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Living in the Interstices: Younger Princes and Princesses

Despite the triumph of primogeniture, partition of inheritance continued to loom in the minds of royal families: parents knew they that should give equal treatment to all children born into the same family, and that this should also apply to inheritance. As this was made impossible by primogeniture, a special regulation imposed on the royal family, some form of compensation was called for (cf. Sabean and Teuscher 2007, 6-9). For daughters, who were most categorically excluded from succession to the throne, an important form of compensation was the dowry, a kind of substitute for inheritance (Spiess 2007, 66). Daughters normally received dowry when they reached maturity or got married; in the latter case its amount and content depended on negotiations that took place between the parties involved. However, it was expected that the magnitude of dowry more or less reflected the monarch’s status in the international political community (Spiess 2007, 66). Sometimes kings would also try to improve their daughters’ prospects in the royal marriage market by promising a far more generous dowry than was normal in their rank. Gustav Vasa (r. 1523-60) made such pledges when bargaining over the marriages of his five daughters, but it was difficult for his successors to fulfil these promises (Tegenborg Falkdalen 2010, 63). In many other cases, too, dowries remained partly or sometimes entirely unpaid (Barker Nichols 1989, 125). In return, the groom party offered the bride various kinds of assets as a gift, among them jointure and an appropriate annual income and the right to live in a chateau for the remainder of her life after her husband’s death (Barker Nichols 1989, 126). The bargains over dowries and assets from the groom’s side made daughters look like commodities whose values in the royal marriage market were determined in monetary form, but dowry was also a materialization of status in the same way as royal palaces materially marked the status of monarchs.

Younger princes were in much the same position as princesses in that they had no prospect of inheriting the crown. On the other hand, princes were thought to deserve more than just a dowry. A handsome appanage including a palace and lands and associated income allowed younger princes to lead a life of royal standards. Moreover, the highest possible title of royal dukedom was bestowed on younger princes, although this did not give them the right to hold a corresponding office. A good example of this discrepancy is King Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philippe d’Orleans (Barker Nichols 1989, 3). Kings of France had always been against rebellious brothers, who more than once had imperilled the royal authority and the unity of the realm. Such concerns tended to make monarchs hesitant to assign their younger brothers to the highest offices in state governance. In Louis XIV’s (r. 1643-1715) case, he decided to completely exclude his brother from affairs of state. Yet there was one option for younger princes as well as for kings’ illegitimate sons, and that was the command of the army. This was the path that Louis XIV chose to take with his brother Philippe. However, King Louis was concerned that his brother’s success might undermine the king’s prestige, a matter of great import for Louis XIV. And indeed, Philippe’s celebrated victory over the enemy in 1677 prompted Louis XIV to remove Philippe from his command, which terminated his active service. This left Philippe with nothing else to do in his remaining years than to enjoy familial and courtly pleasures and to build and decorate his palaces. Younger princes were destined to idleness, where performances of royal status, while without equivalent political position, gained intrinsic value.

But there was one more instrument that the monarch could use to his or her children’s advantage, and that was marriage. As we have seen earlier in this book, the rationale of marriage in royalty was the maintenance of status equivalence or competition for a better status. Tables 2.2 and 2.3 can help us estimate how marriages benefited younger princes and princesses. Table 2.2 shows the successes of younger princes and princesses in the royal marriage market between 1500 and 1800, and Table 2.3 describes the breakdown of all children of royal families by station and marital status. Due to a lack of information, Russia is excluded from the tables.

The range of status equivalence, as it was formally acknowledged at the time, bore on the crown-bearers’ siblings and crown-bearers alike (see also Table 2.1). The proportion of marriages to status equals amounted to 91 per cent for monarchs’ siblings and 88 per cent for monarchs, if Russia is excluded from Table 2.1 to make it comparable with Table 2.2. On the other hand, if only identical status equivalence is taken into account, that is, royal-to-royal marriages, then differences appear again between Catholic and Protestant monarchies. Catholic princesses in particular but younger princes as well had far better success than their Protestant counterparts in the marriage market, especially in Spain and France. This was also true for Spanish and French monarchs, except that monarchs took their spouses more often from royal houses than their younger brothers did. In this respect Protestant and Catholic monarchies were quite similar. These findings suggest that royal dynasties applied a similar pattern to monarchs and their siblings, that is, to the whole family. This is also verified by occurrences of cousin marriages, even though they were not as frequent among the monarchs’ siblings as among the monarchs themselves. On average (Prussia and Russia are excluded due to insufficient information on cousin marriages), 31 per cent of marriages contracted by younger princes and princesses were among cousins, 42 per cent in Catholic monarchies and 14 per cent in Protestant monarchies. The figure for Spain—59 per cent of cousin marriages—is the only conspicuous exception to this average. In France the proportion was 36 per cent, in Austria 33 per cent, in England 11 per cent, in Sweden 42 per cent and in Denmark 6 per cent.

