Thursday, April 1, 2010

Regnants and Consorts and Regents, Oh My! (Terms)

With a case study two weeks in a row, it's time to return to some simple terminology. Today's should be quite straightforward, as well, since many people may know at least two of the terms. Without further ado, let's just jump into the discussion:

Royalty has a lot of rather interesting and odd facets that don't always mesh with the status quo. Things like the husband of a queen...doesn't that make him a king? Or, can a 5-year old king need help to rule? How does one exactly define a "monarch"? Let's answer these in reverse order.

A monarch is regnant. That sentence is intentionally vague since regnant is, in fact, an adjective. It needs to be qualified by a title such as queen regnant. Ah, there we go. Still don't understand? It's really rather a silly thing and it is the reason why monarchs are never really called "regnants". In fact, it is usually only applied to females because it is generally assumed that if a king is the monarch, he is a king regnant. Queens, however, are rarely regnant because hereditary rules generally favors men over women. Thus "queens regnant" is a convenient term to emphasize that the queen rules in her own right. Queen Elizabeth I of England is a great example of a queen regnant, primarily because she never wed. You see, just like kings, she doesn't have to be called a queen regnant because there is no husband to contrast her with. Mary II, wife of William III, though, is more likely to get the "queen regnant" title since she ruled in her own right with her husband.

The term has an odd way of being written in the plural: queens regnant. The "regnant" gets no "-s" for some reason; probably because it never entered the world of nouns. Anyway, a regnant is the somewhat formal adjective for a monarch who rules in their own right. It contrasts with our next term:

Consort. Somewhat oddly, while regnant has never diverged out of the adjective category, consort has. A statement like "Most queens regnant have a consort" is proper English, but "All Prince Consorts have a regnant" just looks dirty. Technically, they were both to be adjectives but the consorts just got excited. Anywho, a consort is what a regnant is not. For virtually all regnant monarchs, there is a consort involved in the capacity of "spouse". So when you hear someone say Queen Catherine of Aragon with King Henry VIII, they are calling Catherine the queen consort, and just skipped using the term. In fact, most "queens" and "princesses" in the world and in fantasy and literature are such due to their marriages, not their heredity. Thus, Cinderella is no "princess", she is a "princess consort" (the wife of a prince). Since it is more likely that a male is to rule than a female, females are designated as "queens consort" when they DO rule. Likewise, males are more likely to rule than not rule, so are called "prince consort" or "king consort" to emphasize the LACK of their right to rule. As with queens regnant, though, there have been many prince consorts in the world. Their role, though, has changed significantly since medieval times.

In the earliest times, prior to around 1400, women rarely ruled if they were married. Even if they had the hereditary right to a title, their husbands would usually rule de facto (take or be granted the power by the legal barer of the title: his wife) or jure uxoris (be constitutionally allowed to rule in right of his wife). Thus the use of a "prince consort" was rather rare in that time. The only hint that the wife held the power was that her death often precipitated the transfer of power from the husband to the heir even if the husband were still alive. A great example of this was Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was the legal Duchess of Aquitaine, a huge swath of land in western France. She first married Louis VII of France, who jure uxoris became Duke of Aquitaine. But 15 years later and after no children, Louis divorced her and she married Henry II of England and took all her lands with her. Sure Louis tried to keep them but Henry and his son, Richard the Lionheart, took most of them back.

Once the Renaissance came around and medieval was on the way out, women began to reignwith their husbands than sit by the sidelines. Basically, the husband would be crowned ruler with the wife, but decisions would be discussed together and both of them would be noted as the proper rulers. Juana of Castile, from 1504 to 1506 before she went "Mad", ruled with her husband, Philip the Handsome. However, the trend continued to change in this era. England has one reported case of a "king consort" in history: Mary I (popularly known as Bloody Mary) married Philip II of Spain in 1555. When they wed, he was crowned the first and only king consort of England, and he retained at least some authority within the English government alongside Mary. Since there has never been another "King" Philip in England since, it is unclear whether he should be included in the kings lists of the country.

Today, we live in the golden age of consorts. With the deconstruction of male-preference succession systems in the Low Countries and Scandinavia, the number of male consorts is on the rise. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom has a prince consort, Philip of Edinburgh, while Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Queen Margarethe of Denmark didn't even marry royalty! Of course it could be argued that since most monarchs have little actual power, the term consort or regnant is really valueless, but it does denote at least the de jure legitimacy of their right to rule.

Lastly, the term regent must be discussed. It is a confusing and often-times contradictory word that has been lumped historically with these other terms despite the fact that it doesn't have much to do with them. A regent is simply someone who rules for someone else. There are many reasons for a regent — a minor is the de jure monarch, the ruler is unwell, the ruler is out of the country, there is no ruler — but they all end with the same conclusion: a regent is someone who ISN'T the legal ruler. In many cases, a regent is a relative of the legal ruler or a council of a bunch of people appointed by the ruler. Regents are also almost never numbered in kings lists because, well, they aren't kings.

Let's get some examples to better work this out. The number one reason for full-time regencies is because the ruler is a minor. In most countries, a ruler has to be at least 18 or 21 to rule the country; until that time, someone else has to do the formal ruling while the kid just does whatever it is kids do. Catherine the Great of Russia was suppose to be a regent for her infant son but she claimed the throne instead. Naughty regent! Miguel of Portugal in the 1820s was suppose to be regent for his niece, Maria II, but took the throne while she was away. Bad regent! The Duke of Suffolk was the regent for Edward VI of England but, when Edward died, he placed his own daughter, Jane Grey, on the throne instead of the rightful heir, Mary. I'm starting to note a trend here... Regents aren't always good people and they often are at their worst when a minor is on the throne. Generally, though, the do give up their power when the kid reaches his or her majority and then things go back to normal.

Ruling for sick monarchs is more of a normal function for a regent. A monarch gets sick, the regent is appointed, he usurps the throne in a coup, and kills the king. Oh wait! Crap, that's not right. No actually, there haven't been too many coups led by regents against a sick monarch. I guess Juana of Castile, after she went MAD was overthrown by her father and then son, but she still technically kept her titles. When George III got sick in the 1790s, his son George became regent and was known formally as the Prince Regent until he became king in 1820. Regents actually like sick kings because they can basically rule however they like and claim that the king said it was okay. It's harder to do that when the king is a 2-year old toddler.

When a king is out of the country, anything can happen. In Britain, they established long ago that a regency council or a spouse is a better regent than any family member (see War of the Roses). Courageous family members know that when the ruler is away, people can play. The only thing that really works for the rulers in this situation is that he or she is an adult and is usually respected outside the country. A usurping family member may not be trusted as much and the coup-ed monarch is still alive. Neither are good things for an overzealous family member.

The worst situation to be in is a monarchy without a regent. A regency council is almost always formed in this case, and guess who makes up that council? All the people who want to be the next ruler. It truly is like a game of Russian roulette. The claimants fight and bicker until war breaks out, they reach a compromise, or everyone dies except one (they sometimes all happen). Sometimes, though, a regent appears from outside this group. Prior to the Scottish War of Independence, Edward I of England claimed the regency of Scotland (without permission) while the dozen or so claimants figured out who should be king (and who could suck up to Edward the best). The Hundred Years War was fought when the House of Capet died out leaving two females and two males as the potential new rulers. The French chose one male, the English (who ruled half of France at the time) chose the other. Fight! Indeed, almost every country has had some succession dispute and some regent or council has to try and rule the country while everyone fights over who should rule it. I know. It's weird.

That's about it for today. These terms will come up and some already have. Next week we shall have another case study and I will post a poll for it sometime midweek. Cheers!

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