Philipp The Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hessen
(or The Story of the Prince with Three Balls)
Courtesans, mistresses and lovers were common “family members” that any nobleman could have on the side, in secret or flaunt in public – even for Catholic Bishops and Abbot Princes. But marry? Out of the question! Charlemagne had forbidden bigamy ever since the Holy Roman Empire was founded. Bigamy was not only scandalous, sinful and kinky; it was punishable by death.
Naturally Philipp could have obtained a divorce from Christine of Saxony, if he wanted to. If a noble wife could bare no children, or was not healthy, noblemen could petition the Pope for a marriage annulment (a de-facto divorce). However, Philipp could not afford to affront his most powerful friend and ally, the Duke of Saxony, by sending the poor man’s daughter back to her father in disgrace. Besides, Philipp would have been hard-pressed for legitimate excuses to divorce her. By that time, he had already sired children by Christine, so he couldn’t very argue she was unable to bare.
Still, he wanted an official “Morgantic marriage” to Margarethe von der Saale. A Morgantic marriage is having official permission to have a Prince William / Kate Middleton type of marriage, where the groom is of noble birth, and the bride has lower noble status than groom. But even if the church/emperor would have approved of Philipp marrying his Cinderella, they would never have tolerated bigamy.
Time for some political creativity. An natural-born ruler like Philipp had the skills it took to find ingenious ways to bend the rules to suit his purposes wasn’t about to let some silly church ethic dash his plans. There are no written records how he did it, but Philipp convinced his wife, Christine, to give him written consent allowing him to have another wife. Even though Christine had few rights, Philipp could have never married Margarethe without her express permission. After that, it was a simple matter to convince his Protestant clergy friends to allow him to use Old Testament references to consent to conducting a church wedding. Luther testified that in Philipp’s confession, he learned that Philipp “possessed extraordinary physical endowments” (e.g. he confessed to having three testicles) and thus he required two wives “to quench his natural God-blessed manly desires of the flesh”.
Of course, the whole wedding, in Rotenburg an der Fulda in 1540, was a dirty little family secret, because if word ever got out to Charles V, the Emperor would have no choice but to put him on trial and punish him for bigamy. Not only that – the pious peasant community would have condemned Protestantism in its infancy as heretical “Sodom & Gomorrah”.
Read the rest of the blog here.