Thursday, July 16, 2015

CastleTalk #1: The (In)Famous Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg Will

Every once in a while, there are royal topics I'd like to express my opinion or give an explanation about but they are simply too complicated to be discussed in 140 characters over on Twitter, so I'm introducing CastleTalk here on Castles & Co. The first topic covered: The (in)famous Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg will that (allegedly) prevents Hereditary Prince Gustav zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Carina Axelsson from getting married. 


Sometimes yet regularly the question of why Hereditary Prince Gustav zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, owner of Schloss Berleburg, does not marry his long-time girlfriend Carina Axelsson pops up on royal forums and blogs. The alleged reason for them not marrying is that the nephew of Queen Margrethe of Denmark would lose his inheritance, including said castle, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia if he married the US-American model of Mexican and Swedish descent based on his grandfather's will. While I'm not doubting this per se, I have some serious doubts about the claim of many people that "everything would have the same outcome if Gustav married Carina or if he died childless". Keep in mind that I certainly am not a legal scholar but here are my two cents about it...

Hereditary Prince Gustav, son of Fürst Richard zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and his wife née Princess Benedikte of Denmark, has a rather interesting paternal grandfather, Fürst Gustav Albrecht zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Often described as a staunch Nazi, he went missing in action in June 1944 while serving as a Nazi officer on a campaign in the Soviet Union. (However, other sources indicate that he never was a member of the Nazi party and even bought and privatised the local Jewish cemetery in Berleburg to save it from being destroyed by the Nazis.)

This interesting grandfather's will stipulates that his heir as to marry a "protestant" and "aryan" girl of "noble descent". However, Fürst Gustav Albrecht's heir wasn't his own son, the current Fürst Richard - who would have actually fulfilled all the requirements -, but his yet unborn grandson. (Gustav Albrecht was actually only declared dead on November 1969, ten months after the birth of the current Hereditary Prince Gustav.)

[Quick note: This wasn't an uncommon thing in the German nobility. The current Fürst von Thurn und Taxis, Albert II, is the first one to actually own the family's massive wealth in decades. In the early 1970's Fürst Franz Josef von Thurn und Taxis (the 9th prince) passed the family fortune to his brother's unborn grandson. That yet to be born grandson came into the world twelve years later: Fürst Albert, the 12th prince. In the meantime, the family saved inheritance taxes twice.]

The stipulation of marriage to a "noble", "protestant" and "aryan" woman in the will of Fürst Gustav Albrecht is what you would call in German an auflösende Bedingung. This "resolving condition" can go from "you only inherit my fortune if you take care of my dog" - and if you don't, my heritage will be taken away from you - to apparently what is said in the grandfather's will. Some say that the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg has tried to fight the will in court based on it being racist though I've never seen anything indicating that there actually was a court case. This could have a simple reason: You usually only have one year to contest a will in Germany, so they would have needed to fight it a good 45 years ago when it came into force once Gustav Albrecht was declared dead.

[Plus, as much as I - and probably many others - dislike this will based on the "aryan" part, legally speaking a will is a private matter, not a public one, and a legal document. As long as that private will and legal document is in accordance with the laws at the time it was written in, a court has the obligation to uphold said will as a legal document. Thinking this further: If we went back in time to change all wills based on today's values, I guess there would be a whole lot wills that needed changing.]

Back on topic: Since November 1969, Hereditary Prince Gustav is the owner of the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg estates. His grandfather's will never mentioned the current Fürst Richard as Gustav Albrecht wanted to pay less taxes and left everything to his yet unborn grandson. Meanwhile though, the title of Fürst itself went to Richard via house law showing that the title and estate are not attached to each other.

So, based on the will if Gustav marries his long-time partner Carina Axelsson, he will lose the estates. They would likely go to the next down the line who made the marriage asked for. That person would be the head of the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein family, Prince Bernhart, as everyone in line before him does not meet the will's criteria.

[Quick historical background: The Hohenstein branch of the family almost died out in the beginning of the 20th century. Two of the sons of the third prince were unmarried and the third one had made a morganatic marriage. So the oldest son and heir - once he became the prince - decided to adopt one of his Berleburg relatives as his heir. This person was Prince Christian Heinrich, a younger brother of Gustav Albrecht. He had firstly been married to a Bismarck-Schönhausen and secondly married a daughter of his adopted father's younger brother (the one who had married morganatically). The offspring of his second marriage was later de-morganatised shortly before the end of the monarchy in Germany. Whether the house laws include anything about who you can marry, I do not know. However, any head of the family can actually change house laws - maybe needing consent of other family members - , just not wills.] 

Recapping this once again... If Gustav and Carina married, he would lose his inheritance, but now onto the interesting question: What happens if Gustav never married and dies without any legitimate natural offspring?

If he never gets married, the estates remain his property and he is free to do with them as he wishes to. Remember that I mentioned previously that the estates and titles are apparently not attached to each other?! See Gustav being the estate's owner while Richard is the Fürst. So if Gustav wishes to, he can come up with a will of his own stating basically whatever he wishes to (in accordance with today's laws). For example, that one of the children of his sisters, Princess Alexandra or Princess Nathalie, will inherit the castle, the forests and whatever else the family owns. The title of Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg would still go aforementioned Fürst Bernhart of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein - based on the house law (if it includes a passage about equal marriage; if not, it would go to Gustav's uncle Prince Robin and his descendants), not the will - but the estate, in difference, would pass to the person of Gustav's choosing. Actually, he could have even had children out of wedlock with whichever person she chose to - Carina, for example - and he could give those children his castle, just not his title.

Anything to add to the story? Leave a comment below!

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