Wolfgang Weber defined the "dynasty" as a socio-historical type. Weber understands dynasty as a "optimierte Erscheinungsform der Familie, die sich durch erhöhte Identität ..., ausdrücklich gemeinsam genutzten ... Besitz ..., bewußt gesteuerte Heirat und Vererbung sowie daher in der Regel gesteigerte historische Kontinuität auszeichnet."1 The European royal houses embodied a special form of dynasty. The possession of at least one office of state distinguished them from other families, even within the nobility. Among the many practices employed by this elite to support the building of dynasties was the cultivation of kin networks. Prerequisites included the awareness of belonging to an elevated social sphere and the compatibility that stemmed from an increasingly similar family model among royal families.
For establishing ties within the network of the high nobility, dynasties had essentially two procedures at their disposal. First, the network could expand if more and more people belonged to a dynasty, that is to say if the areas ruled by brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews grew larger. For the expansion of power the establishment of collateral lines on vacant thrones was especially important. The resulting intradynastic networks could – as was the case with the Habsburgs, the Bourbons or the Oldenburgs in the Early Modern period, or the House of Saxony-Coburg and Gotha during the nineteenth century – stretch across impressive distances. Second, networks could also ensue via the bonding of dynasties. The most commonly applied tool to seal interdynastic connections was marriage; that said, other relationships, such as godparenthood, could also build bridges between dynasties. Even though genealogical connections within the high nobility were far-reaching, it is inaccurate to think of the princely dynasties of Europe as one big family. Rather, their network was regulated by both external and internal boundaries.
Since the publication of Mark Granovetter's influential study, researchers differentiate between "strong ties" and "weak ties" within networks.2 In fact, also dynastic connections were quite different in terms of quality, intensity, range and function. More important than the genealogical "fact" of a blood relationship was a sense of genealogical consciousness, coupled with the way in which these attachments were filled with life. Only when networks were perceived and used as contexts for thinking and acting could they be employed successfully. A major function of dynastic networks was that they closed off the governing nobility from both its landed counterpart and other estates in society, a function that supported their claims to be the exclusive bearers of power and authority. Kin relationships also played an important role in the European foreign policy systems: cognation could provide a means to acquire information, to exert influence at other courts, to forge alliances, to promote clientilism and control over areas of authority and to gain territory.
Cultural transfer and the emergence of a European identity were merely byproducts of the dynastic connections between Europe's ruling houses. Over the course of centuries, however, they came to exert a not inconsiderable influence on the process of European integration.
Networking "inter pares"
A comparative approach to the history of European dynasties, one that makes visible both their similarities and their differences, can draw on important historical studies. Worth mentioning are first and foremost Johannes Kunisch's publications on the history of dynastic princely states. Kunisch considers the question whether efforts of the high nobility to regulate strictly the question of succession had a specifically European dimension that was more than an associative process of parallel action.3 Similarly, English historian John H. Elliot has compared European monarchies, speaking of a "Europe of composite monarchies."4
As examples of the practices employed for securing dynasties, I consider below the Bourbon, Habsburg, Hanover, Hohenzollern and Romanov Houses. There are four main characteristics that lead me to regard them as a common (and thus comparable) type of ruling dynasties. The first and most important characteristic is the regulation and juridification of familial relations, which was followed by an intertwining of the internal rules of dynastic families with laws of the state: the transformation of familial customs and traditions into permanent house laws that applied to all family members – house laws that were in turn developed into state constitutions.
