Saturday, 22 January 2011

Prussian “heir” engaged to Isenburg princess

Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, the head of the former royal family of Prussia (which also held the rank as German emperors from 1871 till 1918), yesterday announced (external link) his engagement to Princess Sophie of Isenburg.
Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, who lost his father when he was one year old, succeeded his grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand (himself a grandson of the last German Emperor and King of Prussia) as head of the former royal house in 1994. His father was the third son of Prince Louis Ferdinand, but his elder brothers Friedrich Wilhelm and Michael were deemed to have forfeited their rights of succession by marrying unequally.
The princes Friedrich Wilhelm and Michael later filed an eventually unsuccesful lawsuit claiming that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional to bypass them. This means that Prince Georg Friedrich has been under a certain pressure to choose a spouse who could be considered his equal in royal status.
Although belonging to one of the lesser princely families of Germany, his fiancée meets these criteria as she is the daughter of the Prince (Fürst) of Isenburg, Franz Alexander, and his wife Christine, née Countess von Saurma and Baroness von und zu der Jeltsch.
The bride-to-be has two brothers - Alexander and Viktor - who are both unmarried, and two sisters - Katharina and Isabelle - who are married to Archduke Martin of Austria-Este and Carl, the Prince of Wied, respectively
The wedding is expected to take place in Potsdam before the end of this year. Potsdam, which is geographically next door to Berlin, is the capital of the state of Brandenburg. It was in Potsdam that the kings of Prussia had most of their palaces and the City Palace, which was destroyed during World War II, is currently being rebuilt to house the state parliament. Opposite it is the Church of St Nikolai, which might be an excellent setting for such a wedding.


  1. It will be fascinating to see the outcome. As so many monarchies have had marriages to commoners, or there have been situations in which members are living with partners and choosing not to be married at all (Monaco), it seems that such idealistic standards will be inevitably impossible to sustain.

    My dear grandmother always believed that nobility had nothing to do with pedigree, and when you look at Ernst August of Hanover and the actions and behaviour of other royals, there may be some truth to her words.

    I can think of many "commoners" such as Caroline Kennedy, or anonymous others, who are not public figures, who demonstrate noblesse oblige more than many Almanach de Gotha royals. For monarchies to survive, it is important that the families have some semblance of dignity, and be allied with charities so that they appear to be of, or at least try to be of good moral standing.

  2. As a new reader of this interesting blog I take the opportunity to ask you some questions relating to this post.
    I understand that Prince Georg Friedrich under the present house laws of the house of Prussia (Hohenzollern-Brandenburg)is the only person to be able to provide his house with an heir to himself since all his uncles and all other male descendents to the last king of Prussia have married morganatically whereby their sons are excluded from being heirs.
    For providing such an heir Prince Georg Friedrich had two choices. One would have been to change the house laws to allow for unequal marriages in the future to provide heirs. As head of the house he can change these laws as it pleases him. Doing so would however have been very embarrasing after the conflict with his uncles. Instead he managed to find a bride of equal rank and he can eventually wait to change the house laws until a son has been born in the upcoming marriage.
    A third choice could have been to marry unequally without changing the house laws. The house of Prussia would then be extinct from his own death.
    My question relate to house laws of non-reigning houses in general. How often are they public like in this case. Are they perhaps often forgotten or perhaps not even written down? Every now and when you see new boys and girls given the name of princes and princesses of the old houses obviously not born in equal marriages.
    As for reigning houses these questions are of no importance since the constitutions govern most of the important matters. Only the granting sometimes of titles like prince and duke to the husband of the Swedish Crown Princess could perhaps be seen as applying unwritten (?) house laws. At least such decisions by the King do not stem from any constitutional or legal provisions.

