Morganatic marriage/Ehe zur linken Hand

Recently, Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words newsletter took up the word morganatic. I’ve never been quite clear about the term, and no wonder – it turns out to be a German concept. Ehe zur linken Hand and Morgengabe mean slightly more to me.

What I didn’t know but Google will reveal is how often the word has been mentioned in the press recently in connection with Charles and Camilla. But apparently it was out of the question, in part because it is not a British tradition and in part because a morganatic marriage to Mrs Simpson was suggested by Edward VIII as a way for him to be king while married to a divorcee.

bq. Morganatic marriage was originally and mainly a German custom. It was marriage between a high-ranking man and a woman of lower rank (rarely the other way round) in which the woman keeps her former status and in which any children of the marriage are not allowed to inherit the property of their father or his rank or titles (his dignities, in the jargon of this esoteric legal field).

bq. Another name for it was left-handed marriage, because the custom was that at the altar the husband extended his left hand to the bride, not his right, as a mark of their unconventional union.

Quinion, together with the OED and Hermann Paul’s Deutsches Wörterbuch, confirms that the Latin morganaticum must have come from the older German word for Morgengabe, the present that the husband gives his wife the morning after the marriage, and that in a morganatic marriage the wife and children received only the Morgengabe.

1 thought on “Morganatic marriage/Ehe zur linken Hand

  1. In a magnificently ghastly article to accompany the Vogue prins(ess)es issue, Prince Wossname of Greece used “morganatic” to mean marrying commoners. I had to look it up, of course.

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