Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Question from Kathleen - Hapsburg marriage dispensations

It's not exactly Tudor, but Mary I did marry her cousin Philip I who was a Hapsburg, and this does relate to this question.

In an answer to the question about Elizabeth of York's pregnancy, it was explained that Henry VII and Elizabeth had to wait for special dispensation from the pope because they were related.

The Hapsburgs intermarried, but their marriages were between couples that were much more closely related than Elizabeth and Henry VII. Did they also have to get papal dispensation, or could they do without it because they were Holy Roman Emperors or relatives or the HRE? Did a couple always have to get dispensation when they were related, or was it sometimes overlooked?

3 comments:

Foose said...

Everyone had to apply for a dispensation if their projected marriage was within the prohibited degree. Not to get the dispensation would prejudice the legitimacy of any resulting children, as well as smear the reputation of the parents. Moreover, if you had a child that you married off without the proper dispensation, he or she could be later divorced on the technicality -- so you'd get the dispensation as a basic insurance policy, for the Habsburgs and everyone else who recognized the authority of the Pope. Even Henry VIII, who abolished the Pope's authority in England, still allowed the English Church to require dispensations for closely related spouses; he himself had to get a dispensation from Archbishop Cranmer to marry Jane Seymour, as he was related to Jane both through his previous relationship with Anne Boleyn and their own shared Plantagenet ancestry.

Sometimes you needed multiple dispensations. Michael Hicks, biographer of Anne Neville, queen of Richard III, pointed out that the couple needed three dispensations to marry validly, because they were related as cousins on both sides as well as through the marriage of Anne's sister to Richard's brother. However, when Hicks trawled the Vatican archives, he could only find two dispensations for that marriage, which means it might well have been considered invalid if the lack of the third dispensation had been widely known -- creating a consciousness of insecurity in Richard's mind which he thinks ultimately gave the Duke of Gloucester the idea to challenge the validity of his brother Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

Sometimes, though, the betrothed could go ahead and marry on the strength of the knowledge that the dispensation had been approved and was on the way. I think that's what happened with Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

I believe the Catholic church still requires dispensations; I remember reading that Mayor Giuliani of New York was able to get an annulment of his first marriage, to a cousin, because no dispensation had been obtained. I'm not sure what the Church of England now requires.

PhD Historian said...

Foose, you are correct on every point, as usual!!

I might add that legitimacy of the children was only one of many concerns for couples who might consider marrying without any dispensation that might be required. Canon law, which governed marriages in the Tudor period for both Roman Catholics and Protestants (they had separate but similar canon legal codes), is very precise in describing any marriage contracted or solemnized in violation of a lengthy list of prohibitions and impediments as canonically illegal before the eyes of man, invalid in the eyes of God, and sinful. Such marriages, if not ended, could imperil the participants' immortal souls. For believers, this was obviously a major concern.

But as I have described in previous postings, prohibitions and impediments are hugely complex and not limited to straightforward blood relation. You note, Foose, that Anne Neville's sister Isabel was married to Richard's brother George. As George's sister-in-law, Anne was canonically barred from marrying any of George's relations. Those relations included not only George's brothers, but also any male descendants of all eight of George's great-grandparents (George's first, second, third and fourth cousins). As you can imagine, this resulted in a large number of people of distant relation who were canonically barred from marrying each other.

With a family as large and complex as the Hapsburgs, the possibility that any one person was related to a potential spouse sufficiently closely to prevent legal marriage was quite high. And yes, as Foose says, even the Hapsburgs had to seek dispensations. But they did have a distinct advantage over most people, including even non-Hapsburg royalty. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was also King of Spain (as Charles I), and Spain controlled most of Italy. As a result, the head of the Hapsburg family, Charles V, had a large measure of control over the papacy, and thus considerable control over papal dispensations. Recall that Henry VIII split with Rome because Wolsey was never able to convince the Pope to annul Henry's marriage to Charles V's aunt Katherine of Aragon ... largely because Charles would not allow the Pope to do so.

So yes, the Hapsburgs had to get papal dispensations to marry any spouse who fell within the canonical prohibitions, but dispensations were relatively easy for Hapsburgs to obtain in the sixteenth century.

Roman Catholic canon law regarding marriage has not changed significantly since the sixteenth century, though the rule regarding consanguinity has been made a little less strict that it previoulsy was. Third cousins and beyond can now marry in the Church.

But persons wishing to marry in the Church must still demonstrate that they are not canonically barred from doing so, or they must seek a matrimonial dispensation before marrying ... either by applying through their local diocese to the Office of the Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican or by applying to any Church official in their native country who has been granted by the Pope the specific power ("faculty") to grant dispensations in the Pope's stead. I have the impression that matrimonial dispensations are still quite rare, however.

Foose said...

I just wanted to mention also that Cardinal Wolsey tried to persuade Henry VIII to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on a dispensation technicality. Although a valid dispensation had been issued to cover Catherine's marriage to Henry -- whether her marriage to Arthur was perhaps consummated or not -- there had been no dispensation issued at the same time on the grounds of "public honesty" -- a canon law technicality that would make her marriage to Henry invalid because it went against public decency (a man marrying his brother's wife). Multiple dispensations were needed to make Catherine's second marriage watertight, you see.

Dr. Scarisbrick thinks this was the winning way to go for Henry, since annulling marriages on these types of technicalities was all in a day's work for the Church and wouldn't have challenged the Pope's authority to dispense. (Although I still think Charles V would have been able to prevent it.) However, Henry was determined to pursue his annulment on the grounds that the Pope had no authority to dispense the Levitical prohibition against a man marrying his brother's wife, a stand which naturally provoked Vatican resistance. To the ultimate ruin of Wolsey and the Church in England.

Another interesting point I wanted to mention is that when Henry wanted to marry Christina of Milan, the Emperor's beautiful niece, his envoys were discouraged by the Habsburg insistence that a dispensation would have to be procured from the Pope -- Christina was also Catherine of Aragon's great-niece and thus barred from marrying Henry without one. Since Henry had abolished the Pope's authority in England, he was completely unwilling to backtrack and re-acknowledge it even to get his hands on the alluring Christina and her potential rights to Milan and Denmark.