    Martin Rahm

  3. Yes, I think you are right about the options facing Prince Georg Friedrich, but I am not sure if you are right that he is the only member of his house born out of equal marriages able to provide an heir. I assume Grand Duke Georgij of Russia (the son of Prince Franz Wilhelm and Grand Duchess Maria and great-grandson of Wilhelm II’s youngest son Joachim) would also qualify, given that his father (to my knowledge) did not renounce his theoretical rights to the Prussian throne. Other marriages also seem to have been considered acceptable from a succession viewpoint, so that there are now some eight princes with successional rights.
    The deposed royal and princely houses are not really my speciality, but the main reason why one sees “new boys and girls given the name of princes and princesses of the old houses obviously not born in equal marriages” is that since 1919 no royal or aristocratic titles exist in Germany, but the former royal and noble houses have been allowed to incorporate those titles into their names as surnames so that for instance Duke Franz of Bavaria is legally Mr Franz Herzog von Bayern. Thus the name “Prinz” descends even to those who would not have been princes during the monarchy, which has made it more difficult to tell the “real” princes from the Misters Prinz.
    (An added complication is of course that unlike the actual title the surname Prinz von Something is also transferable through adoption, so that one may find people such as Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, whose legal name is Frederick Prinz von Anhalt but who is not actually a Prince of Anhalt, although sometimes referred to as such – Jan Bernadotte’s adopted son Gerard Graf Bernadotte af Wisborg is another example).
    At the same time it seems that many heads of houses have adapted or simply stretched the house laws. Ex-King Mihai of Romania is an example of the first category; having appointed his (childless) eldest daughter Margarita “Crown Princess” and his second daughter’s eldest son as “Prince of Romania” and her heir. Otto von Habsburg seems to fall into the second category, having given his approval to marriages (such as that of his eldest son Karl to Baroness Francesca von Thyssen-Bornemisza) which during the monarchy would have been deemed unequal and thus morganatic.
    The example of this closest to the Swedish royal house would be the former ducal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Princess Sibylla’s eldest brother, Hereditary Prince Johann Leopold, forfeited his rights by marrying a mere baroness in 1932, wherefore his eldest son Ernst Leopold was not the heir and not actually a prince, but “Mr Ernst Leopold Eduard Wilhelm Josias Prinz von Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha”. Instead Sibylla’s youngest brother, Prince Friedrich Josias, became head of the house, followed by his eldest son by Countess Victoria-Luise of Solms-Baruth, Prince Andreas. But both Andreas and his eldest son Hubertus have married commoners without that fact affecting their or their sons’ rights to the headship of the house. I am not sure if this is the result of the house laws actually being changed.

  4. The former princely house of Schaumburg-Lippe may be considered another example of a family with a rather flexible approach to the question. These days all members of the family are entitled to be styled Serene Highnesses and Prince(ss) of Schaumburg-Lippe, whereas those born of approved marriages are given the more recently invented style “Hochfürstlich Durchlaucht” – perhaps translatable as “Most Serene Highness”).
    And then you also have those houses where it is up to the head of the house to decide which marriages are deemed equal or not. Thus the late Prince Napoléon disinherited his eldest son Prince Charles, who divorced Princess Béatrice of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and remarried a commoner, in favour of Charles’ and Béatrice’s son Jean-Christophe, the current Prince Napoléon and “pretender” to the French imperial throne. The late Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia was also able to rule his own marriage to a princess of the former royal house of Georgia as equal. This “absolutist” approach now also seems to have become the case in the House of Habsburg.
    So it seems this varies a great deal from family to family, but of course all this is almost entirely of theoretical interest as there is very little chance of any of these houses being restored to regnant status. Yet it is fascinating how many of these houses are divided over the issue of who is the real heir – even the former royal family of the Two Sicilies, where one fight over who is the heir to the abolished throne of a non-existing country.
    As for your question about how public such house laws are it seems that too varies from family to family and indeed it seems some house laws are unwritten.

