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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Legal Opinion: To what extend can the Hungarian title of “vitéz” be seen as a designation of nobility?

Order of Vitéz Breast Badge, bronze gilt, 57x36 mm, one side enameled, multipart construction, reverse with two clasps

Order of Vitéz Breast Badge, bronze gilt, 57×36 mm (photo: sixbid.com).

Legal Question

The Order of Vitéz, founded in 1678, revived in 1920 by Hungarian Regent Horthy, and abolished by the Soviet-imposed Communist government of Hungary in 1946, has been an important symbol of Hungary’s historic commitment to independence and territorial integrity. It is often assumed that “the Regent had no powers to grant nobility, nor did he try” (e.g Wikipedia) and that therefore the title of vitéz cannot be seen as a title of nobility. Is this assumption correct?

The Order of Vitéz

This Hungarian Order was initially founded in 1678 by Count Imre Thököly de Késmárk, (1657-1705), a Hungarian nobleman, who lead a rebellion against Leopold I of Austria. This Holy Roman Emperor suspended the Constitution and placed Hungary under a Directorate headed by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. Thököly gathered behind him a force of disaffected Hungarians. This group was mainly composed of disbanded soldiers and peasants. Thököly’s followers were known as kuruc (crusaders). This  designation was also given to the followers of another rebel leader, György (George) Dózsa (1470-1514).

The Order of Vitézi was re-established (Prime Ministerial Decree number 6650 of 1920, 6650/1920 M.E. in Hungarian usage, included as paragraph no 77 in the land reform act, Law XXXVI of 1920) by His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary Miklós vitéz Horthy de Nagybánya. The Hungarian state was legally a kingdom, although it had no king. The Entente powers would not have tolerated any return of the Habsburgs. Horthy’s objective was to form an organization with strong national dedication in order to contribute to the stability of Hungary after the first world war. By 1943 about 14.000 vitéz designations were issued.

The treaty signed between the Soviet Union and Hungarian Government of National Unity in Moscow on 20 January 1945, included a list of organisations that were not allowed to be re-established under Soviet rule. The National Council of Vitéz, governing the Order, was placed on this list (Prime Ministerial Edict no. 1945/529).

The current Order of Vitézi, lead by HIRH Archduke Josef Arpád of Austria, is considered by the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry as the legitimate successor of the founder (HSH Miklós v. Horthy de Nagybánya) of the Knightly Order of Vitéz.

Title of vitéz

The word ‘vitéz’ in late 19th and early 20th century Hungarian usage, meant ‘knight’, or ‘hero’. The word “vitez” literally means knight in the South Slavic languages; Bosnian, Croatian, Slovenian, Serbian and Macedonian. In German the title can be compared to “Ritter von” (Orden und Ehrenzeichen – Das Magazin für Sammler und Forscher, BDOS Jahrbuch 2003, p. 24). Therefore, the term “Vitézi Rend’ can be translated as ‘Order of Knights’. During Horthy’s reign, the title was recorded in official papers, for instance in birth, marriage or death certificates, and was usually written as ‘v.’ in front of the surname. In Hungary, the surname precedes the Christian name. In an honourable discharge document of a officer, the vitéz order is not mentioned as an award but as a title added to the name (Erik Naberhuis, The Hungarian Vitéz Order, 2005). Admission into the Order was accompanied by a land grant of 40 cadastral holds to an officer, 8 cadastral holds to other ranks based on need (1 cadastral hold = c. 1.43 acres). The honour of Vitéz was hereditary, and the grants (title, badge and land grant) were to be passed on by the recipient to his eldest son.

Hungarian law regarding noble titles

1929

The knighting ceremony pictured above took place in 1929 in Székesfehervar, at the ruins of the original church where the early kings of Hungary were crowned and buried. The new vitéz’ were knighted with a sword, especially designed for the ceremony. This sword is now on display in the Military Museum of Hungary in Budapest.

Horthy was internationally recognised as His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (and addressed as such by e.g. the United States).  He was head of state and appointed to administer the state because the monarch was absent. There are – next to Horthy’s vitéz order – other examples of regents who founded orders, such the Royal Guelphic Order (also known as the Hanoverian Guelphic Order) by George, Prince Regent in the name of his father King George III in 1815. In France, nobility and hereditary titles were abolished by the Revolutions of 1789 and 1848, but hereditary titles were restored by decree in 1852 and have not been abolished by any subsequent law. In order to grant noble titles it is not necessary to be a royal head of state. Therefore, theoretically, the President of the Republic could, in his capacity as head of state, create titles of nobility. The same counts for Horthy’s Hungary. It is not relevant that Horthy was not a king. He was head of state of a Kingdom.

