Saturday, May 09, 2009

Question from Monica - Anne of Cleves' title

Was Anne of Cleves a princess? She is often described as such, but as the sister of a duke, I thought she was 'Lady Anne of Cleves', of an important ducal family?


PhD Historian said...

In many European states, one does not need to be the child of a king or queen in order to be styled "Prince" or "Princess." The children of many of the rulers of many of the independent and semi-independent states that made up the Holy Roman Empire, for example, might be styled "Prince" or "Princess," even though their father's or mother's title was Archduke, Duke, or even Count Palatine. The key was usually whether or not the parent was ruler of his/her realm. Even today, the ruler of Luxembourg is Grand Duke Henri, and his five children are each styled "Prince" or "Princess."

Anne was the daughter of the ruler of Cleves and Mark, though his title was "Duke" rather than "King." In translating into English her German-language title as the daughter of a ruling Duke, it was therefore appropriate to style her "Princess."

Dukedoms on the Continent were not always the equivalent, politically or socially, of English dukedoms. If anything, Continental dukedoms were more often than not higher up both the political and social ladders than were English dukedoms.

Monica said...

Thanks, PhD. Would she therefore be accurately described as 'royal'?

PhD Historian said...

I assume so, though I am not absolutely certain that sixteenth-century kings and queens viewed rulers with lesser titles (i.e., Archduke, Duke, etc) as "fully royal." They were a very status-conscious bunch, after all. In all likelihood, they were considered "royal" but not as exaltedly, majestically "royal" as a king or queen.

Recall that Henry was very keen to exert his claim to England's being an empire and his crown an imperial crown, so that he would be on equal terms with Charles V. And this was precisely the period in which "Your Majesty" began to be used with greater frequency, instead of "Your Grace." All of that was was a matter of degree, not a matter of "royal" vs "non-royal," so I assume Anne of Cleves was considered "royal" by virtue of being the daughter of a ruling duke.

Tudorrose said...

Anne of cleves was a princess.she was a princess of cleves.I thought you would have had to have been born to a monarch to be called prince or princess.Yes she would have been seen and described as being royal.

Tracey said...

Question as to the titles of "royal" vs "serene".

When did this begin, and what were the demarcation lines as to the proper address of either Royal Highness, or Serene Highness.

Princess May of Teck (the future consort of George 5) was known as a Serene Highness during her youth. Her cousins, the daughters of Edward VII, were Royal Highnesses...but also known as princesses.

Would Anne of Cleves have been known as a Serene Highness if she were living today?

Marilyn R said...

Tracey - I’m researching this sort of stuff at the moment for a book on Queen Victoria’s family.

I think Anne of Cleves would be a Royal Highness because she was a member of a ruling House. Her father, Duke John III of Cleves, had married Maria, daughter of the Duke of Julich-Berg in what was an acceptable, equal marriage.

Victoria Mary (May) of Teck’s royal credentials were immaculate on her mother’s side, as Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge was a granddaughter of George III. On May’s father’s side, however, there were problems, since his father had made an unequal marriage, that is, he had married a noblewoman, who although beautiful and wealthy, was not of a ruling family. He had married for love and had to surrender his place in the succession not only for himself, but also for his heirs, hence the Serene rather than Royal Highness.

The irony is that Queen Victoria was not a snob in these matters and was happy for May to marry her grandson, the future George V, when other paltry little European families ruling territories no bigger than Yorkshire had not considered her not good enough for them – so the socially unacceptable girl came away with the greatest prize of all and became Queen Mary.

Grand Duke Alexander of Hesse-Darmstadt made an unequal marriage with the commoner Julie von Hauke and so forfeited his place in the Hessian succession. His brother, the ruling Grand Duke, gave Julie the title Princess of Battenberg; it was an ancient redundant title which conferred no power, and she and her family were only Serene Highnesses.

Her son, Prince Henry of Battenberg, married Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice; their great grandson is the present King of Spain. Another son married his cousin Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria; these two were the grandparents of Prince Philip Mountbatten (i.e. Battenberg).

Again, rules which would have barred Philip from marrying into lesser European royalty did not apply in England and he married the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1947.

PhD Historian said...

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the honorific "serene" was first used in connection with royalty, as in "Serene Majesty," in the Tudor period. Later, during the trials of some of the men who executed King Charles I, the latter was referred to as "His Late Sacred and Serene Majesty." His son Charles II was also referred to as "His Serene Majesty."

By the time of the Hanoverian accession, "Serene Highness" had come to be associated with the German princely houses, especially the Electoral houses (rulers of those German states that elected the Holy Roman Emperor; the German title is "Durchlaucht," which is in turn derived from the Latin "superillustris"). From there, it seems to have spread to other princely and ducal states, and was also used among large royal families to denote the non-dynastic branches, e.g., Russia. And of course it is still used today in Monaco, Lichtenstein, and Belgium, as well as by many Italian and Eastern European pretenders to extinguished Austro-Hungarian titles.

PhD Historian said...

You raise a very interesting and valid but slightly anachronistic point, Marilyn.

The German states became quite obsessed in the eighteenth century with honorifics and precedence, to a degree that far outstripped anything the Tudors ever contemplated. They went so far as to publish the Almanach de Gotha in the 1760s, a kind of social-climbers' "how-to" manual setting out the hierarchies and inter-relations of the noble and titled families. But it was a guidebook, not statute law. Though the nobility tended to followed it to the letter, they were not required to do so. Think of it as very similar to the modern "social register" of old families in places like Boston and Philadelphia, or Burke's Peerage.