Beginning in the twelfth century France witnessed the emergence of the lois du royaume which developed out of customary laws, described from the sixteenth century onward as the lois fondamentales. These laws were by no means completely abolished during the French Revolution. Rather, they were incorporated into the French constitution.5
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which regulated succession to the Habsburg throne, marked the conclusion of the development of the Habsburg house laws. All of its clauses were subsequently incorporated into the laws governing the Hereditary Lands and recognized by other European powers.6
In England, the Succession Laws enacted by Henry VIII (1491–1547) are regarded as the core laws of the royal house. They were modified by the English Revolution; the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement served to place family rules on a new footing.7 Among the Brandenburg Hohenzollerns, the Constitutio Achillea of 1473 is regarded as the decisive step toward the establishment of a house constitution, even though the regulations spelled out herein with reference to primogeniture and indivisibility were not seriously enforced until the seventeenth century. In Prussia, too, the nineteenth century witnessed the transfer of some of the house laws into the Prussian Constitution. With regard to the codification of rules, the family of the Russian czars was a latecomer. A comprehensive set of house rules was first established in 1797 under Czar Paul I (1754–1801). These rules in turn led to a state law decreed by Czar Nicolaus I (1796–1855). These examples may suffice to demonstrate that the path from customary rights to house rules to state constitutions was followed in all five of the examples analysed here.
A second characteristic of European ruling families was the shared use and permanent retention of family property. This process entailed protecting the integrity of the family property against the individual claims of particular family members, and regulating how each family member should be provided for. At the heart of the codifications of the houses considered in this essay was the decision to hold family property in perpetuity and ensure it remained indivisible. In addition, house laws stipulated how much money was to be allotted to male and female family members for their well-being once they had reached adulthood.
A third characteristic of this particular type of dynasty were the forms they employed to convey possessions from generation to generation, specifically the question of succession and inheritance. In general, one recognises here a tendency toward primogeniture and lineal succession, though these two elements were introduced in individual ruling families at different times in different ways. France, for example, was the earliest to practice primogeniture, i.e. succession and sole inheritance by the king's oldest son. France adopted the strictest form of primogeniture: female succession to the throne was categorically excluded. The Habsburgs, too, practiced this so called Salic law and excluded females from the inheritance of the throne until the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713. Thereafter, a woman could ascend to the throne in the Habsburg lands if there was no male successor. The Brandenburg Hohenzollerns embraced a similar practice; a female succession was possible if there was no male heir. For this reason, daughters seeking marriage had to renounce formally their right to inherit the throne. The Romanovs adopted this system in their house law of 1797. The English ruling house also embraced primogeniture and lineal succession while at the same time supplementing this arrangement with the right of a woman to ascend to the throne as a substitute. In England, in contrast to the practice of the Hohenzollern and Romanov royal families, a daughter could even inherit the throne if the king, although having no sons, did have other male relatives such as brothers or nephews. By the nineteenth century, primogeniture and lineal succession with the possibility of substituting a female heir in the absence of a legitimate male heir, had become the norm among all of the Houses considered here.
A fourth characteristic one needs to consider as a specific element of European dynasties is the juridification of marriage. In all five of the Houses compared in this article there were regulations pertaining to the choice of a partner, though up to the nineteenth century these varied from ruling family to ruling family. Among the Bourbons, Habsburgs and the Brandenburg Hohenzollerns, spouses had to come from other ruling houses. By contrast, in the English and Russian ruling houses marriages with non-ruling members of the nobility and even the middle class were not explicitly forbidden until the eighteenth century; it was not until the second half of the eighteenth century that class consciousness had become more exclusive. In 1772 George III (1738–1820) promulgated the Royal Marriage Act which prohibited marriage to partners deemed socially unbefitting. In the Russian Empire, the Pauline Laws passed in 1797 included comparable measures.8
In sum, over the course of centuries a family system established itself within each of the five Houses. It was characterized by growing juridification of house rules and their subsequent inclusion into state laws, by measures to protect family property from division or divestiture, by primogeniture via lineal succession with the possibility of substituting a woman and by increasingly strict endogamy. Notwithstanding the asynchronous development, it seems legitimate to regard these five families as belonging to a common type, not least because they all have developed into the same direction. The high degree of similarity they had attained by the nineteenth century also supports this line of argumentation. When one considers the full spectrum of European ruling families it becomes obvious there were in fact many other different types. For example, Polish noble families rose to kingship in the context of other state constructions, obeying rather different internal laws. That princely families of this kind were only loosely integrated into the network of the ruling houses, however, is a clear sign of how important similarities were to becoming part of the network.