In Hungarian law, Act IV of 1947 on the abolition of certain titles and ranks has abolished all Hungarian noble ranks and titles and prohibited their future bestowal. Article 1. § (1) of the Act declares annulment of the Hungarian aristocratic and noble ranks, such as duke, marquis, earl, baron, noble, primor, and primipilus (“lófő“). Article 3. § (1) prohibits the use of rank titles mentioned in 1. §. Furthermore, it explicitly forbids the use of the “vitéz” (“valiant”) title. § (2) prohibits the use of nobiliary particles, coats of arms, insignias or the use of any expressions referring to descent from a noble clan (“de genere“). § (3) forbids the use of honorifics referring to ranks or titles abolished by this Act, such as “főméltóságú” (His/Her Serene Highness), “nagyméltóságú” (His/Her Excellency), “kegyelmes” (His/Her Grace), “méltóságos” (The Honourable), “nagyságos” (The Worshipful), “tekintetes“, “nemzetesetc.

The Act of 1947 remains in force today, although it does not contain any explicit sanctions in case the law is not observed. Act I of 2010 on the Civil Registry Procedure prohibits the registration of titles and ranks which would be contrary to Act IV of 1947 [55. § (1a)]. The 1947 Act has survived two challenges before the Hungarian Constitutional Court (HCC) in 2008 [Decision 1161/B/2008] and in 2009 [Decision 988/B/2009]. The Court has held in the 2008 decision that the prohibition of ranks and titles is intended to guarantee the equality of Hungarian citizens, as any discrimination based on hereditary titles and ranks would be contrary to the values of a democratic state and society based on equality; the Act itself is based on a firm set of values that forms an integral part of the values deductible from the Constitution [specifically Article 70/A paragraph (1) of the Constitution of Hungary at that time (Act IV of 1949)]. In the 2009 decision the HCC has found that the 1947 Act is not contrary to human dignity (the petitioner had claimed that the right to bear a name, which is deductible from human dignity, had been infringed by the Act), as nobility titles did not form official parts of a name, and that the state had the right to decide what it accepts as part of name and what it does not. The HCC has also referenced these decisions following the entry into force of the Fundamental Law of Hungary (2011, replacing the previous Constitution) in a recent decision [27/2015 (VII. 21.)] (Ágoston Mohay – Norbert Tóth, What’s in a name? Equal treatment, Union citizens and national rules on names and titles, working paper, University of Pécs, 2016, p. 9).

 

Conclusions

Members of the Vitéz Order are addressed as “nemzetes úr/asszony”, in German: “Edler (-e) Herr/Dame”. Members with non-Hungarian names used to add the nobility suffix “-y” or “-i”.  The characteristics of the vitéz capacity (hereditary, estate-related, the touch on the vitéz‘ shoulders with the sword at the bestowing of his knighthood, the title/suffix, the registration as a title instead of award in official papers and the emblem) are in full accordance with a title of nobility as we know it in for example the United Kingdom. The Act IV of 1947 also places the title on the same level as the noble titles. It is therefore not correct to say that the vitéz title is not a title of nobility. In the context of the mentioned Act, the history of the Order, its characteristics, and the recent Hungarian court decisions, the vitéz title should – from a historical perspective – be seen as a noble title. It is not recognized by the Hungarian state.

Sources

Legal opinion: Lines of succession to the former Russian Empire

Background

The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five young children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) were brutally murdered in Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918. The Tsar, his family and some servants were shot, bayoneted and stabbed in a room of the “House of Special Purpose of the Ural Soviet Committee” by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky under the orders of the Ural Regional Soviet. Therefore, the last Tsar does not have any living descendants. There exist however, a number of claimants to the former Russian throne. In this article I will examine the legality of these claims.

Branches

St. George's Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace. President Vladimir Putin with Prince Dmitri Romanovich of Russia and his spouse at a state reception devoted to National Unity Day. (Source: Wikipedia)

St. George’s Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace. President Vladimir Putin with Prince Dmitri Romanovich of Russia and his spouse at a state reception devoted to National Unity Day. (Source: Wikipedia)

Since 1992, the Headship of the Imperial House of Russia has been claimed by two branches of the Romanov family: the Vladimirovichi Branch and the Nikolaevichi branch. The Vladimirovichi branch descends of Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881),  the successor son of Tsar Nicholas I. The Nikolaevichi branch descends from Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia (1831–1891), who was the third son and sixth child of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Alexandra Feodorovna.

I. Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855) x Princess Charlotte of Prussia (1798-1860). Nicholas was born in Alexander Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark). Emperor Alexander III was born on 10 March 1845 at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and succeeded this father Emperor Alexander II of Russia. Alexander II succeed Tsar Nicolas I, son of Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg.

Children:

II a. Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) x Princess Marie of Hesse (1824-1880). Son: Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909) X Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1854-1920) -> Vladimirovichi branch

II b. Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (1831-1891) x Princess Alexandra of Oldenburg (1838-1900) -> Nikolaevichi branch

Claimants

Vladimirovichi branch(es)

I. Cyril (Kirill) Vladimirovich, (Кирилл Владимирович Рома́нов), born 12 October [O.S. 30 September] 1876 – deceased 12 October 1938), Grand Duke of Russia (assumed the Headship of the Imperial Family of Russia and, as next in line to the throne in 1924).

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Pope Benedict XVI and Grand Duke George Mikhailovich (Source: Paul Gilbert).

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Pope Benedict XVI and Grand Duke George Mikhailovich (Source: Paul Gilbert).

