Royal intermarriage

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Royal intermarriage is the practice of members of ruling dynasties marrying into other reigning families. It was more commonly done in the past as part of strategic diplomacy for reasons of state. Although sometimes enforced by legal requirement on persons of royal birth, more often it has been a matter of political policy and/or tradition in monarchies.

From the medieval era until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, most European heads of state were hereditary monarchs in pursuit of national and international aggrandisement on behalf of themselves and their dynasties.[1] Thus bonds of kinship tended to promote or restrain aggression. Marriage between dynasties could serve to initiate, re-enforce or guarantee peace between nations. Alternatively, kinship by marriage could secure an alliance between two dynasties which sought to reduce the sense of threat from or to initiate aggression against the realm of a third dynasty. It could also enhance the prospect of territorial acquisition for a dynasty by procuring legal claim to a foreign throne, or portions of its realm (e.g. colonies), through inheritance from an heiress whenever a monarch failed to leave an undisputed male heir.

Also following Europe's medieval era when tribal leaders evolved into feudal suzerains, suzerains into kings and kings into absolute monarchs, they rose from primus inter pares into God's anointed sovereigns.[2] Marriages with subjects brought the king back down to the level of those he ruled, often stimulating the ambition of his consort's family and evoking jealousy—or disdain—from the nobility. The notion that monarchs should marry into the dynasties of other monarchs to end or prevent war was, at first, a policy driven by pragmatism. During the era of absolutism, it came to re-enforce the notion of Divine right—i.e., the premise that monarchs and dynasties were chosen to reign by God and, ipso facto, were different, as if by caste, rather than merely by fortune from their subjects. Kings continued to marry into the families of their greatest vassals down to the 16th century in most of Europe, by which time most of the great regional principalities and duchies were annexed to the Crown in Scandinavia, Latin Europe and the British Isles through royal subjugation or inheritance. Henceforth, kings tended to marry internationally and, increasingly, to have their sons and daughters do likewise.

Royal marriage as international policy[edit]

Whereas the nobility in national monarchies often came to set great store by genealogical quarterings (a higher standard of noble ancestry, as measured by descent from four noble grandparents, eight noble great-grandparents, etc., rather than only in the male line), that standard proved less influential among reigning dynasties. Many European orders of chivalry (for men) and of canonesses (for women) imposed strict membership requirements for genealogical nobility extending back sometimes to all 64 of one's great-great-great grandparents or 300 years in a patriline. No such restrictions could apply to inter-marriage with reigning dynasties because the demand for political/military alliances and the prospect of inheritance of a foreign realm through marriage to its heiress forbade rigid adherence to standards of genealogical purity among Europe's ruling families: The Medici, Farnesi, Romanovs and Bonapartes were sought as marital partners by even Europe's oldest dynasties for these reasons.

Royal intermarriage was practised widely as a means of promoting mutually advantageous relations with neighboring or hostile nations by binding their reigning dynasties in blood kinship.[3] As dynasties also approached absolutism and/or sought to preserve loyalty among competing members of the nobility, most eventually distanced themselves from kinship ties to local nobles by marrying abroad. In time, this practice contributed to the notion that it was socially as well as politically disadvantageous for members of ruling families to intermarry with their subjects.[3] Queens consort selected from noble or common castes were sometimes subjected to scorn from their husbands' courtiers (e.g. Elizabeth Woodville, Karin Mansdotter and Anna Canalis di Cumiana).


Over time, due to the relatively limited number of potential consorts, the gene pool of many ruling families grew progressively smaller, until all European royalty were related. This also resulted in many being descended from a certain person through many lines of descent, such as the numerous European royalty and nobility descended from the British Queen Victoria or King Christian IX of Denmark.[3] The House of Habsburg was infamous for its inbreeding, with the Habsburg lip cited as an ill-effect, although no genetic evidence has proved the allegation. The closely related houses of Habsburg, Bourbon, House of Braganza and Wittelsbach also engaged in first-cousin unions frequently and in double-cousin and uncle-niece marriages occasionally.

Morganatic marriage[edit]

The entrenchment of the distinction between royalty and nobility gave rise to royal house laws among the sovereign houses of Europe and, particularly, among the semi-sovereign dynasties which reigned directly under the Holy Roman Emperor and held voting seats in his Imperial Diet.[3] These laws either required the monarch's authorization for a dynastic marriage, or stipulated with whom a dynast must marry to comply with the principle of Ebenbürtigkeit, i.e., to contract an equal marriage, or both.[3] Marriages which did not comply with this standard were considered non-dynastic, either being a mismarriage (inherently unequal, thus non-dynastic) or a morganatic marriage (unequal by mutual consent of the spouses or non-dynastic by monarchical decision).[4][5]

If a member of a royal family marries someone of inappropriate status, that prince or princess often loses succession rights, titles, or various other royal privileges since nearly all monarchies impose legal restrictions on marriages of dynasts.[4] A frequent occurrence in the past was for the spouse and any children to be denied any prospect of inheriting the dynasty's throne, and to be assigned lesser rank and titles than if the marriage had complied with the dynasty's norms: this was the morganatic marriage.[4][5]

Sometimes these disinherited branches were deemed suitable for marriage into other families.[3] This happened when Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine married the lesser Countess Julia von Hauke. Julia and the morganatic children of this union were given the style of Serene Highness and title of Prince(ss) of Battenberg. The Battenberg family later married into the royal families of Sweden and Spain, and descendants into the royal families of Britain, Greece, Denmark, and other countries.[3] Similarly, the Teck family, from which Queen Mary of the United Kingdom came, was a morganatic branch of the royal House of Württemberg.

