Almanach de Gotha


The Book entered the language in its own right with the phrase "all the Gotha was there". Historically it has charted the ruling royal and princely houses of Europe; only coming to an end with the Soviet occupation of the former Saxon Duchies of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1945. At the beginning of the 1990's, following the reunification of Germany, legal processes were initiated in order to repatriate all illegally confiscated assets in the former GDR.

The original owners succeeded in proving their claim. So it was that the original Gotha began along the road to restoration, culminating in the publication of the 1998 edition. Described as "the nearest thing there will ever be to a royal trades union when it comes to questions of dynastic disputes, successions or who is who in the extended royal and ruling families of Europe." The Gotha has a long history and became an indispensable reference tool. And with just under half the EU member states being reigning Kingdoms or Principalities today, the Gotha is now as much a contemporary reference work as it ever was.

The Almanach de Gotha made its debut in Saxe-Coburg in 1763, the Court which during the 1760's under Duke Friedrich III and later under Duke Ernest II attracted the likes of Voltaire and which in the mid 1800's produced Prince Albert as consort for Queen Victoria. The Gotha's own familiar crown was stamped on the cover of what was to become the ultimate power register of the ruling classes. Unmoved by government decrees or bribes, those not included in its pages found themselves thwarted, Pretenders claims left in ruins, by the publisher who would not compromise itself for either inclusion - or exclusion.

Napoleon's reaction was typical. On 20 October 1807 the 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".

Unmoved, the Almanach de Gotha simply produced two editions the following year, the first the extremely rare "Edition for France - at His Imperial Majesty's Request" and the other "The Gotha - Correct in All Detail" Historically the Gotha was the determining instrument when it came to matters of protocol. Not only were orders of precedence easily checked, but marriages between parties not listed in the same Gotha section were often considered unequal at some courts, participants thereby loosing dynastic privileges and sometimes title and rank. The term morganatic applied to the marriage; it derived from the High German morgangeba, a gift by a groom to his bride on the morning following their wedding. It indicated that this was the full and only entitlement that the wife could expect from her new husband. Morganatic marriages were often called 'left hand marriages' due to the fact that inequality in rank required the groom to use his left hand instead or the right during the wedding ceremony.

Some dynastic house laws in existence today continue to exclude members who marry a spouse from outside the Gotha Part One or Part Two families. Dynasts lose all rights and refrain from the adoption of ancestral titles. In some German families this can still mean forfeiture of estates and property. However in a number of recent cases, marriages have been contracted which clearly fall well beyond the scope of what could be described as equal, but the head of the family at the time has been able to rely on obscure sub-clauses of family law which allows discretionary permission for such marriages. It is in this area that the only real change in the format of the 1998 Gotha has taken place.

Listings are now in genealogical order and the issue of morganatic marriages and the marriages themselves are now listed in the main body of the family entry from which they derive. There are sensible reasons for this. Previously when many more families were reigning new titles were created and a listing under a new line, in Part Three, placed the new generation according to rank. It was decided, however, after careful deliberation, that the Gotha should now retain family entries intact where they continue using the same name. However where an individual has renounced his rights or becomes a non-dynast as a result, we have marked this fact against the entry where it is the wish of the head of the family that we do so. In this way dynastic breaches are still clearly distinguished. Historically there has been a divergence of opinion on the question of morganatic marriages. Whilst some families believed the matter to be an issue of sacred proportions, others, such as Queen Victoria regarded it as ridiculous.

Only on one occasion in Britain did the question arise, uniquely the letters patent issued on the creation of the Dukedom of Windsor provided for the rank and style of Royal Highness for the Duke alone and not his wife or any subsequent issue. But that itself followed the earlier constitutional ruling by Prime Minister Baldwin, on the advice of lawyers, who was clear that the wife of a King was the Queen. It is understandable why, previously a sustained and concerted effort has been made by a caste to preserve and enhance its own status by means of a highly complex an obscure set of rules. This did of course occasionally lead to confusion. The late Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone once recounted that at formal receptions at the Imperial Court at Berlin, Royal Highnesses were shepherded by the chamberlains into a room by themselves and were presented to the Kaiser and Kaiserin before the other royals. Princess Alice recalled that her cousin Princess Pauline of Wurttemberg (Royal Highness, Part I Princess) was so furious at being separated from her husband the Prince of Wied (Part II Prince, but having only the rank of Durchlaucht – Serene Highness – its meaning can best be literally described as "not the same") that she never returned to Court. Princess Alice by contrast, the daughter of one of Queen Victoria's sons, Part I Princess) but married to Prince Alexander of Teck (Queen Mary's brother but only a Part III Prince) found the situation hilarious.

At the end of World War Two when the Soviets occupied Gotha they immediately stormed the factory where the presses were housed and within five days, in a public display of protest, destroyed, by burning, most of the genealogical and heraldic archives. Since the books contained detailed references to the Romanov Dynasty, the attempt to obliterate history was made against these milestones. But the fate of the entire archive still remains a mystery, what was to the Soviets a classic symbol of a degenerate bourgeois society, was in any case a substantial archive. Some 100,000 maps and 80,000 books did survive and the remaining assets in Gotha were returned after reunification.