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The Case of Princess Sophie's Second Marriage Without Royal Assent from a British Monarch

Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark 
with youngest daughter, Princess Friedreke of Hanover

The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was an Act of Parliament in Great Britain established to guard the prestige of the British throne against unwanted marriages that could diminish the status of the royal house.

It was a condition under which all members of the British royal family, specifically all descendants of King George II, would seek permission from the reigning British monarch when contracting a marriage. The marital union would only then become valid in Britain if the monarch will approve the marriage.

By then royals were not allowed to marry commoners. And no British sovereign ever grants a permission in marriage to a commoner partner.

Defiance of the Duke of Sussex and Duke of Cambridge

It's not Prince William and Prince Harry.

But the Duke of Sussex and Duke of Cambridge in another time.

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, was the 6th son of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He married in direct defiance of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.

Although he married an aristocrat, Lady Augusta Murray, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunmore whose maternal grandfather was the 6th Earl of Galloway, this noble pedigree was not enough to merit a sovereign's approval for marriage.

The Duke of Sussex did not ask his father's permission to marry because he knew he would never be granted a permission. His bride was not of royal blood and no British princes were ever permitted to marry a non-royal.

Lady Augusta Murray was not granted the title, Duchess of Sussex. They had two children, all of whom were not recognized as members of the royal family. They also did not carry hereditary titles of their father and were known only as members of the house of d'Este.

Upon hearing of this secret wedding in 1793, King George III moved to annul the marriage of his son and Lady Augusta in 1794.

The Duke of Sussex was the favorite uncle of Queen Victoria and it was him who walked her down the aisle when she married Prince Albert in 1839.

He remarried to another noblewoman in 1831, Lady Cecilia Underwood, they did not have any children, but she was recognized by Queen Victoria as her uncle's wife. She granted her the title Duchess of Inverness.

Another royal who married in contravention of this law was George III's grandson, Prince George, son and heir of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge.

Although he inherited the title, Duke of Cambridge, his children did not.

Prince George married a commoner without an aristocratic pedigree, Sarah Fairbrother, an actress. He did not seek permission from his cousin, Queen Victoria, when he married. And since he was marrying a commoner, had he sought a monarch's permission, it would never be granted.

Ironically, Prince George was the personal choice of King William IV to be Victoria's husband and already made an arrangement before his death in 1837. But the plan was blocked by Victoria's uncle, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the widower of her cousin, Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Prince Leopold already eyed an arranged marriage between his nephew, Prince Albert, and his niece, Princess Victoria. The two got married in 1839 and Prince George married Sarah Fairbrother.

Since the marriage was in contravention to Royal Marriages Act of 1772, Fairbrother did not receive the title, Duchess of Cambridge. The Duke of Cambridge title became extinct when Prince George died in 1904, his three sons were not eligible to inherit his title because his marriage to Fairbrother was considered invalid.

Prince George's niece however became Queen consort of the United Kingdom, Princess Mary of Teck, the wife of King George V.

Known Case of Monarch's Withholding Permission

All descendants of King George II had been practicing this tradition ever since and none was turned down by the British sovereign.

Except one case.

In 1946, Ernst Augustus, the Crown Prince of Hanover, a male line descendant of King George III whose wife, Princess Viktoria Louise, was also a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria, sent a letter to his British cousin, King George VI, seeking marriage permission for his second son, Prince George William, to HRH Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark, fourth daughter of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Prince Philip's four sisters: Princess Sophie, Princess Cecil, 
Princess Theodora and Princess Margarita. They all married German princes

Princess Sophie was also a direct descendant of King George II, therefore subjected to The Royal Marriages Act of 1772.

This would be Princess Sophie's second marriage. Her first husband, Prince Christoph of Hesse, her second cousin once removed, through Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Margarita of Prussia (sister of Kaiser William II of Germany), died in action in 1943 during World War II.

She wed Prince Christoph in 1930 at the age of 16. Prince Christoph whom Sophie had five children, was also a first cousin once removed to Prince George William of Hanover.

However, Britain and Germany were on the opposing side during the first World War and second World War. And in 1919, The Title Deprivation Act was passed, stripping some descendants of King George III, who were fighting for Germany and in sentiment, raising arms against the British sovereign, of their British titles.

The royal House of Hanover, whose ducal title, Cumberland, was of British origin granted by King George III to his son, Prince Ernst August, King of Hanover, was affected with this Deprivation Act.

Nonetheless, the head of the House of Hanover continued to seek marriage approval from the British monarch even after the war, in respect to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, and because they wanted their marriages to be valid in Britain.

However, the case of Princess Sophie's second marriage was a tricky one.

