Home Language & Literature Families, Status and Dynasties: 1600-2000
The Impending Fall of Status Equivalence
Table 2.5 and Table 2.6 together demonstrate a significant nascent tendency that was eventually to revolutionize the royal marriage market, even though it took a long time for this upheaval to be completed. Yet these first omens bear witness to the fact that the door was now ajar to the outside world and its transformations.
Demographically, the royal marriage market had changed since 1800. Infant mortality (death before age 20) declined from 44 per cent in 1500-1800 to 24 per cent in 1800-1959. Partly for this reason, fewer younger princes were installed as kings; their proportion fell from one- half between 1500 and 1800 to one-third between 1800 and 1959. As Table 2.6 and Table 2.3 together demonstrate, there was also a marked decrease in the proportion of unmarried younger princes in Protestant monarchies, which was at an astonishingly high level earlier. The proportion of unmarried younger princes declined in Protestant monarchies from 51 per cent in 1500-1800 to 17 per cent in 1800-1959, but the figure for Catholic younger princes was now as high (29 per cent) as it was between 1500 and 1800 (31 per cent). But an even more significant change was that marriages to nobles and commoners, which virtually ceased altogether in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, returned to the royal marriage market in the nineteenth century.
A comparison of Table 2.2 and Table 2.5 verifies that mismatches began to increase after the heyday of monarchical rule. All in all, younger
Table 2.6 В reakdown of all children of royal families by station and marital status in selected monarchies, 1800-1959, numbers (see footnote a in Table 2.1)
princes and princesses contracted 36 marriages to nobles or commoners between 1800 and 1959, representing 23 per cent of royals’ marriages at the time. This was more than between 1500 and 1800. Such marriages clustered around Russian, British and Swedish royal houses, in other words, the Protestant part of the royal marriage market, again verifying that the royal harbingers of the change came from Protestant monarchies. Austria’s presence in this group is due to Charles I, who was the last Archduke of Austria (r. 1916-18). All his children’s five marriages to nobles were contracted as late as the mid-fifties, that is, long after Charles was deposed. Taking into account the exceptional case of Charles I’s family, we can conclude that marriages to nobles and commoners remained rare in the families of Catholic monarchs.
Let us take Sweden as an example to see how marriages to nobles started the process of social decline and integration into commonalty. This process was conspicuous in the Swedish royal family. The calculations presented here for Sweden are based on Rosvall’s (2010) book on the genealogy of the Bernadotte dynasty. The first rebellious younger prince was Oscar (1859-1953), King Oscar Il’s second son who in 1888 married Ebba Munck af Fulkila, a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting at the royal court. This marriage was strongly resisted, but the king-father finally relented, although only on condition that Oscar give up his right of succession and royal title. Deserting the imperative of status equivalence was thus a penal offence for younger sons, too. By deciding to marry Ebba, Oscar renounced his royal status. However, it did not seem proper for a former royal to have no title, so this was rectified four years later when Oscar was created Count of Wisborg by his uncle on the maternal side, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (Lindqvist, n.d., 65-78). This title was handed down to Oscar’s descendants, but the dynasty was not introduced into the Swedish nobility (von Rothsten 2015, 24-8). The first marriages in the next generation were made with nobles, but more and more marriages to commoners were to follow. All in all, three-quarters of Oscar’s descendants married commoners, showing that once social decline had begun, in this case by marriage to a noblewoman, it was liable to continue, merging the originally royal cadet line into commonalty (Rosvall 2010).
