Who uses it: Families of noble birth, particularly in Germany (although the term they use is Ehe zur linken Hand, left-handed marriage)
What it means: A marriage in which the husband's title and estates do not pass to his wife or to their children. Morganatic marriages are often second marriages or marriages between people of unequal social rank.
How you can use it: Frankly, it doesn't come up much in the United States.
The BBC/HBO miniseries "Elizabeth" shows the Virgin Queen falling into her last decline after the execution of the Earl of Essex, as if what ultimately killed her (at the then-vast age of 69) was a broken heart. Maybe it's true; we can't know, from a distance of 400 years and very different ideas of love and marriage.
"Why didn't she just make a morganatic marriage?" asked Megan, as we watched Helen Mirren sobbing off her white face powder.
Good question. I clicked around the Internet this morning, and discovered that British law does not provide for morganatic marriages. In fact, although the current wife of the Prince of Wales is known as Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, she's legally the Princess of Wales, too. Charles and Camilla are -- er -- unlikely to produce any children of their own, so the question of what they might inherit doesn't come up.
Americans are fascinated by all the trappings and rules of "nobility," but I can't see us putting up with it in real life. This week's episode of "The Sopranos" had a little fun on the subject of "Hollywood royalty," with Sir Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall -- who were respectively bullied and punched by gangsters. I guess you could see that as the American dream at work.
Happy birthday today to Ann Marie Stanton, uncrowned queen of Venice, CA.