The letter of the Crown Prince of Hanover, father of Prince George William, was not answered by King George VI. Even though he granted his approval to George William's sister, Princess Federica, in 1937, for her marriage to the future King Paul I of Greece, Princess Sophie's first cousin, who was also subjected to the same Act, because he was a great grandson of Queen Victoria.

In 1946, situation had changed.

The British government apparently advised King George VI that it would be highly improper to give his royal assent to his cousin's application for marriage when the country still reeling with Germany's atrocities during World War II.

Princess Sophie and her first husband, Prince Christoph of Hesse

The king was thought to have avoided a diplomatic controversy where his action could be misunderstood as thawing the animosity against Germany, and it might sow anger from the public, so he withheld his approval and did not response to his cousin's request.

It was the only known case of withholding a British monarch's permission to marriage to King George II's descendants where a sovereign's approval has been sought.

Nonetheless, Princess Sophie and Prince George William proceeded to marriage and did not wait for King George VI's response.

Princess Sophie and her second husband, Prince George William of Hanover

They wed on April 23, 1946. The marriage was considered valid in Germany, however, King George VI made it clear that despite not granting his permission in papers, it was still considered valid in Britain, noting that the reason for withholding his approval was due to political issues between two countries and not because he did not approve the marriage.

Ironically, months later, Princess Sophie's youngest and only brother, Prince Philip, became secretly engaged to King George VI's daughter and heir-presumptive, Princess Elizabeth.

The king however kept the engagement a secret and advised Prince Philip, who was still known then as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, to postpone the formal engagement until after Princess Elizabeth's 21st birthday.

The king announced his daughter's official engagement to Prince Philip a year later, in July 1947. A royal wedding followed in November that year. However, due to their husbands' connection to Hitler's regime, his three royal sisters were not invited to the wedding.

Royal siblings. Princess Sophie and Prince Philip

Princess Sophie remained close to his British royal relatives however. She frequently visited her brother's family later in life and attended most of the royal family's important events.

She was a godmother to her nephew, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex.

The controversial issue on King George VI's withholding his marriage permission to Princess Sophie and Prince George William, were not debated even after the law was repealed in 2013.

Princess Sophie died in 2001 and was survived by her second husband, seven of her eight children and her younger brother, Prince Philip.

Descendant of George V who did not seek permission

The disgraced king, Edward VIII, voluntarily gave up his throne in 1936 when it was becoming clear his American commoner lover who was twice divorce, Wallis Simpson, could not be accepted as his consort.

His younger brother, Prince Bertie, then the Duke of York, succeeded him as George VI. The former king was also made Duke of Windsor by his brother.

He and Wallis got married in May 1937 without seeking permission from George VI. This was of no point also because as a consequence of the abdication, the Duke of Windsor removed himself and that of his future descendants' rights to succession.

And any children born of the marriage would have no right whatsoever to inheritance, titles and all perks of being British royals. This was in no effect however, because the Duke and Duchess had no children.

Despite not seeking permission, the marriage was considered legal in Britain, however, the Duchess of Windsor was not granted with HRH style and was only considered as Her Grace, a courtesy title for a British duchess not part of the royal family.

The Royal Marriages Act was repealed in 2013

In 2013, when the new succession law in the British throne was repealed, replacing the male-preference primogeniture succession with the absolute law of succession, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was also repealed.

The law took effect in March 2015.

Instead of requiring all descendants of King George II to seek permission from the British sovereign when marrying, the new law only required the first six persons in the line of succession to seek a sovereign's approval in marriage.

Princess Eugenie of York wed in 2018
Princess Beatrice of York wed in July 2020

The last royal in line to be subjected for this Act is Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who is currently sixth in the line of succession to the throne. He was not removed, and that of his children's right to succeed, even after ditching his royal responsibilities early this year.

Through the revision of this royal marriage law, two daughters of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, were no longer required to ask the Sovereign's permission to marry.

HRH Princess Beatrice of York, and her younger sister, Princess Eugenie, are currently ninth and 10th in the line of succession, therefore a monarch's approval in marriage is no longer required.

The last wedding in the Queen's direct family to be required for such permission was that of her granddaughter, Zara Phillips, in 2011. At that time, Zara was 13th in the line of succession to the British throne.

The current first six in line to the throne

The following are the current six in line of succession to the British throne and who are only subjected to the new Royal Marriages Act.

1. HRH The Prince of Wales
2. HRH The Duke of Cambridge
3. HRH Prince George of Cambridge
4. HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
5. HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge
6. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex

The position in the line of succession will change if Prince William will have another child which would push Prince Harry and his descendants farther from the throne.

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