, Edward was too early in his intentions to choose a wife at his own discretion. The sanctions against the rebellious Edward were severe. His abdication and exile turned him from royalty into something that is difficult to define. The dukedom of Windsor bestowed on him made him a royal of sorts, though without any privileges that normally accompany a royal title. His exclusion from royalty was performed in many ways. For example, the royal family did not attend Edward and Wallis’s wedding, and the couple were not allowed to travel to England to take part in family occasions, although Edward was granted permission to attend his mother’s and brother’s funerals.
With the notable exception of Edward VIII and some other cases, most monarchs continued to follow the centuries-old imperative of status equivalence when choosing their spouses, even though their political power was now diminishing at an alarming rate. Four-fifths or 82 per cent of monarchs married accordingly; in other words, their spouses were from royal or princely houses. The percentage is exactly the same as between 1500 and 1800 (83 per cent). Once again, Spain and France had the highest proportion of royal-to-royal marriages. Indeed, the whole Catholic camp was strong in the royal marriage market. Among Catholic monarchs, 58 per cent took their spouses from royal houses; the corresponding proportion among Protestant monarchs was a mere 28 per cent. Moreover, some of the deviant cases in Table 2.5 did not actually infringe the imperative of status equivalence. First, 4 of the 11 monarchs who married noblewomen or commoners were from the Bonaparte and Bernadotte dynasties, both of them of non-royal origin. And besides, these four marriages were contracted before the monarchs’ accession to the throne. In conclusion then, we can state that the marriage patterns once adopted by monarchs were hardly affected at all by the onset of decline in monarchical rule. Status equivalence was maintained as before and in the way each monarchy once appropriated this imperative. This means that rule—or performance—is liable to carry on much farther than the ground on which it was originally established.
Table 2.5 is intended to shed more light on the workings of the imperative of status equivalence, which was so important in the heyday of monarchical rule. It demonstrates the degree to which younger princes
Table 2.5 Statuses of the spouses of monarchs' offspring, monarchs excluded, inselected European monarchies, 1800-1959, numbers (see footnote a in Table 2.1)
and princesses put into effect status equivalence in the eight monarchies of my data set between 1800 and 1959.
If we consider the younger princes and princesses in all eight monarchies, the decline of monarchical rule brought a slight change in the occurrence of status equivalence as it was formally determined for marriage: the average proportion of royal and princely spouses fell from 91 per cent in 1500-1800 (Russia excluded) to 77 per cent in 1800-1959; if Russia is also excluded from Table 2.5, the percentage was 80. The change was not radical but symptomatic, whereas the difference between Catholic and Protestant monarchies remained unchanged. If only royal and princely spouses are taken into account, the proportion of royal-to- royal marriages was 57 per cent in Catholic monarchies, but 37 per cent in Protestant monarchies. Spain and France also had the highest frequencies of royal-to-royal marriages among younger princes and princesses, but they were now joined by Denmark. England, Austria and Sweden remained in the middle group, with a 50:50 proportion of royal and princely marriages as before. Russia was now in this group as well, reflecting Russia’s rise to Great Power status. All in all, the profile once adopted by each monarchy in the royal marriage market continued far beyond the heyday of monarchical rule and practically without any connection to the standing of these realms in the hierarchy of the European political community.
Two monarchies, Spain and Denmark, call for more attention, Spain as a monarchy with a long tradition of identical status equivalence and Denmark where royalism burst into full bloom in the nineteenth century. In both cases high frequencies of royal-to-royal marriages were also accompanied by high occurrences of cousin marriages, though in Denmark only among monarchs. The long line of cousin marriages with their fatal consequences did not stop the Spanish Bourbons from contracting marriages to their relations. A new chain of cousin marriages was started by King Charles IV in 1765, when he married his first cousin. His son, Ferdinand VII, married four times between 1802 and 1829; three of his consorts were his relations. These four marriages produced only two surviving daughters, Isabella and Luisa. Isabella was the eldest daughter and installed as queen regnant (r. 1833-68). She married her double first cousin in 1846. They produced altogether 15 children, of whom 11 died prematurely. Their eldest son Alfonso (r. 1874-85 as Alfonso XII after Amadeo I’s short reign) also married his first cousin, but they did not bear issue. After his first wife’s death, Alfonso XII remarried; this marriage ended the long line of cousin marriages in the Spanish royal house. But it was not only monarchs in this royal house who chose to marry close relations; younger princes and princesses also kept up the tradition. Eight of 13 younger princes and princesses married their cousins. For example, in the family of Queen Isabella II, who herself was married to her double first cousin, all four surviving children, the heir included, married their cousins.
In Denmark, royal-to-royal marriages increased sharply, but the monarchs mostly favoured marriages with their cousins: the proportion of cousin marriages jumped from 20 per cent in 1500-1800 to 60 per cent in 1800-1959. As early as 1766 King Christian VII started a long line of cousin marriages in the Danish royal house. Two children were born from this marriage. The only son, Frederick VI (r. 1808-39), inherited the crown. In 1790 he married his first cousin, who bore eight children by the king. Six of them died in early infancy and the two surviving daughters married their cousins: Caroline married her first cousin once removed and Wilhelmine her second cousin. Because no son survived, an heir had to be found outside this nuclear family. He was Christian VIII, Frederick VI’s cousin once removed. This Christian married his cousin in 1806. They had two sons, of whom the elder died the same year he was born, while the younger son survived and ruled as King Frederick VII (r. 1848-63). Despite marrying three times—the first wife was his second cousin—no issue was born from these marriages.
Neither Spain nor Denmark were able to avoid the fatal consequence of cousin marriages, that is, high infant mortality. Average infant mortality decreased sharply in royal families from 44 per cent in 1500-1800 to 24 per cent in 1800-1959. The mortality rate was highest at 39 per cent in Spain, where cousin marriages among monarchs (55 per cent) and younger princes and princesses (62 per cent) were very common. In Denmark, where cousin marriages among monarchs were very common (60 per cent) but among their siblings rare (21 per cent), infant mortality was lower than in Spain, 27 per cent. However, if we only consider cousin marriages taking place repeatedly in successive generations, infant mortality was much higher, 60 per cent in both monarchies. Although cousin marriages were uncommon in other monarchies in the nineteenth century, and even more so in the twentieth century, repeated intermarriages meant that European royals were closely related. For example, King George V of the United Kingdom (r. 1910-36) was related to 20 European monarchs, and 3 central monarchs—George V, Nicholas II of Russia (r. 1894-1918) and Wilhelm II of Germany (r. 1888-1918)—were cousins (Carter 2010). The royal blood began to be one’s own royal blood in all European monarchies, turning royalty into a hermetic enclave, excluding them from the outer world that was fast changing.
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