Almanach de Gotha

From Academic Kids

The Almanach de Gotha was a directory of Europe's nobility first published in 1763 at the ducal court of Friedrich III of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (which included the city of Gotha) in 1763.

The purpose of the Almanach was to record, in a definitive way, the ruling houses of Europe and their cadet branches, and those they had ennobled. When one remembers that the ruling families of Germany and Italy alone ran into many tens, and the minor branches thousands, the massive undertaking of such a record can be appreciated. However, even at this early date for a noble family to be included was, to them, socially vital, following World War I and the fall of so many royal houses, noble titles became easy to masquerade, hence inclusion in the incorruptible Almanach de Gotha became even more essential. If a noble family and their title was not listed in the almanach then it would be presumed to have never been legally created, and thus to have been self-created, (i.e not valid).

Even in the early 19th century this in-or-out dichotomy caused problems: Napoleon's reaction was typical of the "nouveau riche". The self proclaimed Emperor wrote to his Foreign Minister, de Champagny:
Monsieur de Champagny, this year's Almanach de Gotha is badly done. I protest. There should be more of the French Nobility I have created and less of the German Princes who are no longer sovereign. Furthermore, the Imperial Family of Bonaparte should appear before all other royal dynasties, and let it be clear that we and not the Bourbons are the House of France. Summon the Minister of the Interior of Gotha at once so that I personally may order these changes'.

The response of the publishers was to humour Bonaparte by producing two editions: one for France, with the newly ennobled, and one for the remainder of Europe (i.e. those ennobled by those enthroned by Divine Right of Kings, as opposed to a (as they saw it) Corsican upstart.

The Almanach recorded all births. Until 1918, any aristocrat wishing to marry, and for their progeny to carry their title had to marry a woman of similar rank. The Almanach's records were of vital importance to these people. The marriages of many members of the British Royal family would have been considered unequal by the standards of the aristocracy of Europe, including those of George V, George VI, and the Prince of Wales. On the Continent, such marriages would have been morganatic, meaning that the lesser-ranked partner, usually the wife, and any prodgeny of the union cannot inherit the higher-ranked partner's titles. She is usually given a lesser title in compensation. The Duke of Edinburgh's family the Mountbattens or Battenbergs is descended from the morganatic alliance of Prince Alexander of Hesse. However, fortunately for the House of Windsor considerations of equality do not enter into the inheritance of titles and morganatic marriages do not exist under English law.

In some European families even today breeding is important. Quite recently there was huge disquiet amongst the Habsburgs, Imperial family of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire when the 'would be' heir to the family throne married the daughter of a mere count, even though the Count in question was one of the richest men in the world. This requirement of breeding is not limited to former royal and Imperial houses, it is especially prevalent among the noble families of Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. The Prince of Thurn und Taxis, a Bavarian aristocrat, married a student he met in a cafe, 33 years his junior, in the 1980s, but she was of equal rank. However, this lust for blue blood is now gradually receding, in Italy at least, where there has always been a slightly cavalier approach to the conventions. In England this has never been a problem as the British aristocracy have always married (if necessary) for money rather than breeding. In the 19th century many of England's duchesses were the daughters of American magnates: others were actresses selected largely on the basis of their physical charms.

When the Russian troops entered Gotha in 1945 they systematically destroyed all archives of the Almanach, however the customers had retained sufficient copies of their own to ensure the survival of the almanach's records; but from 1945 the almanach was not published. Those tracing the ancestry of German nobility have used the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels (GHdA) as a substitute, and it is often considered its successor.

In 1999 following the fall of communism the publishers of almanach found a new 'raison d'etre', all across Europe aristocrats are trying to regain property sequestered by communist regimes, a new Almanach de Gotha, published in London, is helping them to prove that they are in fact who they claim to be, and thus restore them to the ancestral estates.

The Imperial family of Austria used to demand at least 16 quarterings (Every member of the family until the great-great-grandparents had to be noble and bear a coat of arms, which could then be divided into 16 on a hatchment) before a person could marry into the dynasty. Today they have dropped these standards, likewise the aristocracy of Europe is following, but still the Almanach de Gotha follows their pedigrees; and as ever in spite of the almanach, the headship the Royal Family of Two Sicilies remains in dispute, as does that of France; and inumerable other noble houses, which proves, that to some people, the Almanach de Gotha will always fulfil a need.


External links

  • Official site (http://www.almanachdegotha.com/) of the Almanach de Gotha
  • [1] (http://www.regalis.com/nobletitles.htm) Explanation of Italian Nobility
  • [2] (http://www.genealogienetz.de/misc/nobility_faq.html)Explanation of German Nobilityde:Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels

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