Posts Tagged ‘illegimacy’

To Heir is Human

Posted in General on August 27th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

George Bernard Shaw viewed morality as a middle class habit. The lower class was preoccupied with survival and couldn’t be sidetracked by puritanical affectations. The upper class could afford to enjoy itself without fear of consequences; it had etiquette rather than morals.

But one of the rules of etiquette dictated that a woman’s older children should be sired by her husband. Once she had dutifully extended the husband’s lineage, however, she could discreetly cross-pollinate. But in royal families, this latitude was not condoned. Cheating on the king was treason. Ask Catherine Howard for further details.

Nonetheless, some royal lines had their share of faux pas and faux heirs. We have already discussed Prince Albert’s doubtful paternity. Other royal families had their scandals, too. Of course, France would have its share of bedroom farces. For example, as the wife of Charle VI, Isabeau had given her husband a number of legitimate children; so she allowed herself a little indiscretion. Unfortunately, her older sons died, leaving her little indiscretion as the heir to the throne. Worse, she told everyone that the alleged dauphin was not the son of the king. However, the French in the 1420s were willing to crown any bastard in preference to acknowledging an English king (who happened to be the legitimate grandson of Charles VI and Isabeau). So France pretended that Charles VII was a Valois.

Two centuries later, France had two reigning queens: Anne of Austria and her husband Louis XIII. Louis was not even trying, and the Bourbon dynasty looked like it was about to expire. In most monarchies, a nephew or a cousin could succeed; but France had absurdly restrictive rules of succession. The king could trace his royal lineage only through the male side of the family. It did not matter if the previous king had sisters and they had sons; they were ineligible. That rigid law brought the Bourbons to the throne in 1589–when Henri III–the last Valois was stabbed to death by an irate monk. According to the laws of royal succession, his heir was his very distant cousin Henri of Bourbon–who shared one common great-great, etc. grandfather three hundred years earlier; but at least, it was a consistent male descent. If Louis XIII failed to have a son, the royal genealogists were not sure how far back they needed to go to find the next successor. Cardinal Richelieu feared for the future of France more than the soul of Anne of Austria. His eminence personally picked her confessor, a charming Italian named Mazarin. And soon the Queen had a heir and then another. The boys were rather short and stocky, while the Bourbons were tall and lanky; but Louis XIII did not mind the discrepancy. There would be a Louis XIV, and the details were irrelevant.

England might have had an illegitimate queen. George IV could not tolerate the presence of his wife, a surprisingly unclean German duchess named Caroline. When he was coronated, he had her locked out of Westminster Abbey. Rumors had it that he never spent more than one night with her; so people were surprised–if relieved–when Caroline had a daughter. George never publicly questioned the child’s origins and he recognized young Charlotte as his heir. If nothing else, his alleged daughter was his actual niece. According to rumor, George’s younger brother Frederick felt sorry for his insulted and unhappy sister-in-law, and he may have had an informal way of comforting her. In any case, Charlotte was the granddaughter of George III. If Princess Charlotte survived the rumors, she was not so fortunate against 19th century medicine. She lived long enough to be married and then died in childbirth.

The Bolsheviks did not kill the Romanovs. Catherine the Great had extinguished the line a century earlier. Killing her husband and producing a litter of bastards constituted a change of dynasty. Catherine did not even maintain a polite fiction as to her children’s paternity–especially the son born three years after her husband’s death. No better a mother than a wife, Catherine so disliked her heir that she relished telling him that he was no Romanov. However, his maternity was never in doubt, so he was allowed to succeed his malicious mother; and Tsar Paul maintained the name of Romanov.

And that should be enough scandals for today.