Marriage of state

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A marriage of state is a diplomatic marriage or union between two members of different nation-states or internally, between two power blocs, usually in authoritarian societies and is a practice which dates back into ancient times, as far back as early Grecian cultures in western society, and of similar antiquity in other civilizations. The fable of Helen of Troy may be the best known classical tale reporting an incidence of surrendering a female member of a ruling line to gain peace or shore up alliances of state between nation-states headed by small oligarchies or acknowledged royalty.[ citation needed ]

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Western world Countries that identify themselves with an originally European shared culture

The Western world, also known as the West, refers to various regions, nations and states, depending on the context, most often including at least parts of Europe, Australasia, and the Americas. There are many accepted definitions, all closely interrelated. The Western world is also known as the Occident, in contrast to the Orient, or Eastern world. It is often correlated with the Northern half of the North-south divide.

Helen of Troy daughter of Zeus in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy, also known as Helen of Sparta, was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world. She was married to King Menelaus of Sparta but was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy after the goddess Aphrodite promised her to him in the Judgement of Paris. This resulted in the Trojan War when the Achaeans set out to reclaim her. She was believed to have been the daughter of Zeus and Leda, and was the sister of Clytemnestra, Castor and Polydeuces, Philonoe, Phoebe and Timandra.



The marriage of the Duke of Burgundy to Marie Adelaide of Savoy on December 7, 1697 by Antoine Dieu Lodewijk XIV-Marriage.jpg
The marriage of the Duke of Burgundy to Marie Adélaïde of Savoy on December 7, 1697 by Antoine Dieu

While the contemporary Western ideal sees marriage as a unique bond between two people who are in love, families in which heredity is central to power or inheritance (such as royal families) often see marriage in a different light. There are often political or other non-romantic functions that must be served, and the relative wealth and power of the potential spouses are considered. Marriage for political, economic, or diplomatic reasons was the pattern for centuries among European rulers. [1]

Careful selection of a spouse was important to maintain the royal status of a family: depending on the law of the land in question, if a prince or king was to marry a commoner who had no royal blood, even if the first-born was acknowledged as a son of a sovereign, he might not be able to claim any of the royal status of his father. [1]

Traditionally, many factors were important in the arranging of royal marriages. One such factor was the size of the tracts of land that the other royal family governed or controlled. [1] Another, related factor was the stability of the control exerted over that territory: when there is territorial instability in a royal family, other royals will be less inclined to marry into that family. [1] Another factor was political alliance: marriage was an important way to bind together royal families and "their countries during peace and war" and could justify many important political decisions. [1]

A political alliance, also known as a coalition or bloc, is cooperation by members of different political parties, in countries with a parliamentary system, on a common agenda of some kind. This usually involves formal agreements between two or more entire parties, and often takes place mainly for the purpose of contesting an election. An alliance is usually especially beneficial to the parties concerned during and immediately after elections – due to characteristics of the electoral systems concerned and/or allowing parties to participate in formation of a government after elections. These may break up quickly, or hold together for decades becoming the de facto norm, operating almost as a single unit.

Importance of religion

Religion has always been closely tied to political affairs and continues to be today in many countries. Religious considerations were often important in marriages among royal families, particularly in lands where there was an established or official religion. When a royal family was prepared to negotiate or arrange the marriage of one of its children, it was extremely important to have a prospective spouse who followed the same religion or, at the very least, that the spouse be willing to convert before the wedding. In non-Catholic royal families, there were few things worse than marrying a person who was a Catholic. [1] Some countries barred from accession to the throne any person who married a Catholic, as in the British Act of Settlement 1701. When a Protestant prince converted to Catholicism, he risked being disowned by his family, [1] and often being barred from the throne himself. Some of these laws are still in force, centuries after the conclusion of Europe's Wars of Religion.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Act of Settlement 1701 Former United Kingdom law disqualifying Catholic monarchs

The Act of Settlement is an Act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1701 to settle the succession to the English and Irish crowns on Protestants only. The next Protestant in line to the throne was the Electress Sophia of Hanover, a granddaughter of James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland. After her the crowns would descend only to her non-Roman Catholic heirs.

Protestantism Division within Christianity, originating with the 16th century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church

Protestantism is the second largest form of Christianity with collectively between 800 million and more than 900 million adherents worldwide or nearly 40% of all Christians. It originated with the 16th century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy and sacraments, but disagree among themselves regarding the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They emphasize the priesthood of all believers, justification by faith alone rather than also by good works, and the highest authority of the Bible alone in faith and morals. The "five solae" summarise basic theological differences in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic countries had similar laws and strictures. France, for example, effectively barred non-Catholics from the throne. Even if the law did not strictly prohibit marrying non-Catholic royalty, political situations and popular sentiment were frequently sufficient to dissuade princes from so doing.

