12 April 2014

Unequal Marriage Equals Happy Marriage?

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at her
coronation in 1953.
Once upon a time, royalty usually married royalty. The bride and groom often did not meet until just before the wedding. Sometimes, they did not meet until after the wedding, someone else stood as proxy for one or the other during the first ceremony in one country and another ceremony was held later when the two were once again in the same country.

In the last century, particularly since World War II, that tradition has been waning. In fact the last time a royal in one of the currently reigning royal houses married another royal was 30 years ago when Princess Astrid of Belgium married Archduke Lorenz of Austria, a grandson of the last Austrian emperor.

Today, there are seven reigning Kings and Queens in Europe. Of those, only two made royal marriage: King Juan Carlos of Spain who married Princess Sophia of Spain (daughter of King Paul) and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom who married the former Prince Philip of Greece (grandson of King George I). One of the current monarchs, the new King Philippe of Belgium, married a member of the aristocracy, Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, who held the rank of Jonkvrouw, the lowest Belgian title of nobility. The other four are married to commoners--mostly to foreign commoners. [UPDATE: With the subsequent abdication of Juan Carlos, only Elizabeth II has a royal spouse.]

Only King Harald of Norway is married to a commoner from his own country, the former Sonja Haraldsen. It is he, in a way, who has inspired me to take a look at these modern "unequal" marriages. After recently reading the novel, "A Shopkeeper's Daughter," (read my review) I started wondering about the transition toward more royal-common marriages,  specifically wondering whether these marriages, which are supposedly more often love matches are happier. In my consideration, the author of "A Shopkeeper's Daughter," (buy the book) Rachel Wisdom, kindly let me read a college paper she had written on the topic. She contends that the tendency away from dynastic marriages was triggered by several factors including the changing culture of post-War Europe; she looks particularly at the 1960s. She also discusses the fact that the generation of royals born in the 1930s and 1940s were more likely to be sent to schools with "ordinary" people, so they were more likely to meet and fall in love with ordinary people.

The princess-rich Crown Princely family of the post-War
Sweden; the infant is the current King Carl XVI Gustav.
In the 1960s, as Rachel contends, many royals were still strongly urged to marry within their class or to at least marry nobility. However, the pool of available royals in reigning houses was much smaller than it had been a generation or two before. Many monarchies had been abolished as a result of World War I and several more in World War II. By 1960, only eight kingdoms remained, and Greece would fall by the end of the decade. The royal families of the day were also smaller on average than the generations that preceded. In Britain for instance, Victoria had nine children, her heir had six, his heir had six, but his heir had only two. Also, there was a plethora of princesses and dearth of princes. The young royals of the post-War generation in Sweden included four girls and one boy, in England two girls, in Greece two girls and one boy, in Denmark three girls, in The Netherlands four girls, in Norway two girls and one boy, in Spain two girls and one boy, and in Belgium two girls and three boys. Without collateral lines, that's three times as many princesses as princes.

The shift toward marrying commoners did not happen smoothly. Harald of Norway waited a decade for permission to marry Sonja. The current King of Sweden had to wait for the last king to die before he could marry his German love, Silvia Sommerlath. Many young royals even gave up royal titles and/or their places in the line of succession to marry commoners, including a couple of the Swedish king's sisters, the Spanish king's youngest sister and the Norwegian king's sisters.

That doesn't mean that there was never love involved when a royal married another royal or princely family. The marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Philip was clearly a love match that started with a school girl crush when she was just 13. Ironically perhaps, her father would have preferred a nice aristocratic English boy over the dashing, penniless Greek prince from an ambitious family. But, love won out and they have now been married for 66 years.

The post-War Dutch royal family with three little 
princesses all headed for controversial marriages.
In The Netherlands the love match between Princess Irene and Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon Parma caused her to lose her royal rights for reasons other than his lineage. Because he was a pretender to the Spanish throne, he was a politically controversial choice. Because he was a Roman Catholic, he was a religiously controversial choice particularly for Irene's very religious but very Protestant parents. The couple's intense desire to marry overcame all of this, but it did make their marriage last. They were divorced 16 years later.

This tendency toward marriage for love has meant that more royals have married members of the aristocracy or commoners, but has also meant that royal marriages have become less stable. In the old days, divorce among royals was almost nonexistent and it was extremely controversial. In fact, in 1960, the idea that Princess Astrid of Norway wanted to marry a divorced man was much more incendiary than the fact that he was a commoner. A few years earlier, Princess Margaret in Britain chose not to marry the divorced man she loved after years of battering in the press over the matter.

In her paper, Rachel argues that the rise of the modern media has led to the demise of the accepted royal mistress, which has given rise to royals marrying the people they love instead of keeping them on the side as mistresses (with a few notable exceptions like the Prince of Wales).

Joachim of Denmark with his French-
born second wife, Marie
These marriages for love, however, are less likely to be marriages for life. Already, we have seen a dramatic increase in formal separations and divorces. Three of the British Queen's four children are divorced as was her sister. Two of the Dutch king's three aunts are divorced. Princess Birgitta of Sweden has lived separately from her princely husband for more than two decades and Infanta Elena of  Spain divorced her aristocratic one five years ago. In Denmark, Prince Joachim is on his second marriage. And, in Belgium, King Albert II stepped down last year due to health reasons, but during the middle of a paternity case that alleges he fathered a daughter outside of his marriage to Italian aristocrat Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria.

The winds of change have definitely cleared out the old formal and informal marriage prohibitions--with a few exceptions. Interestingly, in the deposed monarchies, the claimants still cling to old dynastic rules about the heirs making equal marriages. This has led to fighting and family feuds among Hapsburgs, Bourbons, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns, etc. Without a reigning monarch to lift the old rules, they are stuck in the past.

Today, the heirs to still extant thrones are married to people they chose despite controversy. Felipe of Spain married a woman who had been married before sparking questions among a Catholic population. Haakon of Norway married a woman who had borne a child out of wedlock. Charles Prince of Wales married the woman who had been his mistress and whose former husband, out of accordance with Church of England rules, is still living. Frederik of Denmark married a foreigner he met in a bar. Victoria of Sweden married a man who had been her personal trainer.

The Dutch King with his Argentine wife and their three

princesses, including heiress Catharina Amalia
Elisabeth of Belgium, 12, and Catharina Amalia of The Netherlands, 10, are still far too young to marry, but they are likely to marry men from families we have never heard of--if they marry men at all, but that would be a different blog topic altogether!

1 comment:

  1. If you count reigning houses only, the last royal to royal marriage was in 1982 of Princess Margaretha of Luxembourg to Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein. They have had three surviving children, none married yet.
    Astrid's husband Lorenz was undoubtedly of royal stock but he was not of a reigning royal house. If you count this marriage, then the 1993 marriage of Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein to Duchess Sophie in Bavaria (great-granddaughter of the last King) is more recent. They have had four children.