Oscar’s decision to marry a noblewoman made him the only deviant in his royal family, but two generations later in the 1930s and 1940s, even more radical choices were made by three younger princes: they married commoners, two of them several times between 1934 and 1988. Sigvard (1907-2002), Bertil (1912-97) and Carl Johan (1916-2012) were King Gustav VI Adolf’s (r. 1950-73) younger sons. In contrast to them, the firstborn son, heir apparent, and his only sister adhered to the imperative of status equivalence by marrying accordingly. The three younger brothers were numerous enough to give the impression of their heralding in a new era in the royal marriage market, but the time was not yet ripe. In fact they had to pay a high price for their unacceptable marriages. Sigvard’s first marriage was contracted in 1934, in other words, at the time King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate because of his resolution to marry a divorced commoner. Though Sigvard and Carl Johan were not kings, and not even heirs apparent, they also lost their right to the crown and royal status. Later on, they were raised to the Luxembourgian nobility with the same title as their great uncle Oscar, that is, Count of Wisborg. Afterwards Sigvard persistently tried but failed to be re-elevated to royalty under the title of prince (Sundberg 2004, 260-5). In line with their great uncle Oscar, Sigvard’s and Carl Johan’s descendants merged into the social segment of commoners: marriages to commoners accounted for almost 80 per cent (Rosvall 2010).
Russia resembles Sweden in many respects. In both monarchies sixteenth-century rulers married noblewomen, but in Russia this tendency was still prevalent in the seventeenth century. In both monarchies, marriages to nobles and commoners revived in the nineteenth century. The first one in Russia was the marriage of Emperor Nicholas I’s eldest daughter, Maria, to a nobleman in 1839. In the next generation, two younger princes contracted morganatic marriages, Alexei once to a commoner and once to a noblewoman, and Paul in 1902 to a commoner. Very little is known about Alexei’s morganatic marriages, but Paul was earlier married to Alexandra, who was the daughter of King George I of Greece and Queen Olga and, besides, Paul’s first cousin. So, Paul’s first marriage was a royal-to-royal marriage, but Alexandra died in childbirth in 1891. Ten years later, Paul married a commoner (Aronson 2014, 165), a marriage that Emperor Nicholas II did not accept. Even though these three morganatic marriages were not officially recognized, they were in fact consistent with the second marriage of Alexei and Paul’s father, Emperor
Alexander II, who in 1881 married Ekaterina Dolgorukaia from a Boyar dynasty. And again in the next generation, Emperor Nicholas II’s youngest brother, Prince Michael, fell in love with a twice-divorced daughter of a Moscow lawyer. The shocked Emperor refused to give him permission to marry, but Michael simply set up home with her and finally married her in 1912 (Aronson 2014, 302—3). Michael’s sister Olga, while still married to the Duke of Oldenburg, fell in love with a commoner, whom she married in 1916, after the Emperor had annulled her first marriage. Her mother, the Dowager Empress, never accepted this marriage: she regarded her daughter’s second husband as an intruder (Aronson 2014, 326, 353).
Russia and Sweden also found each other in the royal marriage market when Wilhelm (1884-1965), Gustav V’s second son and the said Oscar’s nephew and Sigvard, Bertil and Carl Johan’s uncle, married in 1908 Princess Maria of Russia, who was Alexander II’s granddaughter and his younger son’s, the said Paul’s, daughter. Thus the couple had several morganatic marriages in their dynasties’ past, but their own marriage was without doubt a marriage of royal standard. However, Wilhelm and Maria divorced in 1914, and Wilhelm began to cohabit with his French beloved, Jeanne. They never married, but lived together until 1952, when Jeanne died. Prince Wilhelm and Princess Maria’s only child, Lennart, married a commoner and lost his royal title, to be henceforth called ‘Mr. Bernadotte’. Later on he too was created Count of Wisborg. He eventually married six times and divorced five times, an unrivalled record among royal descendants. All of Lennart’s descendants married commoners.
In Great Britain, too, some marriages were contracted to non-royals between 1800 and 1959, but all of them were nobles. The first royal- to-noble marriage was contracted in 1793 when Prince Augustus, one of King George III’s younger sons, married an earl’s daughter. Five more such marriages were made, the last one in 1935, when King George V’s younger son, Henry, married a duke’s daughter. In Great Britain, marriages to nobles by younger princes and princesses did not cause as much open resistance as they did in Sweden and Russia, especially as two kings married noblewomen in 1893 and 1923. In the royal-to-noble marriages contracted by younger princes and princesses, royal status was held in the next generation, but in some cases even in a successive generation. Marriages to nobles continued to be common, but marriages to commoners also became increasingly common since the 1940s, especially from the 1960s on.
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