There are two further points of interest in Table 2.3. The first is that 53 per cent of the princes in Catholic and 55 per cent in Protestant monarchies were installed as kings between 1500 and 1800. These are very high percentages indeed, particularly in England where a mere four younger princes were in reserve for the throne throughout the whole period of 1500-1800. But the large number of kings also benefited princesses, who by marrying a king could be upgraded to the status of queen consort, that is, to the same status as their mothers. The other noteworthy finding in Table 2.3 is that quite a large proportion of younger princes remained

Table 2.2 Statuses of the spouses of monarchs' offspring, monarchs excluded, inselected European monarchies, 1500-1800, numbers (see footnote a in Table 2.1)

Monarchy

Royal spouse

Princely spouse

Noble spouse

Commoner

spouse

All spouses

M

F

M

F

M

F

M F

M

F

Spain

France

Austria

Catholic

monarchies

England

Sweden

Prussia

Denmark

Protestant

monarchies

  • 5
  • 4
  • 1
  • 10 (45 %)
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 3 (16 %)
  • 16
  • 8
  • 12
  • 36 (68 %)
  • 5
  • 1
  • 5
  • 3
  • 14 (18 %)
  • 6
  • 2
  • 8 (36 %)
  • 1
  • 1
  • 6
  • 5
  • 13 (68 %)
  • 1
  • 3
  • 13
  • 17 (32 %)
  • 2
  • 8
  • 25
  • 19
  • 54 (71 %)
  • 2
  • 1
  • 3 (17 %)
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 3 (16 %)
  • 3
  • 5
  • 8 (11 %)
  • 1
  • 1
  • 7
  • 11
  • 4
  • 22 (100 %)
  • 2
  • 3
  • 7
  • 7
  • 19 (100 %)
  • 17
  • 11
  • 25
  • 53 (100 %)
  • 7
  • 9
  • 33
  • 27
  • 76 (100 %)

Table 2.3 В reakdown of all children of royal families by station and marital status in selected monarchies, 1500-1800, numbers (see footnote a in Table 2.1)a

All sons

Kings

Younger princes, married

Younger princes, single

All

daughters

Ruling

queens

Princesses,

married

Princesses,

single

Spain

France

Austria

Catholic

monarchies

England

Sweden

Prussia

Denmark

Protestant

monarchies

  • 20
  • 23
  • 25 68
  • 14
  • 20
  • 26 23 83
  • 10
  • 10
  • 16
  • 36 (53 %)
  • 10
  • 12
  • 13
  • 11
  • 46 (55 %)
  • 7
  • 11
  • 4
  • 22 (69 %)
  • 2
  • 3
  • 7
  • 6
  • 18 (49 %)
  • 3
  • 2
  • 5
  • 10 (31 %)
  • 2
  • 5
  • 6 6
  • 19 (51 %)
  • 18
  • 17
  • 34
  • 69
  • 14
  • 13
  • 33
  • 28
  • 88
  • 1
  • 1

2 (3 %)

5

2

7 (8 %)

  • 17
  • 11
  • 25
  • 53 (79 %)
  • 7
  • 9
  • 33
  • 25
  • 74 (91 %)
  • 6
  • 8
  • 14 (21 %)
  • 2
  • 2
  • 3
  • 7 (9 %)

aln the case of extinction, a new ruler had to be elected from amongst distant relations or non-relations. In their cases, the new monarch's siblings are not included in Table 2.3

unmarried, particularly in Protestant monarchies, where as many as half of all younger princes chose lifelong celibacy. Once again we see a significant difference between Catholic and Protestant monarchies.

