Morganatic and Secret Marriages in the French Royal Family
Morganatic marriages are marriages in a royal or sovereign family which somehow contravene the dynastic rules, either because they were not authorized, or more often because of a perceived mésalliance or inequality in rank between the spouses. The issue of the morganatic marriage is barred from succeding to the throne (sometimes the perpetrator as well), and the spouses are denied the rank they would have normally held as royal spouses. Morganatic marriage is a concept of German law, and did not openly exist in French law. Hence, there are, strictly speaking, no morganatic marriages in the French royal family.
What one does find in the French royal family are secret marriages, which may in fact have been the exact equivalents, in law, of morganatic marriages. There are four examples of secret marriages:
It could be argued that these secret marriages were the French equivalent of morganatic marriages; since the marriage was secret, the spouse was never given the rank that she would have had under normal circumstances, which is a common trait with morganatic marriages. However, these four marriages (which are the only known examples) share other characteristics:
Thus, they are very difficult to compare with morganatic marriages, because the other trait of the latter is that the issue is barred from succession. The morganatic marriage is authorized or suffered on that condition. It seems that the French secret marriages were authorized on another condition: that the prince fulfill his dynastic duties by leaving a legitimate issue, and not leave any issue by the secret marriage. In other words, the main function of the concept of morganatic marriage is to devise a category between legitimate issue and illegitimate issue: that of legitimate but ineligible issue.
An interesting feature of Old Regime private law does, in fact, turn secret marriages into the equivalent of morganatic marriages. This is the result of an ordonnance of 1639, whose article 3 states: ""Déclarons que les enfans qui naîtront de ces mariages que les parties ont tenus ou tiendront cachés durant leur vie, qui ressentent plutôt la honte d'un concubinage, que la diginité d'un mariage, soient incapables de toutes succession, aussi bien que leur postérité" (the children to be born of those marriages whose participants held or shall hold secret during their lifetime, who feel rather the shame of concubinage than the dignity of marriage, shall be incapable of any inheritance, as well as their issue). The jurist Pothier (Traité des successions, Chapitre I, section I, article 3, § 4) adds that, although such marriages were performed according to the requirements of the law (in particular, they are canonically valid), they are not legitimate for the purposes of inheritance. Among proofs that a marriage is held secret, he mentions the fact that the wife does not take the name of her husband.
What analogy can be drawn from private law to public law is hard to say. It might seem odd for children incapable in civil law of inheriting their princely father's titles and estates, to nevertheless inherit the throne. But jurists did not automatically extend the provisions of private law to the sovereign. Guoyt (Traité des droits, 1784, vol. 1, p. 88) thought that (1) marriage was regulated by civil law, not religious law, and (2) the king was not bound by civil laws : "La forme des mariages en France n'est réglée que par les ordonnances du prince; nous observons, il est vrai, les dispositions du concile de Trente sur cette matière; mais c'est uniquement parce que nos Rois ont bien voulu les adopter, et elles ne nous obligent que comme lois civiles. Dès-lors, si le prince est, comme on el verra ci-après, au-dessus des lois civiles, il est clair qu'il n'est pas tenu de s'y conformer."
On the other hand, accepting that the provisions of the ordonnance of 1639 extend to the succession to the throne is allowing the king to alter the line of succession (albeit with the consent of the Parlement, whose registration was required for the enforcement of an ordonnance).
It was asserted in Old Regime France that the sovereign's assent to marriages in the royal family (as in Great Britain with the Royal Marriages Act of 1772) was required. This assertion was made in the context of a specific marriage that ran afoul of the king. (What follows is based on Pierre Blet: Le Clergé de France et la Monarchie, Etude sur les Assemblées Générales du Clergé de 1615 à 1666. Rome, 1959: Université Grégorienne. pp. 399-439. See also Degert, "Le mariage de Gaston d'Orléans et de Marguerite de Lorraine," Revue Historique 143:161-80, 144:1-57.)
Gaston de France, duc d'Orléans (1608-60) was the only brother of the childless king Louis XIII and his heir presumptive. He spent a good deal of his life plotting against his brother and in particular his brother's prime minister, the cardinal de Richelieu. He once took refuge after a failed plot in Lorraine, and fell in love with Marguerite (1615-72), younger sister of the duke Charles III de Lorraine. On his return to France he was forbidden by the king to marry Marguerite, who belonged to a family that was a longtime enemy of France. But Gaston fled again to Lorraine and married her on 3 January 1632, in a secret ceremony, in the chapel of a convent in Nancy, with a monk delegated by the bishop of Toul officiating and a handful of family members as witnesses.
