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 England, Great Britain, or 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. This decision was based on her status as a divorcee rather than her social rank, so such a marriage would not be considered morganatic. The title also probably reflects the British public's mixed feelings about Mrs. Parker Bowles, given her role in the breakup of Prince Charles's first marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, and the desire of many that Mrs. Parker Bowles never bear the title of Queen.
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 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.