Modern examples in the post WWI era[edit]

Members of two reigning houses[edit]

Members of one reigning house and one non-reigning house[edit]

Examples of multiple kinships[edit]

A well-known example of mid-20th century royal intermarriage was that of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born a Prince of Greece and Denmark). Prince Philip is the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, whose mother Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine and paternal grandfather, Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine, were both members of the same paternal family.

Princess Alice's paternal uncle, Prince Henry of Battenberg married Princess Beatrice (a daughter of Elizabeth II's great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria). Their daughter, Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg married King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and her grandson, the present king, Juan Carlos, married Princess Sophia of Greece & Denmark, whose father was a cousin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Likewise, Queen Elizabeth's great-great-grandfather, King Christian IX of Denmark, was also Prince Philip's great-grandfather. They are also related several times through Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover.

Although the royal house of Queen Elizabeth II is Windsor, it is agnatically the senior branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to which King Albert II of Belgium also belongs. Their common male-line ancestor is Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1750-1806). Elizabeth II's paternal great-great-great-grandfather was Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whose youngest brother was Albert II's great-great-grandfather, Leopold I. Another paternal cousin of both Elizabeth II and Albert II of Belgium is ex-King Simeon II of Bulgaria, who is a male-line great-great-grandson of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, himself the second son of Duke Francis and brother of both Ernest I and Leopold I.

Below is shown how each of Europe's ten currently reigning hereditary monarchs most closely relate to the current Queen of Britain. In addition to the relationships shown, there are many other common ancestors. The most recent common ancestor of all ten is John William Friso, Prince of Orange.[7]

Closest Familial Relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and other European Monarchs
Title Monarch Country Cousin Removed Most recent common ancestors Generations from John William Friso
Queen Elizabeth II United Kingdom --- ---- ------ 9
King Harald V Norway 2nd none Edward VII of the United Kingdom and Alexandra of Denmark 10
King Carl XVI Gustaf Sweden 3rd none Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort 10
King Juan Carlos I Spain 3rd none Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort 10
Queen Margrethe II Denmark 3rd none Christian IX of Denmark, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort 10
King Philippe Belgium 3rd once Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel 10
Grand Duke Henri Luxembourg 3rd once Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel 10
King Willem-Alexander Netherlands 5th
Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg and Friederike Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt
Frederick Francis I, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
Prince Hans-Adam II Liechtenstein 7th once John William Friso, Prince of Orange, and Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel 10
Prince Albert II Monaco 7th twice John William Friso, Prince of Orange, and Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel 11

Grandchildren of Queen Victoria and King Christian IX[edit]

In early twentieth-century Europe, the grandchildren of Queen Victoria and King Christian IX were prevalent throughout most of Europe's royal courts. The British throne was occupied by King Edward VII, who was married to Princess Alexandra, the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. German Emperor William was the son of German Emperor Frederick III and Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. Another of Victoria's daughters, Princess Alice, married Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine, whose daughter Princess Alix became Empress of Russia as the consort of Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas himself was the son of Tsar Alexander III and Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar, another daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark.

Victoria of the United Kingdom
Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse
Christian IX of Denmark
Prince Karl of Hesse and by Rhine
Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
Alexandra of Denmark
George I of Greece
Alice of the United Kingdom
Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse
George V of the United Kingdom
Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
Prince Louis of Battenberg
Prince Henry of Battenberg
Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom
George VI of the United Kingdom
Constantine I of Greece
Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark
Princess Alice of Battenberg
Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Paul I of Greece
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona
Queen Sofía of Spain
Juan Carlos I of Spain
Prince Felipe of Spain

Example of dynastic intra-marriage[edit]

Prince David Bagration of Mukhrani married Princess Anna Bagration-Gruzinsky on 8 February 2009 at the Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral. The marriage united the Bagration-Gruzinsky (Kakheti) and Bagration-Moukhransky (Mukhraneli) branches of the former royal family of Georgia, and drew a crowd of 3,000 spectators, officials, and foreign diplomats, as well as extensive coverage by the Georgian media.[8]