The secret was well kept, until one of Gaston's co-conspirators, the duc de Montmorency, spilled the beans before ascending the scaffold in November 1632. The king resolved to have the marriage invalidated one way or the other. The first tack was to have the ambassador of France in Rome ask for the appointment of a judicial panel of four French bishops to adjudicate the matter. The Pope was forewarned that, should he refuse, the French court would find other means. In any case, he was told that the matter could not be settled in Rome, where the Spanish influence was deemed too hostile to French interests. The ambassador's request on 3 Feb 1634 was denied: the Pope asserted that only the bishop of the diocese or himself could decide the issue.
At the same time, a procedure had begun in civil courts. On 4 Jan 1634 an inquiry was launched at the king's request in the Parlement de Paris into the "rape" (rapt, forced marriage) of the duc d'Orléans. As heir to the crown, he must be held to be a minor under the tutelage of the king, and the marriage having taken place without the king's consent was technically a forced marriage, hence invalid. The Parlement concluded on 5 Sept 1634 that "le prétendu mariage de Monsieur le duc d'Orléans et frère unique du Roi avec la princesse Marguerite de Lorraine a été non valablement contracté, et pour l'attentat et rapt commis par ledit Charles, duc de Lorraine, … ledit Charles, duc, vassal lige de la Couronne, être déclaré criminel de lèse-majesté."
The Pope protested what he saw as an invasion of ecclesiastical jurisdiction (although cases of forced marriages were traditionally within the purview of civil courts). He sent briefs to Richelieu and to the king asking for the annullment of the arrêt of the Parlement, without deciding the question of the validity of the marriage. Meanwhile, Gaston had confirmed his vows in Brussels in front of the archbishop of Malines and obtained the support of the theologians of the University of Louvain.
In 1635, the General Assembly of the Clergy of France was due
to meet. These assemblies, begun in 1579, were held every ten
years. The clerics of each ecclesiastical province of France elected
four deputies; the deputies met in Paris and discussed the affairs
of the French church, and also negotiated financial support for
the king. The assembly began its proceedings on 25 May, and
on June 16 it received to emissaries of the king who asked the
assembly to consider the following question:
The assembly appointed a commission fo five bishops, headed by Pierre Fenouillet, bishop of Montpellier, to examine the matter. They sollicited the opinions of theologians at the Sorbonne and in the various religious houses of Paris, and gathered nearly sixty signed opinions, all concluding that the marriage was invalid (those whose opinions were contrary were not sollicited). Specialists in ethics and law had opined, as well as priors and superiors of various orders.
Fenouillet read his report on July 6. His speech was based on two arguments. One was that sacraments of the Church were all made of matter, such as water for baptism, bread and wine for the Eucharist, and form, the ritual words of the ceremonies; both being necessary for the validity of the sacrament. In the case of marriage, the matter was the civil contract embodying the consent of the parties: "the matter is not only physical entity, but also a political entity,and more capable of alteration than the physical entity, due to any number of circumstances whose effects change the matter prepared for the sacrament of marriage, that is, the mutual consent of the parties in Jesus Christ, and alter it to such a degree that it is incapable of receibing the form of sacrament." The ability to regulate marriages as a political entity was inherent in their authority, a right they had not and could not relinquish to the Church.
Fenouillet's other argument was that "custom is as good as law", a principle formulated even in the decrees of Alexander III and Innocent III: "qui legitimus est ad matrimonium contrahendum per consuetudinem fit illegitimus," by custom he who could otherwise enter into matrimony is made incapable. In the case of France, a long-standing custom, he argued, regulated the marriages of the princes of the blood. The examples given were those of Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, forcibly married by Baudoin of Flanders (the marriage was annulled, but as the spouses desired to stay together a second marriage was celebrated with the assent of the king); likewise Louis the Stammerer, son of the same Charles, married Ansegard without his father's consent and the marriage was annulled. Finally, Anne de Bretagne had married Maximilian of Austria, and Charles VIII had the marriage broken.