The Structures of Dynastic Networks
Similarity and, above all, equality of rank, was the prerequisite for kin linkages between ruling families. As Andreas Kraus has argued, "bis zum Ende des Ancien Régime, so kann man, etwas überspitzt, sagen, war Europa von einer einzigen Familie beherrscht, die aufgeteilt war in viele Linien, die große Familie der europäischen Dynastien."9 Kraus puts here into words an opinion that is not only widely held by the scientific community, but also by the general public, and especially by families of the high nobility. This notion of a "großen Familie der europäischen Dynastien" (great family of European dynasties) should be questioned and differentiated. I intend to do just that by considering below a sample drawn from the network of ruling families in Europe. The focus will be on the choice of partners among the various lines of European royal houses that possessed either an empire's or a king's crown in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.10
During the eighteenth century, 18 crowns existed in Europe; 15 different houses bore these crowns. Due to the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic abolition and creation of new kingdoms in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and the Balkans, this figure rose to 29 crowns between 1800 and 1918; these were conveyed from father to son in 15 royal houses. While some of these houses were long-established, others were new arrivals, such as the Houses of Bernadotte and Bonaparte. In total, 32 lines from 19 houses were directly involved in the occupancy of kings' thrones between 1700 and 1918; they entered into 386 marriages.
In analysing these cases one notices first that there were royal houses that did not, or only in exceptional cases, belong to the exclusive network of the European high nobility. Take, for example, the case of the Houses of Karadjordjević and Petrović. Although they rose to the thrones of Serbia and Montenegro during the early twentieth century, they were only loosely affiliated with the most exclusive circle of European relatives. The same observation holds true for the Leszczynski and Poniatowski Polish noble families, in spite of the fact that each family was able to place a king on the Polish throne in Warsaw during the eighteenth century.
Second, it is also clear that the remaining 28 royal lines often entered into direct kin relationships with one another. A quarter of the marriages of these illustrious lines were concluded with other lines from within the same circle. Another quarter of the marriages united the above-mentioned 28 royal lines with families that did not possess a crown of their own, but nonetheless belonged to a royal house. These were collateral lines of royal families. About 15 percent of the marriages occurred within one and the same line, or between lines of the same royal house. Adding these percentages, we learn that, on average, within these 28 royal lines two thirds of the spouses were from families that possessed directly, or via close relatives (that is to say, within the same house), royal blood.
Looked at slightly differently, a third of the royal marriages were arranged with lines of houses that had never risen to kingship. Striking within this group is the fairly high percentage of marriages with the two main lines of the House of Mecklenburg, who pursued a very successful marital policy. The data bear evidence of the relatively closed nature of the kin circle among the approximately twenty most prestigious houses. Through their collateral lines they were in turn connected to the wider dynastic world.
Religion was the factor that ensured that the network of the 28 most prestigious lines was not homogeneous. There were zones of close contacts as well as inner borders within the so-called "European family of dynasties" that were seldom crossed. The three largest denominations – Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox – generally shunned one another when it came to matters of marriage. Evaluation of the geneaological materials shows that between 1700 and 1918, the overwhelming number of marriages, approximately 85 percent, were arranged between families of the same faith. Two-thirds of the mixed marriages united Protestant and Eastern Orthodox families; only a third of these marriages brought together Protestant and Catholic families. In the exclusive circle investigated here, there were no marriages between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox families.