The dynastic significance of the wedding lay in the fact that, amidst the turmoil in political partisanship that has roiled Georgia since its independence in 1991, Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia publicly called for restoration of the monarchy as a path toward national unity in October 2007.[9] Although this led some politicians and parties to entertain the notion of a Georgian constitutional monarchy, competition arose among the old Bagrationi dynasty's princes and supporters, as historians and jurists debated which Bagrationi has the strongest hereditary right to a throne that has been vacant for two centuries.[8]

Aside from his unmarried elder brother, Prince David is the heir male of the Bagration family, while the bride's father, Prince Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky, is the most senior descendant of the last Bagrationi to reign over the united kingdom of Georgia.[10] But the marriage between the Gruzinsky heiress and the Mukhrani heir resolves their rivalry for the claim to the throne, which has recently divided Georgian monarchists.[11] The couple's first child, Prince Giorgi Bagration Bagrationi was born on September 27, 2011.[12][13]

Royal intermarriage outside of Europe[edit]

Although the practice of royal intermarriage was most dominant in Europe, it was not unheard of nor frowned upon in other areas.


In addition to the foregoing, a series of other royal unions have occurred throughout the continent of Africa's history. These other examples include the following:


Unlike in Europe, Chinese emperors were not quite as concerned about the dynastic status of their wives and concubines. Nevertheless, royal intermarriage was not uncommon in China. In times when there were several rival dynasties vying for control, Chinese rulers used royal intermarriage as a way to maintain a balance of power or to solidify alliances between states. In times when there was only one dynasty in China, emperors often married their daughters or other female members of their families to foreign leaders in order to maintain peace between their two nations. Most prominent were the marriages of countless Korean noblewomen to Chinese rulers. The tributary status of Korean kingdoms at times in history led to Korean noblewomen becoming secondary wives who rose to the status of empress. As a result of centuries of such practice, the Chinese imperial family came to be of majority Korean and eventually Manchurian blood[citation needed], especially when the Manchu royal family ruled China in the period we know as the Qing Dynasty[citation needed]. This practice was also practiced in the reverse especially the Manchu rule of China which resulted in countless Manchurian princesses marrying into the Korean imperial family as a sign of mutual friendship. In turn, the high intermarriage rates of Korean nobles into the Japanese ruling class and Korean aristocrats being the progenitor of countless Japanese noble families[citation needed] and the Japanese royal family established a ruling class in Japan more closely related to Korea by blood then the native Japanese they ruled[citation needed]. This is acknowledged by Emperor Akihito of Japan mentioning this cultural link between Japan and Korea and the mainland in the hopes of ameliorating the tension between mainland East Asia and Japan.

The following Chinese royals married princes or princesses from other ruling families:


Royal intermarriage existed in Korea, but was not widespread except during the Three Kingdoms of Korea period.

The following are several examples of Korean royal intermarriage:

  • The Silla Kingdom had a practice that limited the succession to the throne to members of the seonggol, or "sacred bone", rank. To maintain their "sacred bone" rank, members of this caste often intermarried with one another in the same fashion that European royals intermarried to maintain a "pure" royal pedigree.
  • Princess Seonhwa of Silla, daughter of King Jinpyeong of Silla and sister of Queen Seondeok, is thought to have married King Mu of Baekje in a rare incident of royal intermarriage between a seonggol Silla princess and a royal from another Korean kingdom.[27]
  • Members of the Silla royal family who were not seonggol were considered jingol, or "true bone". Although not dynasts (in essence they were morganatic members of the royal clan), they were often still of pure royal or aristocratic blood, as jingol often married members of the noble Bak and Seok clans of Gyeongju, Nagan or the Kimhae Kim clan, a branch of the royal house of Geumgwan Gaya.
  • In 1920, Crown Prince Euimin of Korea was married to Princess Masako of Nashimoto. The marriage was arranged by the Japanese in an attempt to introduce Japanese blood into the Korean royal line.

Middle East[edit]

Roman client kingdoms[edit]

There were many marriages between members of the royal families of the Roman client kingdoms, including:


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  2. ^ Durant, Will. The Story of Civilzation: The Age of Faith, volume IV. Feudalism and Chivalry. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950, pp.552-553, 564-566, 569, 571, 573, 576.
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  6. ^ sometimes considered a marriage between two reigning dynasties because Ernst August is a direct descendant in the legitimate male line of George III of Great Britain, eligible to transmit British succession rights to his descendants, subject to the Royal Marriages Act 1772 and the couple's marriage required the official consent of the governments of Monaco, France and the United Kingdom
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  26. ^ Daughter of Yuan Huai, Prince Wumu of Guangping, granddaughter of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei, and sister of Emperor Xiaowu of Northern Wei
  27. ^ Members of the "sacred bone rank" were often members of the Silla royal house by both birth and marriage. It was not abnormal to find a Silla king or prince with a wife (and even concubines) who were princesses of Silla in their own right (that is, by birth).
  28. ^ Hello Magazine Prince Muhammed Ali of Egypt and Princess Noal Zaher of Afghanistan Prepare for their Royal Wedding. 2 August 2013 (retrieved 26 November 2013).
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