Line of succession to the former throne of Germany

Heraldic Ring of Kaiser Wilhelm II with Royal Crown, Coat of Arms of Hohenzollern and The Prussian Order of The Black Eagle

Heraldic Ring of Kaiser Wilhelm II with Royal Crown, Coat of Arms of Hohenzollern and The Prussian Order of The Black Eagle.

Introduction

The claims to the (combined) thrones of Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire are related to the Constitution of the German Empire (Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches) of 1871.  According to this constitution, the empire was a federally organised national state of 25 German states. The office of Bundespräsidium was held by the King of Prussia, who had the title of German Emperor.

The Wikipedia article about the line of succession of the former German throne reads:

The German Empire and Kingdom of Prussia were abolished in 1918. The current head of the former ruling House of Hohenzollern is Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia. The Law of Succession used is Agnatic Primogeniture.

The Telegraph of 26 December 2001  reads:

THE man (Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia) who has just won a legal victory to declare himself the head of Germany’s last ruling royal family says he is perfectly happy with life as a citizen of a republic.

Did the courts really rule in favour of Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia as being head of Germany’s last ruling family?

German law of succession to the throne

Wilhelm of Prussia, ex-crown prince, with the participation of former emperor Wilhelm II, named his second son – Louis-Ferdinand prince of Prussia (d. 1994) – as first heir (Vorerb).  After his death his eldest son (unborn in 1938) was to be the next heir (Nacherb), or, should that son not survive Louis Ferdinand, in his stead his eldest male offspring; in the absence of male issue his eldest brother (or in his stead his sons).  The contract, however, made one exception to the rule on the succession of the next heir: any son or grandson of Louis-Ferdinand was ineligible to inherit if he were not the issue of a marriage made in accordance with the house laws of the house of Brandenburg-Prussia, or if he was in a marriage not in accordance with said laws (so called ineligibility clause).

Legal disputes

This clause led to several legal disputes.

Crown of William II, Hohenzollern Castle Collection (photo Wiki Commons)

Crown of William II, Hohenzollern Castle Collection (photo Wiki Commons)

The legal question, which was a question of civil or private law, was whether the designation was valid, and the exclusion of unequally-married or -born offspring was valid. The matter decided was not “headship of the house” but inheritance of a certain estate; indeed, the phrase “head of  house” or some equivalent has not been decided.  The issue was a contract which set up a specific rule of transmission.  The court decided that the clause which Wilhelm had created in his testament was valid, because of the right to dispose of one’s estate. If Wilhelm had decided to impose a religious requirement, or a height requirement, or to leave his estate to his his dog, the court might well have upheld it as well, because of the right to dispose of one’s estate without infringement of the personal rights of one’s offspring (see the important article of F. Velde, The Hohenzollern Succession Dispute, 1994-present).

The succession rules regarding the throne of Germany have ceased to exist when the Constitution of the German Reich (Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches), usually known as the Weimar Constitution (Weimarer Verfassung) came into effect. The constitution declared Germany to be a democratic parliamentary republic with a legislature elected under proportional representation and thus abolished the German empire. Therefore, the courts of the German Federal Republic have no jurisdiction regarding the headship of the House of Hohenzollern. In the mentioned cases, the courts therefore never ruled regarding the headship. The media have not quite understood the rulings.

Conclusions

Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia was the third in succession to the throne of the German Empire, after his father, German Crown Prince William and elder brother Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. The monarchy was abolished in 1918. When Louis Ferdinand’s older brother Prince Wilhelm renounced his succession rights to marry a non-royal from the lesser nobility in 1933, Louis Ferdinand took his place as the second in the line of succession to the German throne after the Crown Prince. Louis Ferdinand married the Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna of Russia in 1938. The couple had four sons and three daughter. Their sons are listed below:

1. Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (9 February 1939 – 29 September 2015). Sons:

  • (a) Philip Kirill Prinz von Preußen (born 23 April 1968).
  • (b) Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Ferdinand Kirill (born 16 August 1979).
  • (c) Joachim Albrecht Bernhard Christian Ernst (born 26 June 1984).

2. Prince Michael of Prussia (22 March 1940 – 3 April 2014).

3. Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (25 August 1944 – 11 July 1977). Son:

  • (a) Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia (born 10 June 1976 Bremen).

4. Prince Christian-Sigismund of Prussia (born 14 March 1946). Son:

  • (a) Prince Christian Ludwig Michael Friedrich Ferdinand of Prussia (born 16 May 1986).

Louis Ferdinand’s two eldest sons (1) and (2) both renounced their succession rights in order to marry commoners. His third son, and heir-apparent, Prince Louis Ferdinand died in 1977 during military manoeuvrers. It is generally accepted that his one-year-old grandson Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia (3a, son of Prince Louis Ferdinand) became the new heir-apparent to the Prussian and German Imperial throne. According to these lines, Georg Friedrich became the pretender to the thrones and Head of the Hohenzollern family upon Louis Ferdinand’s death in 1994.

Traditionally the Agnatic Primogeniture rules have been used to determine the succession of headship of the House of Hohenzollern. These rules do not have any legal binding since 1919. A “headship of the House of Hohenzollern” does not exist under German law. Renouncing the headship of a family or the claim to a non-existing entity (throne), therefore does not have any legal effect in Germany. The only legal fact that German law can determine is the fact that Philip Kirill Prinz von Preußen (1a) is the oldest living relative of the last German emperor. If the head of the House Hohenzollern is defined as the last living male relative according to German law, then Philip Kirill (1a) is head of the House Hohenzollern. If the head of the House Hohenzollern is defined as the man who is selected by some members of the family (holding a certain authority), then Georg Friedrich (3a) is head of the House. The choice of definition is a personal one, not a legal or historical one. Head of the House cannot mean a person who inherits or has a right of inheritance in the property of a family member following the latter’s death, since this can be anyone.

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