The histories of royal dynasties provide scant information about the causes or motives for singlehood, but we do learn about some younger princes who did not marry because they were insane, mentally ill or sickly. These apparently were mitigating reasons for celibacy for those who were excluded from kingship. Interestingly, ailments did not considerably increase celibacy among princesses, even though they certainly suffered from ailments caused among other things by the accumulation of cousin marriages in successive generations. An ecclesiastical career was another reason for celibacy among younger princes, but their number was about the same as for princesses who entered a convent, 11 and 8, respectively. We need then to find a further reason why singlehood was so much more common among younger princes than princesses. The key is found in scattered mentions in history books, according to which some younger princes lived together with noblewomen or commoners or had several love relationships (e.g. Black 2004; Sundberg 2004, 164; Norrby 2014, 232). Because of their lower status, these women were not acceptable for royal princes, but as they had no prospect of inheriting the crown, they felt freer than heirs to choose their partners at will, but only on condition that they did not marry their lower-ranking partners. Princesses, however, could not take such a step at the time; at least there are no records of them doing so. The lot of princesses was instead to marry. But this imperative was not easy to accomplish in Catholic monarchies (see Table 2.2), where princesses commonly chose kings or future kings as their husbands. If no king or crown prince was found, it was preferable to remain unmarried—or their parents made this decision on behalf of their daughters.

In one respect the seven monarchies were similar: princesses hardly married noblemen and commoners between 1500 and 1800. Apart from Denmark and Prussia, no royal princess married a nobleman or a commoner, and, besides, Denmark was a special case. There, the conspicuously high number of marriages between royal princesses and noblemen is attributable to one single family, namely, King Christian IV’s (r. 1588-1648), whose second wife was Kirsten Munk, an untitled noblewoman. They married in 1615 and produced seven surviving children, of whom two remained unmarried. The king’s divorce in 1630 on account of Kirsten’s adultery probably had a dramatic adverse effect on their children’s credentials in the royal marriage market, as all ever-married daughters in this family married noblemen. Such being the case, it is better to think of the accumulation of mismatches in one royal family as a sign of their declined status rather than an omen of a new radical trend initiated by Protestant princesses. Excluding this Danish exception, we can note that even in Protestant monarchies, royal princesses hardly married noblemen.

Younger princes’ situation in the heyday of monarchism somehow resembles that of kings’ mistresses: younger princes too lived in the interstices, in their case betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by primogeniture (Turner 2011, 94-130). This established the royal line, which laid a heavy structure for the monarch’s family: the core of this structure comprised the king and his heir, while younger princes were left out because no royal office was formally assigned to them. Neither were younger princes appointed to the highest governmental offices: the offices of privy councillor, for example, were occupied by noblemen. In this obscure anti-structural situation, younger sons were radicalized in their private lives, but so far only in the shelter of singlehood where they could take greater liberties to live alone or with their mistresses or common-law wives.

But there were also returns into royal lines if marriages in some successive generation happened to be dynastically fortunate. The descendants of King Louis XlV’s younger brother Philippe I’s two daughters succeeded in doing just that (Barker Nichols 1989). Philippe I (1640-1701) had no realm to rule nor an office in state governance, and he was also eventually exempted from the command of the army, but he had married a royal princess, Henrietta-Anne (1644-70), daughter of King Charles I of England, his cousin once removed. This marriage added to Philippe’s prestige though not to his real political position, but in the next generation the situation improved. Philippe and Henrietta-Anne had two daughters, fortunately, one can say, because they reversed the process of history. Their elder daughter, Marie-Louise (1662-89), married King Charles II of Spain and their younger daughter, Anne-Marie (1669-95), married Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, who was later elected King of Sicily and then King of Sardinia. These marriages incorporated the two daughters into royal dynasties, but Marie-Louise remained childless. Anne-Marie was luckier in this respect: in the course of time her descendants were integrated into the royal houses of Spain, Sardinia, Austria, Naples and Sicily, “the Two Sicilies”, Portugal, and once again the royal house of France. While incorporated into royal houses, Philippe’s descendants made their matrimonial choices, as was common in royalty. They even opted for cousin marriages to the same degree as other royal families: 40 per cent of their marriages from Philippe I’s first marriage in 1661 to marriages contracted in the 1840s were cousin marriages, nearly the same percentage (42 per cent) as for monarchs’ siblings in Catholic monarchies between 1500 and 1800.

 
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