The deputies voted, by province, and all concurred. A resolution was
drafted and published the following day:
Nous, archevêques, Évêques et autres Ecclésiastiques députés de toutes les provinces de ce Royaume représentant le corps du Clergé de France, après avoir soigneusement examiné la question qui nous a été proposée de la part de Sa Majesté, vu les décisions et constitutions ecclésiastiques sur le pouvoir des coutumes des lieux en ce qui concerne la validité des mariages, avec le commun sentiment de ceux qui ont écrit de cette matière.
Considéré aussi la coutume, pratique et usage de la France en ce qui
est du mariage des princes su sang et particulièrement des plus
proches et qui sont présomptifs héritiers de la Couronne, attendu
aussi le consentement et approbation de l'Église touchant cette
coutume, pratique et usage de la France, après avoir ouï le rapport
des commissaires dire de part et d'autres sur ce sujet et avoir su
d'eux qu'ils en avaient conféré avec un grand nombre de savants
théologiens, tant séculiers que réguliers, desquels ils nous ont
rapporté les avis signés de leurs mains, disons le véritable sentiment
de nos consciences d'un consentement unanime:
Délibéré en ladite Assemblée tenue à Paris le samedi matin septième de juillet de l'an 1635.
Gaston relented, and on 16 August signed the following statement
(which was kept secret):
Fenouillet was sent to Rome to explain it to the Pope. In an audience on 21 Jan 1636, he emphasized that this was not a judgment, but an opinion.He justified the alleged custom as "an extension of the salic law on the basis of a common necessity", namely, excluding foreigners from the throne; but the Clergy had merely answered the question asked of it according to its conscience. The Pope accepted this gesture of submission; he main worry was that the Assembly pass any kind of decree or legislation, or worse, that a national Council be called. He was also worried that Gaston remarry, which would have forced an explicit resolution of the issue. Richelieu told the papal nuncio that, after the Assembly's opinion, Gaston might indeed marry again, but that there were no plans to do so. In the end, the Pope never publicly took position on the Assembly's opinion.
The two brothers were nevertheless reconciled on Louis XIII's death-bead; royal assent to the marriage was granted on 5 May 1643, and a marriage ceremony was performed by the archbishop of Paris in the castle of Meudon on 26 May 1643; subsequently a marriage contract was signed on 10 Dec 1643 (see Levanthal, p. 826-7). The children by that marriage were all born after the remarriage of 1643. They were considered legitimate and of royal rank. Marguerite-Louise (1645-1721) married Cosimo III di Medici, Elisabeth (1646-96) married Louis-Joseph de Lorraine, duc de Guise, and Françoise-Madeleine (1648-64) married Carlo Emanuele II di Savoia. The others were Gaston-Louis (1650-52) and Marie-Anne (1652-56).
The impact of the episode on French jurisprudence by the late 18th century is summarized By Pothier in his Traité du Mariage, partie IV, chapitre I, article II (Oeuvres, 18234, vol. 5, pp. 184-5):
Suivant un ancien usage, qui s'est toujours pratiqué dans le royaume, les princes du sang ne peuvent contracter mariage sans le consentement du roi. On agita beaucoup, dans le dernier siècle, si le défaut de ce consentement était un empêchement dirimant de mariage. La question fut agitée à l'occasion du mariage de Gaston, duc d'Orléans, que ce prince avait contracté avec la princesse Marguerite de Lorraine, sans le consentement du roi. Sur l'appel comme d'abus de ce mariage, interjeté par le procureur-général par arrêt du mois de septembre 1634, sur les conclusions de M. Jérôme Bignon, ce mariage fut, pour le défaut de ce consentement, déclaré nul. L'assemblée du clergé de 1635 donna aussi une déclaration, insérée dans le procès-verbal des actes de cette assemblée, par laquelle elle reconnut, que, suivant un ancien usage du Royaume de France, les princes du sang ne pouvaient contracter mariage sans le consentement du roi; et que le défaut de ce consentement rendait le mariage nul. Le prince reconnut la nullité de son mariage, par acte du 16 août 1635; mais depuis, étant rentré en grâce, il obtint la permission de le réhabiliter, et il fut de nouveau célébré par l'archevêque de Paris, à Meudon, au mois de mai 1647.In his 1905 Histoire du Droit Civil Français, Paul Viollet wrote (p. 413): "Les princes du sang et les grands du royaume ne se marient pas sans le consentement du roi, C'est là une maxime de droit public, universellement reconnue et très sérieusement appliquée en ce qui concerne les princes du sang." (He cites Lebret, and Durand de Maillane: dictionnaire de droit canonique, 4:36).