French Wars of Religion civil war from 1562–98

The French Wars of Religion were a prolonged period of war and popular unrest between Catholics and Huguenots in the Kingdom of France between 1562 and 1598. It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history.

Rulers' marriages

Elizabeth I

Contrary to what some historians have said about her elusiveness when in marriage negotiations with suitors or their representatives, Queen Elizabeth I was known to be straightforward in her various courtships. [2] In 1565, when in the midst of the Habsburg matrimonial project, Elizabeth promptly dismissed the rival French suit of their fourteen-year-old king, stating she would have to be ten years younger to consider it. [2] Furthermore, in addition to concerns about religion, financial arrangements, and security, Elizabeth also maintained that she could not marry anyone whom she had not seen in person, perhaps as a result of her father's own displeasure and divorce of Anne of Cleves. [3] The emphasis on religion, national security, and securing the line of succession in all of Elizabeth's marriage negotiations demonstrate the emphasis placed on the political importance of marriages of state during this period. Although some of her contemporaries hoped she would find solace in marriage, procreation was still considered the primary purpose of royal marriage.

In March 1565, Elizabeth told her Spanish ambassador, Diego Guzmán de Silva:

If I could appoint such a successor to the Crown as would please me and the country, I would not marry, as it is a thing for which I have never had any inclination. My subjects, however press me so that I cannot help myself or take the other course, which is a very difficult one. There is a strong idea in the world that a woman cannot live unless she is married, or at all events that is she refrains from marriage she does so for some bad reason....But what can we do? [4]

Thus, Elizabeth appeared to personally believe that a woman should reasonably be able to remain single. However, she continued to engage in marriage negotiations for decades because of the expectations of her role as monarch. Although she herself had little inclination to marry, she understood the limitations of her power and therefore seriously considered marriage on numerous occasion at the behest of councillors.

The Habsburg marriage negotiations revolving around the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I to Archduke Charles show the way marriage was often negotiated in royal families. The first phase began in 1559, with the initiative for a matrimonial alliance between England and Austria. [5] However, the first phase was a failure and, the people of England were relieved to the extent that they feared a foreign ruler coming into their country. [5] Negotiations were re-opened with some difficulty in 1563 by the English. [2] This was in part due to Charles' search for a wife elsewhere, the lack of permanent diplomatic links between Austria and England, and because of Emperor Ferdinand's distrust of Elizabeth for her refusal of his son's suit in 1559. However, Sir William Cecil was interested in the match and began work on a marriage negotiation. [5] While the first set of negotiations were uncertain, the second round of negotiations gathered stronger support in England for the suit and went on for several years.

Both sides hoped to gain from a marital alliance. In England, the negotiations were a key element to Elizabeth's foreign policy and intended to protect the country's commercial interests and political security against the French-Scottish alliance. [2] Austria also hoped to gain in similar ways from a political alliance and possibly bring Catholicism back to England. However, English support was partly due to the fact that the English had been deliberately misled to believe that Charles would be willing to convert to Protestantism and in the end, the archduke's Catholicism and refusal to come to England before finalizing a betrothal proved too difficult to overcome and the suit dissolved. These negotiations, nevertheless, illustrate how support and opposition ebbed and flowed over the course of time, and how issues like religion, which seemed to be resolvable at the outset, could ultimately doom an otherwise promising proposal.


Napoleon, as emperor, gave out kingdoms and female relatives with equal largesse to favored Marshals and general officers.

United Kingdom

Through most of recorded history state marriages were also common at lesser levels of nobility, and many a lesser marriage of state was consummated and bargained over during all of the Middle Ages and through the middle of the twentieth-century in western society, and the old forms still hold sway in many other cultural contexts today. One famous example of a marriage of state for lesser reasons was that of George II of Great Britain's parents. The Princess Sophia's dowry included properties assuring an income of 100,000 thalers annually, which led to George Louis, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (the future George I of Great Britain), marrying his first cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle when both were pressed into the arrangement by his mother and that German ducal dynastic move accidentally gave the couple the inside track on the Protestant thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland (and later, those of the United Kingdom and Ireland).

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Fleming, Patricia H. (June 1973). "The Politics of Marriage Among Non-Catholic European Royalty". Current Anthropology . 14 (3): 231–249. doi:10.1086/201323.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Doran, Susan (1996). Monarchy & Matrimony: The courtships of Elizabeth I. London: Routledge. ISBN   0-415-11969-3.
  3. Warnicke, Retha (2010). "Why Elizabeth I Never Married". History Review (67): 15–20.
  4. Levin, Carole (2013). The Heart and Stomach of a King (2 ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 49. ISBN   978-0-8122-2240-1.
  5. 1 2 3 Doran, Susan (October 1989). "Religion and Politics at the Court of Elizabeth I: The Habsburg Marriage Negotiations of 1559-1567". The English Historical Review . 104 (413): 908–926. doi:10.1093/ehr/CIV.413.908.