Morganatic Marriage

Morganatic marriage (Goth. morgjan, to curtail, limit), sometimes called left-handed marriage, a lower sort of matrimonial union, which, as a civil engagement, is completely binding, but fails to confer on the wife the title or fortune of her husband, and on the children the full status of legitimacy or right of succession. SEE CONCUBINE. The members of the German princely houses were for centuries in the practice of entering into marriages of this kind with their inferiors in rank. Out of this usage has gradually sprung a code of matrimonial law by which the union of princes with persons of lower rank in other than morganatic form involves serious consequences, especially towards the lady. In the 16th and 17th centuries a fashion began among German princes of taking a morganatic wife in addition to one who enjoyed the complete matrimonial status — landgrave Philip of Hesse setting the example, with a very qualified disapprobation on the part of the leading Reformers. In the present century morganatic marriages are on the decline among the German reigning houses. They are recognised not only among the princely families, but among the higher aristocracy of the empire; and in Prussia even the "Niedere Adel," or inferior gentry, may contract unions of this kind. There is, however, a strong public opinion against the practice, and as the people begin to enter into the control of state affairs, the practice is sure to be opposed by special legislation. No such alliance is now permitted to any one having another wife, and the State as well as the Church hold the parties as having entered the strictly matrimonial state. A sort of left-handed or "hand-fasted" marriage was recognised in early times in the Highlands of Scotland and in Ireland: the hand-fasted bride could be put away, and a fresh union formed, with the full status of matrimony. Unlike the case of German morganatic marriages, the issue were often accounted legitimate, even to the prejudice of the children of the more regular union that followed. The Royal Marriage Act, 12 Geo. 3, c. 11, reduces to a position somewhat like that of morganatic unions every marriage in the royal family of Great Britain not previously approved by the sovereign under the Great Seal, provided the prince entering into it is under twenty-five, and every such marriage of a prince above twenty-five which is disapproved by Parliament. In the United States no such marriages are lawful. SEE MARRIAGE.

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