The Gaston episode was an important one in the evolution of the legal status of the marriage contract. Under Roman law, marriage was treated as a contract whose validity was based on mutual consent. In the High Middle Ages the civil authorities let the Church define the conditions of validity of marriages. With the Reform and the Council of Trent, even in Catholic countries a move toward reasserting civil authority in the law of marriage began. The legal and theological argument that was used was precisely the one evoked at the French Assembly of the clergy: that the civil contract was the matter for which the sacrament was the form, and that the civil authorities had the power to define which contracts were valid and which were void. This was reinforced by the Council of Trent's requirement that a Catholic priest be present for the marriage to be valid, a provision which, if endorsed by the civil authorities, made all Protestant marriages void. In fact, in France a marriage by mutual consent before a notary remained a valid form of marriage into the 17th century as long as a priest was present, however passive or even opposed to the proceedings he might be (such marriages were called mariages à la Gaumine, from Gaumin, a judge of the Parlement de Paris who was so married; they remained possible until 1698 when an arrêt made the priest's active participation a requisite).
While Louis XIII's moves in 1634 were to have the marriage of his brother voided, in other matters (secret marriages, marriages without parental consent and marriages in extremis) the Blois ordinance of 1579 did not pronounce them void, but deprived them of all civil effects. This was a way to respect canon law, but to place the legal question of marriage firmly within the jurisdiction of the king. However, with the last quarter of the 18th century, marriage was secularized in many Catholic countries. In Austria, Joseph II made marriage a purely civil affair by allowing bishops to grant dispensations without recourse to Rome, and by making royal courts the sole competent courts for marriage related suits (edicts of 1781, 1783, 1784 in the Low Countries). The same reforms were carried out in Tuscany by Leopold II in 1786, with the help of a synod in Pistoia. In France, the 1787 edict of toleration allowed a marriage to be contracted either before a Catholic priest or a royal judge, and reserved jurisdiction over litigation and dispensations to the civil courts exclusively. The French Revolution, in 1791, made marriage a purely civil contract and deprived the priest of any ability to perform a marriage.
The First and Second Empires (1804-14 and 1852-70) specifically stated in their constitutions that any marriage in the imperial family required prior approval of the Emperor; should an unauthorized marriage take place, the offender and his issue were excluded from the succession. (The decree of March 30, 1806 stated that the marriages of princes of the Imperial family were void without the explicit consent of the Emperor, and the issue of such marriages were illegitimate.) However, if the marriage came to be dissolved without issue, the prince regained his succession rights. Thus was the concept of morganatic marriage introduced in France. The Constitution of 1804 allowed Napoleon to adopt an heir among the children of his brothers, and otherwise provided for succession to Joseph and his descendance, and then to Louis and his descendance; later, in 1806, Jérôme was made a French prince and included in the line of succession.
The Constitution of 1852 and other constitutional texts included similar clauses. The sénatus-consulte of Nov. 7, 1852 stated that the imperial dignity was restored and was hereditary in the direct and legitimate descent of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, by males and by primogeniture, in perpetual exclusion of females and their issue. If he has no male child, Louis-Napoléon could adopt male children in the legitimate male descent of Napoleon I's brothers. Adoption was forbidden to his successors. Then, a décret organique of Dec 18, 1852 placed in line of succession after Napoleon III and his descent Jérôme Napoléon and his direct and natural legitimate issue by Catherine of Württemberg. Finally, a decree of June 21, 1853 defined the imperial family to be the legitimate and adoptive descent of Napoléon III and all princes eligible to succeed with their spouses and issue. Marriages contracted without imperial consent were null and void, and the issue of such marriages was illegitimate. The requirement of prior consent was, moreover, applicable to the whole descent in male line of Napoléon I's brothers, and to other parents by blood and marriage to the 4th degree of kinship ("autres parents et alliés de l'empereur au quatrième degré").
Napoleon I had not approved of the marriage of his brother Lucien to Alexandrine Jacob de Bleschamp in 1803. As a result (and for other reasons as well) Lucien was never made a French prince and his issue was excluded from succession, although his eldest son Charles-Lucien was made a French prince in 1815 and married a daughter of Joseph in 1822. Napoleon also disapproved of the marriage of his brother Jérôme to Elisabeth Patterson in 1803, and refused to recognize it. A decree of 11 ventôse XIII pronounced the marriage null. Jérôme had to relent and admit the nullity of that marriage in 1805 (in spite of having had a son by that marriage) before being made a French prince in 1806. Under Napoleon III the issue of that first marriage was recognized as legitimate and entitled to the name of Bonaparte in France, but it was forever excluded from the succession. Jérôme's third marriage to Justine Pecori-Giraldi was secret, and left no issue. Under Napoleon III, some marriages failed to meet approval of the Emperor, e.g., that of Pierre Bonaparte (son of Lucien) in 1867.