The increase of the numbers of mixed marriages during the period under investigation is significant. As late as the seventeenth century, marriages between Catholic or Protestant families on the one hand, and Orthodox families on the other, were unthinkable. Only Peter the Great's (1672–1725) drive to orient Russia toward the West led to gradual acceptance for Protestant/Eastern Orthodox mixed marriages from 1700 onward. Between 1700 and 1800, somewhat less than ten percent of marriages were mixed. After 1800, the percentage of mixed marriages rose to 16 percent. In spite of this increase, it is clear that the denominational boundary remained constitutive for the internal structure of European marriages at the top of society until the end of the period under consideration.
Because European dynasties were bound to their royal residences and territories, their family networks also exhibited a spatial dimension. One of the few historians to have reflected on this phenomenon is Walter Demel. According to Demel, during the second half of the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth centuries the number of aristocratic marriages that spanned beyond the borders of their respective homelands was very low. Even in the relatively peaceful years of 1714 to 1740, a period that would presumably have supported marriage migration on a wider geographic scale, Demel notes that fewer than 2.5 percent of marriages were "international" in character.11
Royal dynasties and other high-ranking houses clearly differentiated themselves via their greater "internationalism" from the other noble families they governed, though even here wanderlust had its limits. In general, royal families adhered to specific regional marriage patterns. The example of the Hohenzollerns, whose marriages united them 80 percent of the time with seven neighbouring dynasties – Hessian, Wettiner, Welfen, Oldernburger, Anhaltiner, Mecklenburger and Nassau-Orange – is generalisable. Even a family such as the Bourbons, one that ruled over widely dispersed lands in France, Spain and Italy, observed certain geographic limits when it came to matters of marriage. Analysis of the 87 partners of the three royal lines of the House of Bourbon between 1700 and 1918 reveals that approximately a third of the marriages were arranged outside of the House of Bourbon. Another third brought the Bourbons together with the neighbouring and often intertwined Houses of Savoy and Braganza, who ruled Italy and Portugal respectively. The union with an Eastern European such as Maria (Leszczyńska) of France (1703–1768), daughter of King Stanisław I Leszczyński of Poland (1677–1766) and queen consort of Louis XV of France (1710–1774) was rather the exception to the rule of what might generally be regarded as "neighbourly marriages".
One thing is for certain: this sample is anything but representative. On the contrary, it reveals only the tip of the iceberg, leaving much, above all the innumerous small and tiny princely houses that constituted the Holy Roman Empire, invisible. That said, this view of the upper echelons of the dynastic network makes it obvious that the marriage patterns of the ruling houses consolidated social, denominational and regional internal boundaries within kin networks. The North-South division of the European continent along the denominational divide is the clearest example of such a boundary.
The circle of European marriages featured another outer limit beyond which no marriages were arranged. To the west, north and south, this border was stable and unchanging, formed as it was by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. To the east, however, there was some variability. As mentioned above, the acceptance of the Romanovs from the early eighteenth century onward brought with it a dramatic eastward expansion of the European marriage circle. A second phase of step-by-step expansion to the southeast took place in the course of the nineteenth century. As a consequence of the suppression of Ottoman influence in the Balkans, more and more established dynasties could place members of their collateral lines on the Balkan thrones.12
Interactions Within Kin Networks
The notion of a "great family of dynasties" is problematic not only because of the inner borders within the European kin network outlined above, but also because of the idea it conveys of familial closeness and harmony. As it happened, forms of interaction within the networks of the high nobility were marked by considerable ambivalence: both cooperation and competition were common to these relationships.
The cooperative character of kin networks exhibited itself clearly in their role as a means to maintain power. Dynastic houses allied themselves only with similarly privileged families, and state offices and territories were handed down from generation to generation. These barriers effectively hindered the lower nobility from entering the upper echelons of society for centuries. In this way, each familial relationship represented a mutual confirmation of the other's exceptional sociopolitical standing.
