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A morganatic marriage is a type of marriage which can be contracted in certain countries, usually between persons of unequal social rank (unebenbürtig in German), which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage.
Often, this is a marriage between a male from a royal or reigning house, often a historical German state, and a woman of lesser status (a non-royal or reigning house, or a woman with a low-status profession such as actress). Neither the bride nor any children of the marriage has any claim on the groom's titles, rights, or entailed property. The children are considered legitimate on other counts and the prohibition of bigamy applies.
Morganatic, from the Latin phrase matrimonium ad morganaticam, refers to the gift given by the groom to the bride on the morning after the wedding. The practice of morganatic marriage was most common in the German-speaking parts of Europe, where equality in marriage was considered an important principle among the reigning houses and high nobility. The German name was Ehe zur linken Hand (marriage by the left hand) and the husband gave his left hand during the wedding ceremony instead of the right. The French equivalent was an (openly) secret marriage.
The United Kingdom
Marriages have never been considered morganatic in any part of the United Kingdom.
The marriage of the former King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson was not morganatic, as the concept does not exist in British law. Edward renounced all of his titles for himself and successors when he abdicated, and was created Duke of Windsor. When he married his wife became Duchess, and any children would have inherited the title. The style H.R.H. (Her Royal Highness) is in the sovereign's gift, and was specifically not granted to Wallis Simpson or any future children. As it happened, Edward and his wife had no children.
Upon the engagement of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles in February 2005, it was announced that, after the marriage, Mrs. Parker Bowles would take the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall, and that once the Prince accedes to the throne she would not be known as Queen Camilla but as Her Royal Highness The Princess Consort. This form of address is based on that used by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who was the Prince Consort. However, such a marriage cannot be considered to be morganatic for two reasons: firstly, the decision has not been based upon Mrs. Parker Bowles's social rank, but upon her marital status; secondly, this decision does not have any legal standing — although she has stated that she will not use the title (due to the sensitivity of the British Public regarding her role in the breakup of Prince Charles's first marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales), under United Kingdom law Mrs. Parker Bowles did legally become the Princess of Wales upon her marriage to Prince Charles. Similarly, upon Charles's coronation she will automatically become Queen Consort (i.e. not Princess Consort). For precedent, compare the case of Queen Caroline, who became Queen Consort in the face of vociferous protest from her estranged husband, King George IV who was forced to try to bring in an Act of Parliament to strip her of the title.
Examples of morganatic marriage:
- Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa. The bride was made Princess (later Duchess) of Hohenberg by Franz Josef. Their children took their mother's name and rank, and were excluded from the imperial succession.
- Prince Alexander of Hesse, son of the Grand Duke of Hesse and the Rhine, and Countess Julia von Hauke. The Grand Duke made the bride Princess of Battenburg, and the resulting family provided a ruler of Bulgaria and royal consorts for Spain and the United Kingdom.
- Prince Alexander of Württemberg and Claudine Rhedey. She was made Countess of Hohenstein; their children were later granted the title of Prince of Teck. The eldest son, Franz, was later made Duke of Teck. His daughter Mary of Teck married George V of the United Kingdom.
- Ludwig Wilhelm, Duke in Bavaria and (actress) Henriette Mendel. She was created Freifrau von Wallersee, and their daughter, Marie Louise, Countess Larisch von Moennich, was a confidante of Empress Elisabeth ("Sissi") of Austria.
- Tsesarevich Constantine Pavlovich, Governor of Poland, was excluded from succession for having married a Polish countess.
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