Among the Orléans family, marriages are subject to the approval
of the head of the house (the Orléans-Bragance
and Orléans-Galliera are separate houses).
But only in recent years have there been
acts of disobedience of members in matters of marriage. The then-comte de
Clermont divorced his wife in 1984 and married a divorcee the same
year, his first religious marriage not having been anulled: his father,
strongly disapproving, removed his son from the line
of succession, but relented in 1991, and granted a title to his son's
second civil wife. Two other sons married against the
will of their father: Michel in 1967 and Thibaut in 1972, and as a consequence
were excluded from the succession along with their issue, although the comte
de Paris did give them titles in 1976 (comte d'Évreux and comte
de La Marche respectively). They have been restored in their dynastic rights
by the new comte de Paris in 1999. Also, the remarriage of the comte de Paris'
sister Isabelle to Pierre prince Murat was not approved and she lost her
style as Royal Highness as a result.
Du vendredi vingt-trois avril mil sept cent soixante-treize, tres-haut, t. pt et excelt prince Monseigr Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, premier prince du sang, duc d’Orléans, de Valois, de Chartres, de Nemours et de Montpensier, comte de Vermandois et de Soissons, lieutenant général des armées du Roi, chevalier de ses ordres et de la Toison d’or, gouverneur et lieut. gl de S. M. de la province de Dauphiné, âgé de près de 48 ans, veuf de t. hte et t. pte et excelte princesse Madame Louise-Henriette de Bourbon-Conty, duchesse d’Orléans, demeurant en son Palais royal rue St-Honoré, de cette paroisse, d’une part, et hte et pte dame Charlotte-Jeanne Beraud de La Haye de Riou, âgée de 34 ans ou environ, veuve de ht et pt seigr Jean-Baptiste, marquis de Montesson, brigadier des armées du Roi, demeurant rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin, de cette paroisse d’autre part, on esté fiancés et mariés de leur consentement mutuel par nous curé de cette église soussigné, vu la dispense des trois bans de Monseigr l’archevesque portant permission de fiancer et marier le même jour dans la chapelle de Madame la marquise de Montesson de cette paroisse, signé Christophe, archvêque de Paris, et plus bas: de La Touche, en date du 18 du précédent mois, en présence de t. ht et t. pt. seigr messire Louis-Henri de La Tour du Pin, vicomte de la Châtre, brigadier des armées du Roi, chevalier de l’ordre royal et militaire de St-Louis, premier veneur en survivance de S. A. Monseigr le duc d’Orléans, demeurant au Palais-Royal, rue St-Honoré de cette paroisse, de messire Jacques-Henri Asseline, Joseph-Auguste Poret de Boisandré, ancien capitaine de cavalerie, chevalier de l’ordre royal et militaire de St-Louis, capne et gouverneur du château, parc et dépendances du Raincy, écuyer commandant des écuries et veneries de S A. S. Monseigr le duc d’Orléans, demeurant rue Neuve des Petits-Champs de cette paroisse, témoins dud. seigr époux; et de Messre Jean Depont, cher seigr de Mandreu et de Forges et autres lieux, conseiller du Roi en tous ses conseils, maîtres des requêtes ordinaires de son hôtel, conseiller honoraire en sa cour du parlement de Paris, Intendant de justice, police et finances de la généralité de Bourbonnois, demeurant rue des Blancs-Manteaux, paroisse de St-Merry, et de Messire Anne-Jean-Maximin de Mary, écuyer, chevalier de Longueville, secrétaire des commandements de S. A. S. Monseigneur le duc d’Orléans, secrétaire général du gouvernment de Dauphiné, et agent général de lad. province, et conseiller au conseil de S. A. S. Monseigr le duc d’Orléans, demeurant au Palais-Royal, rue St-Honoré de cette paroisse, témoins de lad. dame épouse, lesquels ont signé:
L. Phil d’Orleans
French Heraldry Page | Search Heraldica | Heraldic Glossary | Contact
Last modified: Nov 11, 2003