The governing houses also pursued common objectives when fostering familial connections to care for family members. Each marriage entailed a collective effort to endow a son or daughter with the requisite goods; in general, both parties contributed equally. In marriage circles that were characterized by regularly renewed relationships the "give and take" was well balanced.13
Kin networks also fostered political cooperation. The idea that marriages solidified peace treaties and alliances, prolonged already existing alliances and brought conflicts to an end remained alive well into the bourgeois era. In this process constellations were often formed that tied together more than two partners. This was true, for example, of the kin/diplomatic networks that the Hohenzollern, Hanoverian and Orange-Nassau Houses formed at the end of the eighteenth century. Relations were solidified toward the end of the 1780s, following the successful Prussian intervention in the Netherlands: In 1788, alliance treaties were signed by the three parties and marriage ties stabilised this particular diplomatic constellation: in 1791, the marriages of a Dutch and an English princess to two Prussian princes were celebrated in Berlin. The familial network played an important role in terms of promoting peace and the new alliance, offering the different parties diverse communication and negotiation possibilities.
However, besides cooperation, kin networks fostered conflicts as well. Competing claims and inheritance struggles led time and again to war among close relatives. Marriage, of course, was not only used to unite one house with another, but also to mark opposition to other houses. One example of this phenomenon was a Prussian-Swedish marriage in 1744. The correspondence reveals that its actual purpose was to frustrate English efforts to secure hegemony in northern Europe. Prussian minister Heinrich von Podewils (1695–1760) emphasised in this context that the Swedish and Prussian kings were pursuing shared interests, namely: "de barrer de concert avec ... la cour de Russie le chemin aux anglois dans la domination qu´ils affectèrent de vouloir usurper sur le Nord comme sur le Sud."14
Cultural Transfer Among Relatives
Cultural transfer within dynastic networks was a consequence of the intensification of contacts, the contradictory mixture of cooperation and competition and the growing communication between families. Cultural transfer in this network included the various bilateral connections between families in which knowledge and cultural assets circulated. Historical research has yielded interesting examples of the types of cultural contacts and appropriations brought about by kin relations. Italian influences on the French royal court, which were intensified by the actions of Maria de Medici (1573–1642), is one significant example of this phenomenon. The renovation of the Palais du Luxembourg represented a high point in the influence of Italian artists in France.15 Another important example comes from the Habsburg Archduchess Maria of Inner Austria (1551–1608). Born and raised at the Munich court, Maria maintained intense contacts to both her Bavarian family and various Italian courts. She used these relationships to satisfy her passion for contemporary Italian music, especially the works of the composer Orlando di Lasso (1532–1594). Her correspondence, together with the circulation of musical scores, instruments, "music machines" and musicians contributed to the dissemination of Italian music north of the Alps.16
Dynastic festivities present especially good examples of complex amalgamations of different cultures. Here, the members of kinship networks were present in person. Being part of the event itself, they used these meetings to exchange views, to live and form a culture together that was influenced by highly diverse sources; a culture that was shaped by this heterogeneous group which, in turn, was influence by this culture they themselves created. In a report concerning the marriage of Luise of Brandenburg (1680–1705) to Fredrick of Hessen (1676–1751), master of ceremonies Johann von Besser (1654–1729) related that the courtiers' festive dress had been imported from France and other countries. According to von Besser this was not because fine clothes were unavailable in Berlin, but rather to ensure that foreign countries could participate in the joyous event. This was also the reason that musicians were brought in from Italy and Poland.17 The end result of these efforts was a heterogeneous medley of courtly culture, analysis of which pushes conventional definitions of cultural transfer to their limits.
Kinship and European Identity
According to myth, European history began with a princely marriage. Europa, a king's daughter, was abducted by Zeus. Having transformed himself into a bull, Zeus kidnapped Europa, brought her to the coast of Crete, and made her pregnant. Zeus and Europa had three sons, though they did not marry. Europa later became the wife of Asterios, King of Crete, who adopted the three sons fathered by Zeus. These sons were the origin of a "European" dynasty.
