A British prince is marrying a commoner. Not just any commoner but, an American divorcee of mixed heritage who also happens to be a popular film and TV actress. Who would have predicted that? Not a lot of people because, marrying into royalty was the norm for much of royal history across the world.
Why Marry Into Royalty?
Why do royal families marry into royalty themselves? Well, the primary reason behind such a practice has more to do with political aggrandizement than anything else. Alliances by marriage has been as old as an instrument of boosting one’s power and influence as has war and conquest. A kinship facilitated by an alliance by marriage could initiate, reinforce and guarantee terms of peace as well as be used to act against a third state. More importantly, royal intermarriage could also be used to stake claim to foreign thrones or portions of its realm.
The rationale behind royal intermarriages isn’t political alone. It’s in fact rooted in the age-old concept of class and the perception of the sovereign as God’s representative on Earth. Not only were royal intermarriages encouraged to preserve the purity of royal bloodlines but, common folk weren’t allowed to mingle, let alone marry into royalty because they were deemed unworthy to even be on the same dais as God’s representative on earth.
Wars Were Family Squabbles
History is replete with cases of monarchs across nations and states being related to each other. The case of the monarchs involved in World War I is the most famous of all these cases where Tsar Nicholas of Russia, his wife and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were all first cousins of King George V, the king of England. Queen Victoria would have been appalled at the fruits her progeny bore. The Targaryens would have been proud though. Bluntly put, European royalty is a joint family of royal families across states and nations.
The Risks Of Intermarriage
However, there are only a limited number of royal families that can survive on a continent such as Europe. Generations of marrying other royals has therefore brought forth a time when most of the past and present ruling monarchs seemed to be related to each other. The relatively low number of unrelated, potential royal consorts has significantly reduced the gene pool of European royalty.
This ‘inbreeding‘ however is beset with a lot of issues. Not only does it limit the gene pool, allowing the faults of one’s DNA to go on uncorrected in the next generation but, it has also been linked to a lot of physical and medical issues that may be passed from father to son, mother to daughter and so on and so forth.
Hemophilia for instance or an inability to form clots that stop bleeding was a common gene in the Russian royal family and had passed from generation to generation. Simply put, a Russian Tsar could have died after a paper cut.
Similarly, research suggests a long history of intermarriage has been linked to a lower fertility rate among women, a higher mortality rate among infants, an increased percentage of physically and mentally disabled offsprings and significantly lower developmental rates than other children.
To sum it up, most royal families across Europe and the world would have died out if they had continued their practice of marrying into royalty. However, times have changed. More and more royals in the past few years and decades have embraced the idea and allowed a royal member to marry outside royalty. This has a lot to do with the idea of survival as it has to do with other factors.
Prince Harry recently announced his engagement to actress Meghan Markle. Good for him. The British monarchy itself remains a family of distantly related husbands and wives. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are second and third cousins through King Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Victoria respectively. Similarly, even Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are actually 15th cousins. Small world, eh?
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