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Sunday, August 5th, 2007, 11:16 AM
Unequal and Morganatic Marriages in German Law

There is considerable confusion over those two terms, which are commonly taken to be mere synonyms. Yet it is clear from the legal literature that the two were originally quite distinct concepts. I follow here the definitions given by Zoepfl (1863). unequal marriage (unstandesmässige Ehe, ungleiche Ehe; matrimonium impar/dispar, matrimonium inaequale)a marriage between spouses of different estates: for example, a man of the upper nobility with a daughter of an imperial knight or a burghess.

"Unstandesmässig ist eine jede Ehe, bei welcher die Ehegatten nicht von gleichem Geburtsstande sind" (Zoepfl 1863, 1:609)

mismarriage (Mißheirat; disparagium, matrimonium ex lege inaequale)a marriage that is valid under canon and civil law, but does not have full legal effects, because it violates some requirement of the private law of princes. In particular, it is an unequal marriage in which the inequality between the spouses by law deprives the lower-ranking spouses and her children by that marriage of the full legal effects of marriage.

"Unter Missheirat versteht man insbesondere eine unstandesmässige Ehe, welche wegen Standesungleichheit der Ehegatten von Rechtswegen (sei es zufolge eines Staats- oder Hausgesetzes, allgemein oder Familienherkommens) keine volle Rechtswirkung für den standesniederen Ehegatten und die aus solcher Ehe erzeugten Kinder haben kann [...]" (Zoepfl, ibid.)

morganatic marriage (morganatische Ehe, Ehe zur linken Hand; matrimonium ad legem morganaticam, ad legem salicam)a marriage for which it was specified in the original contract that the spouse and any children would not share the husband/father's rank and would have no claims to his inheritance.

"Unter morganatischer Ehe versteht man eine Ehe, bei deren Eingebung in den Ehepakten festgesetzt wird, dass die Gemahlin und Kinder an dem Range und Stande des Gemahls und Vaters keinen Antheil nehmen, und letztere auch keine Successionsrechte in die Regierung und die damit zusammenhängenden Stamm-, Lehen- und Fideicommissgüter [...] des regierenden Hauses haben sollen." (Zoepfl, ibid. p. 636)

The term "mismarriage" is not of my invention (it is in the Oxford English Dictionary, defined as "an unsuitable marriage"). I use it to translate Mißheirat and preserve the distinction with unequal marriage. The French term mésalliance does not make the distinction either.

An alternative would be to resurrect the English noun "disparage" in its original sense ("Inequality of rank in marriage; an unequal match; disgrace resulting from marriage with one of inferior rank" OED2).

Further reading: http://www.heraldica.org/topics/royalty/g_morganat.htm#Introduction