  5. It seems you are right that there are no written rules regarding to royal titles in Sweden today. When Prince Oscar, until then “HKH Prins Oscar, Sveriges och Norges arvfurste, hertig av Gotland”, married unequally in 1888 the issue of his title was settled by the King in Council, where it was decided that he would keep the title “prince” as that was his by birthright but forfeit the title “Sveriges och Norges arvfurste”, the style Royal Highness and the ducal title of Gotland as these were considered linked to the right of succession which he automatically forfeited when marrying a commoner. In 1932 the question was again settled by the King in Council, where one ignored the 1888 precedent and ruled that “HKH Prins Lennart, Sveriges arvfurste, hertig av Småland” should lose all his titles and become plain Mr Lennart Bernadotte. (The same precedent was followed in 1934, 1937 and 1946).
    Since 1 January 1975 there is of course no longer any such councils held and it seems that it has since then been considered a convention that the King alone rules about titles for members of the royal family. Thus it was King Carl Gustaf on his own who in 1976 decided to reject Sigvard and Lennart Bernadotte’s request for their princely title to be restored, allowed Prince Bertil to keep all his titles upon marriage in 1976 and Lilian Craig to be styled royal highness, princess and duchess, abolished the title “Sveriges arvfurste” in 1982, bestowed ducal titles on his children in 1979, 1980 and 1982, allowed Daniel Westling to be styled royal highness, prince and duke in 2010, and decided that Jonas Bergström should be styled duke following his marriage to Princess Madeleine.
    If we compare the Swedish case to the Norwegian, there is since 1990 an article in the Constitution which says that the King himself makes decisions about titles for the members of the royal family. Between 1814 and 1990 the Constitution said that the title of the heir to the throne would be Crown Prince if he were King’s eldest son, whereas the other members of the royal family would be titled prince or princess.

    (This reply was so long that I had to split it up into three).

  6. I think this discussion which normal people would find completely useless could go on forever. Since I am not normal I would like to make some comments however.One relates to a comment I just posted in relation to your article on mistresses and morganatic wives.How should no longer ruling royal or princely houses be referred to? Why does prince Georg Friedrich use the name Prussia? After allhis ancestor abdicated and Prussia was only a short parenthesis in the onethousend years long history of the house of Hohenzollern. Perhaps because the title of The prince (Fürst) of Hohenzollern is reserved for the head of the branch Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen? Is it perhaps inspired from how the Almanach de Gotha named the no longer reigning families in its part II?
    Many of these families have beautiful family names as Hohenzollern, Habsburg, Wettin Wittelsbach, Zähringen and others. Why are they not used one might ask oneself.

    Martin Rahm

  7. Next remark refers to your comment on the claims to be the head of the branch of the Bourbons who were kings of the two Sicilies as being perhaps a bit more odd than claiming to be the head of the house of Prussia.I think the opposite.The Kingdom of the two Sicilies might sound exotic to us Scandnavians but it did exist until 1860 as compared to 1918 for Prussia. No big difference. Whereas a territory of Prussia could never be defined again the territory of the Neapolitan kingdom is easily defined. Most important, however,there exists a, perhaps not strong, but pretty well organised movement for restoration of the Borbonic state.It is not driven primarily by love for the Bourbons but for a wish to leave the state of Italy and the Bourbons are used as a symbol in that context. There are separatist movements both in the north and the south of Italy.
    I read somewhere that when the head of the house of Savoy and his son the prince of Venice made their first visit to Naples after being admitted to visit Italy again they were booed both by a crowd of republicans and a crowd of supporters of the Bourbons.But of course also hailed by a crowd of Italian monarchists!
    By the way the Duke of Castro, who is commonly considered to be the head of the house of the two Sicilies was recently invited to make an official to visit to Hungary to commemorate that his ancestors were kings of Hungary in the 14th century.
    Martin Rahm

  8. The former Austro-Hungarian royals use the house name Habsburg rather than the territorial designation (cf. Dr Otto von Habsburg or Walburga Habsburg Douglas), but in Germany the former royal or noble titles were turned into surnames in 1919 (cf. Dr Johann Georg Prinz von Hohenzollern).

    The reason why Prince Georg Friedrich uses "of Prussia" or "von Preussen" is apparently that the Kingdom of Prussia rather than the Electorate of Brandenburg or the Principality of Hohenzollern was the last realm his family reigned over.

