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Morganatic marriage is a marriage between two people of different ranks in which the person of lower rank is not granted titles, estates, and other privileges of rank. This tradition is largely associated with Germany, although it crops up in the news now and then; the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker-Bowles, for example, raised global interest in the concept. In that particular instance, a morganatic marriage was not chosen, although the option may have been discussed.
The marriage is still considered legally binding; statutes against polygamy, for example, apply to people in a morganatic marriage. However, the person of lower rank will not be granted any royal titles, and children of the union will not be given titles either. Since such a marriage represents a clear disadvantage in a number of ways, the marriages are relatively rare, and great love or passion is usually associated with them.
The term is derived from the phrase matrimonium ad morganaticam, meaning “marriage for the morning gift.” The term refers to a tradition in many Germanic countries, in which the bride is given a dowry of money and property to ensure that she and her children remain financially secure. In the case of a morganatic marriage, the “morning gift” is all the bride gets, and this is clearly stated in the marriage contract. Because a morganatic marriage deprives children of their rights as heirs, the arrangement is illegal in many regions of the world.
The term is generally used to discuss royal marriages. In this case, the marriage is approved by members of the royal family, an important prerequisite to a valid royal marriage, but the status of one of the partners is considered unsatisfactory. In German history, the morganatic marriage was often used by a king who wanted to marry a lady-in-waiting or another woman of lower rank after the Queen had passed away. Since royal heirs would have already been established from the previous marriage, the issue of inheritance was a moot issue.
In some cases, a courtesy title may be offered as part of a morganatic marriage. In this case, the spouse of lower rank is given a title as respect, but the title has no valid meaning. As soon as the ranking spouse dies, the courtesy title will be dropped. Such a title may only be offered by the ruling monarch.