Wolfgang Schmale has traced how the image of Europe as a female figure – in particular, as a bride – spread during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was during this period that the maps of Europe, now well known, depicting the continent in female form were developed. Those monarchs seeking to attain hegemony "took Europe as their bride". A highly illustrative depiction of Europe as a bride was provided by Michael Praun, a scholar from Nuremberg. Published in 1660, Praun's Relation von den Liebesneigungen der Allerschönsten Princessin Europa describes the history of Europe as the history of a beautiful princess who tries her luck, with varying degrees of success, with different suitors, including Gaius Iulius Caesar (100–44 BC) and Charlemagne (747–814).18
Given this concept of Europe as a bride, it is no surprise that Europe was regarded as a welcome guest at dynastic festivities, especially marriages. An especially well documented example is the marriage of Charles of Inner Austria (1540–1590) to Maria of Bavaria in 1571. Following the marriage ceremony in Vienna, a tournament was held that featured an allegorical prologue depicting the dispute between Juno, the wife of Jupiter, and his mistress Europa. As champions of these opponents two groups took to the field, on the one hand, the "kings of Asia, America and Africa" and, on the other, Europe's "children" Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. This struggle between Europe and the rest of the world took place in an era marked by wars against the Turks, and was therefore a highly relevant matter. The guests imagined themselves as combative Europeans. That same year, one of the wedding guests, Don John of Austria (1547–1578), would prove victorious at Lepanto in the struggle against the enemies of Christendom.19
That kinship widened the horizons of dynastic families can hardly be doubted. Kinship entailed communication across borders. To forge successful marital unions, you had to have a good sense of the European marriage market. This raises the question whether the nobles at the time viewed their way of life, with its extended horizons, as "European," and whether they imbued the concept of "Europe" with a deeper meaning in regard to their kin relationships. In a few select instances, we do have evidence to suggest the depth of European feeling among contemporaries. Defining peace as Europe's goal, Louis XIV (1638–1715) is alleged to have said to his grandson, the future king of Spain Philip V (1683–1746): "Soyez bon Espagnol, c'est présentement votre premier devoir; mais souvenez-vous que vous êtes né Français pour entretenir l'union entre les deux nations; c'est le moyen de les rendre heureuses et de conserver la paix de l'Europe."20
Dynastic networks have repeatedly been described as a central theme in European history. In his pioneering study Europabild und Europagedanke, Heinz Gollwitzer (1917–1999) referred to "die souveränen Häuser, die durch Verwandtschaftsbande zu einer natürlich-übernationalen Gemeinschaft verankert waren." "Staatsbesuche" (state visits) and "Freierfahrten" (suitors' visits) had affirmed this community, the "solidarity of the thrones" remained in place even in the era of egotistical nation states.21 The question of Europe's past can of course be raised and answered in many different ways. In the narrow sense of European History, processes of mental, political and social integration are in the focus of interest. Although it is clearly a question born of present-day experiences and necessities, we have to avoid, if possible, the error of a teleological approach to history. It is necessary to describe the process of integration as diverse and contradictory, as discontinuous, incomplete and fragmentary, to address its excluding tendencies as well as alternative, counteracting developments.
In sum, the structures of dynastic networks in Europe are anything but easy to grasp, as the comparisons, interactions, transfers and studies of identity outlined above clearly demonstrate. While a common type of princely dynasty existed, a high degree of similarity among family models was only reached during the nineteenth century. Wide-ranging kin interactions occurred, but a homogeneous, permanent and stable network of relatives did not exist. Marriage circles were influenced by rank, denomination and region. Kinship networks were zones of intense contact and interaction, but were by no means always harmonious. Propinquity brought forth competition, conflict as well as cooperation. There can be no doubt that in the circle of ruling families it was possible to look well beyond the border of one's own dominion. Still, evidence that kinship networks should be viewed as manifestations of "Europe," imbued with a deeper, even political significance, are few and far between.