Anyway, it does seem that "Serene Highness" came to be used in the nineteenth century among the morganatic branches of ruling families, in addition to the non-dynastic (and non-morganatic) branches I cited in my previous post. But this seems to have occurred only after it had already been in use among the elector states and after those Serenes social-climbed and elevated themselves up a step to Royal Highnesses.

But "Serene Highness" was a perfectly respectable honorific in and of itself, and often did not indicate descent from a morganatic branch. As with Monaco, Lichtenstein, and many of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian titles, it has its own status quite free of any connotation of social impropriety.

And it would be incorrect to equate "royal" with "ruling" and "serene" with "non-ruling." Again, see the examples of Monaco and Lichtenstein.

But getting back to the Tudor period ... extended quibbling by the nobility about honorifics and precedent, at least that of the kind described in Mariyln's response, was still largely well in the future. Even the styles "Royal Highness" and "Majesty" were still quite new in Henry VIII's day. Serene Highnesses, Grand Ducal Highnesses, and even the concept of morganatic marriage were all essentially non-existent. Recall that Edward VI and Elizabeth I were both products of morganatic marriages, in modern terms, yet that specific issue was never raised in connection with either (only the issue legitimacy arose for Elizabeth, not that of her mother's non-noble birth; Edward never faced questions regarding Jane Seymour's non-noble birth).

So while it is all quite fascinating to puzzle out today, it did not really apply in the 16th century. Anne of Cleves, as the daughter of a ruling Duke of Cleves, could very correctly have been styled either "Serene Highness" or "Royal Highness," and the two could have been used interchangeably.

Marilyn R said...


I used Serene Highness in the context of May of Teck because you had mentioned her specifically in your post, and it was the case in May’s father’s family that ‘Serene’ was of lower status than ‘Royal’; similarly with the Battenbergs, who were also ‘Serenes’. In the case of these two and several other families, ‘Serene’ was less important, but I was not implying that was the case in all German dynastic families, or had necessarily been so in earlier times.

The laws on marriage were extremely complicated, even more so after the demise of the Holy Roman Empire, with what was known as House Law (Hausgesetze) or the Private Law of Princes (Privatfürstenrech) regulating rights and status within family members’ marriages; the terms of these laws were kept secret by several dynasties until after the First World War.

There was also in Germany from the 15th century what amounted to a fixation with the concept of equality in marriages. Dynasties strove to establish the principle that marriages that were contracted outside of the upper nobility group (Hochadel) with lower nobility (Niederadel) were less valid, and that the offspring’s claims were automatically invalidated, as a matter of law.

As PhD says, all of this is much later than the time of Anne of Cleves, and on reflection I’m not really convinced that in the 1530’s she would have been called either Royal or Serene Highness - is the use of Royal Highness recorded anywhere before the 1630’s, a century later?

Foose said...

Golo Mann's biography of Wallenstein notes that "Serene Highness" was introduced as an official title for German princes (defined as everyone -- margrave, landgrave, duke, etc. -- in the German aristocracy above the rank of count, except for the Count Palatine, who by special exception qualified as a prince) by the Imperial Aula early during the Thirty Years' War. Previously, the official title used in correspondence was "Dilectissimus" -- most esteemed, most loved. However, this does not help explain how Anne was properly addressed.

I think technically she may have been a duchess. It seems odd, because in England only one person can be the duke, and his wife is the duchess, but in Germany the ducal rank seems to have been applied to all the children of the duke, at least in the 18th century and possibly reaching back as far as the 16th. I will investigate further.

Foose said...

It looks like Anne signed a letter to her brother in July 1540: "Anna Duchess born of Cleves, Gulik [Julich/Juliers], Geldre [Guelders], and Berge, your loving sister."

There is a Website,, which goes into the history of European royal styles in some detail. Specifically, it notes that when Charles V, Henry VIII and Francois I all upgraded themselves from "Highness" to "Majesty," the ranks immediately below them seized the chance to upgrade themselves to "Highness." (Majesty, though, only became exclusive for the king of England with James I; previously, Your Grace or Your Highness was also acceptable).

In the 17th century, the German princes began using Highness:

"The first were the Wuertemberg in 1664 which appropriated the Durchlaucht (usually translated as Most Serene Highness) ..."

"Initially, Durchlaucht was used for the first time by the emperor Charles IV for princes-electors in 1375, soon after the Golden Bull of 1356 established the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Members of their families were durchlauchtig-hochgeboren (an impossible phrase to translate: "most serenely high-born"?). Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness) was more or less synonymous with Durchlaucht, but in the 18th c., when the mediate counts of the Holy Roman Empire began calling themselves Hochgeboren (lit., high-born), the immediate counts (the reichständische Grafen) appropriated the Erlaucht title, in spite of some ridicule."

The Cleves line died out in the early 17th century (precipitating a major European crisis, one of the triggers for the Thirty Years War), which means that Anne's relations were never able to claim the Serene Highness, or Illustrious Highness, titles.

The site also notes that "The style of Royal Highness (königliche Hoheit) was rare within the Empire. The duke of Savoy assumed it in 1633 as claimant to the throne of Cyprus, and began to receive it from the Emperor in 1690."

So although Anne was probably considered of princely rank and a suitable parti for Henry VIII (certainly not of lower rank than Marie de Guise or Christina of Denmark, the other two form-horses in the 1539-40 competition), she was not addressed as "Royal Highness" in Germany.

Possibly she might have been called "hochgeborene Frau" (highborn lady) or something similar. In England, however, it all boiled down to "princess."