    Of course his great-great-grandfather was also German Emperor ("German Emperor" rather than "Emperor of Germany"), but this title did not extend to the rest of the family except for the German Empress, Crown Prince and Crown Princess. The other members of the family were not "German Prince(ss)" or "Prince(ss) of Germany", but "Prince(ss) of Prussia".

    So the alternative to being called "Prince of Prussia" would probably be "German Emperor" in the same way as the ex-Crown Prince of Albania calls himself King, but this would of course seem preposterous.

    Reverting to a lesser title would probably not be anything a former royal house would do voluntarily. A Swedish parallell might be that if the Swedish monarchy ends in the next generation, the son of Crown Princess Victoria would probably be called "Prince Oscar of Sweden" rather than "Prince Oscar of Pontecorvo".

    And of course reigning royal families do not really have surnames, so Georg Friedrich's grandfather's name was never Hohenzollern, although he belonged to the House of Hohenzollern.

    It is also interesting to note how one earlier used to refer to a reigning royal dynasty by the name of the previous realm they reigned over. Thus the House of Hanover was for instance often called "the House of Brunswick" in the nineteenth century, whereas the House of Bernadotte is referred to as "the House of Pontecorvo" in some nineteenth century books.

  9. Well, I did not really say that I found the Two Sicilies claim odder than the Prussian one - in fact both could said to be claims to the abolished thrones of countries which no longer exist. But I find it a bit fascinating that such strong feelings can be involved when the dispute concern something as theoretical as the abolished throne of a non-existing country.

    And with all due respect for the supporters of the restoration of the Neapolitan/Sicilian monarchy I find it highly unlikely both that such a state independent of Italy will be restored and that that state in that case would become a monarchy. :-)

    But what you say about the Princes of Naples and Venice being booed by some in Naples is of course an interesting expression of feelings against the Savoys. That the grandson and second-in-line heir of Vittorio Emanuele II was given the title Prince of Naples in 1869 may be seen as a nice gesture symbolising the unity of all parts of the new kingdom (the Prince was also born in Naples), but it is on the other hand also not difficult to understand that it might have been viewed as a provocation by supporters of the overthrown Bourbons.

  10. I do not find it likely either that the state of the two Sicilies will be restored. But it is still much more likely than the state of Prussia being restored! There is no doubt an organised neo-borbonic, but not primarily monarchic, movement among neapolitans.
    The victor writes the history and the supporters of the Risorgimento have almost managed to make it a scientific truth that the the unification of Italy under the house of Savoy was friendly and supported by almost everyone in the south.Every Italian village was given its Piazza Risorgimento, Via Cavour or Via Mazzini etc. Instead the north had start to eat pasta and later pizza as a sign of solidarity with the southerners to create an Italian identity.
    By the way was not the principality of Ponte Corvo transferred to the Murat family at some point or was it to some other family?
    Martin Rahm

  11. Yes, the Principality of Pontecorvo was given to Achille Murat in 1812. They lost it at the time of Napoléon's downfall, but they have continued to use the title for the eldest son of the head of the family - one can also see it on the Murat family tombstone at Pére-Lachaise.

    At the Congress of Vienna the Principality of Pontecorvo was offered to Prince Eugène, the former Viceroy of Italy, but on the condition that he did not take up residence there. Apparently it was Alexander I's idea and met with opposition from Metternich and Talleyrand, but Eugène eventually declined.

  12. And the head of the house of Murat still today refers to himself as H.R.H. the Prince Murat since his ancestor Joachim Murat was for some few years king of Naples and surely never abdicated before being shot in Pizzo di Calabria. So not only the Bourbons and the Savoys have claims in Naples.
    Martin Rahm

  13. But to the best of my knowledge the Murats do not actually make any claims on Naples. In theory the entire family might of course have chosen to use the style "HRH Prince So-and-so of Naples" in the same way as the Bourbons use titles such as "HRH Princess This-and-that of the Two Sicilies", but they don't.


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