II a. Maria Kirillovna (1907–1951), eldest daughter of Kirill Vladimirovich (I). She was born in Coburg when her parents were in exile because their marriage had not been approved by Tsar Nicholas II. The family returned to Russia prior to World War I, but was forced to flee following the Russian Revolution of 1917.

III. Emich, 7th Prince of Leiningen (1926-1991), titular Prince of Leiningen from 1946 until his death, x Eilika of Oldenburg.

IV. Prince Karl Emich of Leiningen.

II b. Vladimir Cyrillovich, (Влади́мир Кири́ллович Рома́нов) born 30 August [O.S. 17 August] 1917 – 21 April 1992), claimed the Headship of the Imperial Family from 1938 to his death, Grand Duke of Russia (1938–1992).

III. Maria Vladimirovna (Мари́я Влади́мировна Рома́нова), born 23 December 1953 in Madrid), has been a claimant to the headship of the Imperial Family since 1992 Grand Duchess of Russia (1992–present).

IV. Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia

Nikolaevichi branch

I. Nicholas Romanov, Prince of Russia (1992–2014)

II. Prince Dimitri Romanovich of Russia (2014–present)

III. Prince Andrew Andreevich (born 1923)

 Applicable law

Karl Emich of Leiningen signs an address to Vladimir Putin aksing permission to assign a land in Ekaterinburg for creation of the Sovereign State Imperial See (Source: Wikipedia).

HSH Karl Emich Prince of Leiningen signs an address to Vladimir Putin aksing permission to assign a land in Ekaterinburg for creation of the Sovereign State Imperial See (Source: Wikipedia).

The Russian laws governing membership in the imperial house, succession to the throne and other dynastic subjects are contained in the Fundamental State Laws of the Russian Empire and the Statute of the Imperial Family (codification of 1906, as amended through 1911). These laws, referred to collectively as “the succession laws” in this essay, are sometimes described as “the Pauline law”, because their original version was promulgated in 1797 by Emperor Paul I.

At the present time, not one of the Emperors or Grand Dukes of Russia has left living descendants with unchallengeable rights to the Throne of Russia. When marrying a foreigner of Equal Rank, or member of a Reigning Family, family members were obliged to renounce their and their issue’s rights to the succession to the Throne of Russia.

Since 1917 the Russian Empire and its laws regarding social classes ceased to exist (Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars, Decree on the Abolition of Social Estates and Civil Ranks, 10 November  1917):

  1. All classes and class divisions of citizens, class privileges and disabilities, class organizations and institutions which have until now existed in Russia, as well as all civil ranks, are abolished.
  2. All designations (as merchant, nobleman, burgher, peasant, etc.), titles (as Prince, Count, etc.), and distinctions of civil ranks (Privy, State, and other Councilors), are abolished, and one common designation is established for all the population of Russia-citizen of the Russian Republic.
  3. The properties of the noblemen’s class institutions are hereby transferred to corresponding Zemstvo self-governing bodies.
  4. The properties of merchants’ and burghers’ associations are hereby placed at the disposal of corresponding municipal bodies.
  5. All class institutions, transactions, and archives are hereby transferred to the jurisdiction of corresponding municipal and Zemstvo bodies.
  6. All corresponding clauses of the laws which have existed until now are abolished.
  7. This decree becomes effective from the day of its publication, and is to be immediately put into effect, by the local Soviets of Workmen’s, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies.

Conclusions

In addition to the abolishment of the public laws regarding social classes, none of the current Romanov family members has unchallengeable rights to the Throne of Russia according to the Pauline Laws. Therefore the headship of the House of Romanov remains a political matter that cannot be determined from a legal perspective. The only authority that can restore the rights to the Russian throne is the Russian Federation. In my opinion, the imperial nobility and the titles it awarded may theoretically remain valid but for the Russian Federation they are quasi foreign.

Sources

Links

Lex Salica

Als het gaat om de erfopvolging binnen vorstenhuizen, wordt regelmatig een beroep gedaan op de zogenoemde Lex Salica. De Frankische koning Chlodowich I (Clovis) gaf tussen 507 en 511 de opdracht de zogenoemde Lex Salica op schrift vast te leggen. Het is interessant na te gaan in hoeverre een beroep hierop gerechtvaardigd is.

Verspreiding van de Lex Salica

De Salische Franken kwamen in 358 het Romeinse Rijk binnen bij Toxandrië (een gouw die zich uitstrekte van de Kempen in het zuiden tot de Maas in het noorden). In 440 stichtten ze een koninkrijk met als centrum Doornik. Ze breidden hun rijk steeds verder uit naar het zuiden. De Salische Franken leefden voorafgaande aan de Grote Volksverhuizing rond de IJssel, maar zij verplaatsten zich later naar het tegenwoordige Vlaanderen en Frankrijk. Onder Karel de Grote werden stammen in Duitsland, Zwitserland en Noord-Italië onderworpen. Hierdoor kwam een groot deel van West-Europa onder de Salische Wet (zie het proefschrift van W. J. D Boone, De Franken van hun eerste optreden tot de dood van Childerik, Groningen 1954). Lees verder