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I will be examining the history of Royal Houses, or Dynasties, from time to time but before I do I’d like to examine just what is a Dynasty?

A Dynasty is a sequence of rulers from the same family, usually in the context of a feudal or monarchical system, but sometimes also appearing in elective republics. Alternative terms for “Dynasty” may include “House”, “Family” and “Clan”, among others.

The longest-surviving dynasty in the world is the Imperial House of Japan, otherwise known as the Yamato dynasty, whose reign is traditionally dated to 660 BC. The current Japanese Emperor is Naruhito. He acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 2019, beginning the Reiwa era, following the abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito (the Showa Emperor). He is the 126th monarch according to Japan’s traditional order of succession.

The dynastic family or lineage may be known as a “noble house”, which may be styled as “imperial”, “royal”, “princely”, “ducal”, “comital”, “baronial” etc., depending upon the chief or present title borne by its members.

Prior to the 20th century, dynasties throughout the world have traditionally been reckoned patrilineally, such as under the Frankish Salic law. In nations where it was permitted, succession through a daughter usually established a new dynasty in her husband’s ruling house. This has changed in some places in Europe, where succession law and convention have maintained dynasties de jure through a female.

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For instance, the House of Windsor will be maintained through the children of Queen Elizabeth II, as it did with the monarchy of the Netherlands, whose dynasty remained the House of Orange-Nassau through three successive queens regnant. The earliest such example among major European monarchies was in the Russian Empire in the 18th century, where the name of the House of Romanov was maintained through Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna.

By the marriage of Duke Franz of Lorraine to Maria Theresa of Austria in 1736, and with the success in the ensuing War of the Austrian Succession, the House of Lorraine was joined to the House of Habsburg, and was now known as Habsburg-Lorraine. Franz, his sons Joseph II and Leopold II, and grandson Franz II were the last four Holy Roman Emperors from 1745 to the dissolution of the empire in 1806. Habsburg-Lorraine inherited the Habsburg Empire, ruling the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary until the dissolution of the monarchy in 1918.

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Queen Maria II of Portugal

This also happened in the case of Queen Maria II of Portugal, who married Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but whose descendants remained members of the House of Braganza, per Portuguese law. In Limpopo Province of South Africa, Balobedu determined descent matrilineally, while rulers have at other times adopted the name of their mother’s dynasty when coming into her inheritance. Less frequently, a monarchy has alternated or been rotated, in a multi-dynastic (or polydynastic) system – that is, the most senior living members of parallel dynasties, at any point in time, constitute the line of succession.

Dynasts

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Louis XIV (seated) with his son le Grand Dauphin (to the left), his grandson Louis, Duke of Burgundy (to the right), his great-grandson Louis Duke of Anjou, and Madame de Ventadour, Anjou’s governess, who commissioned this painting; busts of Henri IV and Louis XIII are in the background.

A ruler from a dynasty is sometimes referred to as a “dynast”, but this term is also used to describe any member of a reigning family who retains a right to succeed to a throne. For example, King Edward VIII ceased to be a dynast of the House of Windsor following his abdication.

In historical and monarchist references to formerly reigning families, a “dynast” is a family member who would have had succession rights, were the monarchy’s rules still in force. For example, after the 1914 assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his morganatic wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, their son Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, was bypassed for the Austro-Hungarian throne because he was not a Habsburg dynast.

Even since the abolition of the Austrian monarchy, Duke Maximilian of Hohenberg and his descendants have not been considered the rightful pretenders by Austrian monarchists, nor have they claimed that position. Although its senior agnates are the Dukes of Hohenberg, the house is currently headed by Charles von Habsburg-Lothringen (born 1961), oldest grandson of the last emperor Charles I.

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este

The term “dynast” is sometimes used only to refer to agnatic descendants of a realm’s monarchs, and sometimes to include those who hold succession rights through cognatic royal descent. The term can therefore describe overlapping but distinct sets of people. For example, David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon, a nephew of Queen Elizabeth II through her sister Princess Margaret, is in the line of succession to the British crown; in that sense, he is a British dynast, but since he is not a patrilineal member of the British royal family, he is therefore not a dynast of the House of Windsor.

On the other hand, the German aristocrat Prince Ernst August of Hanover, a male-line descendant of King George III of the United Kingdom, possesses no legal British name, titles or styles (although he is entitled to reclaim the former royal dukedom of Cumberland). He was born in the line of succession to the British throne and was bound by Britain’s Royal Marriages Act 1772 until it was repealed when the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 took effect on March 26, 2015. Thus, he requested and obtained formal permission from Queen Elizabeth II to marry the Roman Catholic Princess Caroline of Monaco in 1999.

Yet, a clause of the English Act of Settlement 1701 remained in effect at that time, stipulating that dynasts who marry Roman Catholics are considered “dead” for the purpose of succession to the British throne. That exclusion, too, ceased to apply on 26 March 2015, with retroactive effect for those who had been dynasts prior to triggering it by marriage to a Roman Catholic.

A “dynastic marriage” is one that complies with monarchical house law restrictions, so that the descendants are eligible to inherit the throne or other royal privileges. The marriage of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands to Queen Máxima Zorreguieta in 2002 was dynastic, for example, and their eldest child Princess Catharina-Amalia is expected to inherit the Crown of the Netherlands eventually. However, the marriage of his younger brother Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau to Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau in 2003 lacked governmental support and parliamentary approval. Thus, Prince Friso forfeited his place in the order of succession to the Dutch throne, lost his title as a “Prince of the Netherlands”, and left his children without dynastic rights.