In different cases, marriage has shaped the course of history by affecting the leaders’ decision-making capacity. The kings’ wives played a remarkable role that would link leaders to political allies and spheres of influence. Among other roles, the royal family played a central role in facilitating the expansion of an empire.
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Historically, women are highly influential and kings are known to make irrational decisions based on their wives’ advices. This paper seeks to examine and understand the political dynamics surrounding marriage and the acquisition of political dominance by a king. For instance, Julius Caesar of the Roman Empire had his daughter married to Pompey Magnus in a bid to secure political support. This article will argue that marriage served as a strategy to secure political influence and ensure the posterity of an empire.
Ascension to the throne
The structural organization of the ancient empires assumed a monarchial system with an individual ruler acting as the head of the state.1 Succession usually passed from father cum king to his sons or to other heirs based on the family or the monarchial entity. Since leadership was acquired through patrimony, it was fundamental for the king to marry in a bid to ensure the continuity of an empire through succession.
If the king did not have a son by his first wife, he was free to marry a second one in search of a successor. Adopting a son from the extended family marked the last effort to ensure that the empire was passed on to the family. In a bid to show how marriage was crucial, Caesar’s nephew, Gaius Julius Caesar, inherited the monarch as Emperor Augustus.
It was difficult for the King to explore new spheres of influence without having secured prior knowledge of the targeted territory. This aspect slowed the progress of conquering new zones, and thus the need to secure lines of communication was necessary. The powerful businesspersons and other opinion movers were convinced to switch sides from their initial entities and give support to their rivals.2 This goal could be achieved through offering the king’s daughter or a family member. For instance, Julia Caesar offered his daughter to Pompey for marriage. In return, Pompey would show political support to Caesar.
Pompey and Crassus were privileged to have the means to sway the public. Caesar appreciated the potential of this alliance towards his political success. Caesar married Calpurnia the daughter of a powerful senator. Such marriage generated another alliance, which was necessary to orchestrate support from wide coverage and new territories. The newly married women were used as a source of vital information from their tribes and territories. They were used to give links and directives to the empire in a bid to plan on how to advance inlands with ease.3 In addition, marriages were used as a means of fighting a king or the empire. Wives of key political figures were targeted to join conspiracy to assassinate the king or aid in manipulating the enactment of laws that would backfire on him.
Formation of treaties
Marriage offered sustainable ways of maintaining alliances with fellow kings and nobles with political influence. Kings could have an edge to exploit their rivals if they managed to marry daughters of influential political leaders. Henry VIII, the king of England from 1509 and the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, used marriage as a strategy to form and maintain key allies to bolster his political support. He also used this strategy to gain support in his course to separate the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, he “made radical changes to the Constitution of England”4.
He had six marriages with each making significant addition to his endeavors. He first married Mary Catherine, the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon. By offering to marry Catherine, Henry VIII was keen to form an alliance between England and Spain. This move would ensure that his political backing was amplified with the intent of keeping his rivals. Most Kings had mistresses who gave them children just to ensure that the Empire would be succeeded from their blood. Leaders who sought to increase their political power strategically seduced the king’s wife in a bid to influence her husband to enact certain laws that were predetermined to serve a purpose to actualize a mischievous plan5.
Financial stability formed grounds upon which ancient kingdoms prospered. Organizing and equipping the military needed huge amounts of money. Most kings inherited prosperous economies from their predecessors. This aspect was not enough and it could be exhausted in times of war or poor resolutions by monasteries, thus leading to the replenishment of the treasury. In a bid to avoid catastrophic effects on the general economy of the State, the king/empire would engage in marriage treaties to outsource finances.
Kings targeted marrying daughters of fellow kings or potential business people. This strategy sought to maintain close ties needed in times of financial breakdown. Accessing grants and loans was easy with marriage ties in place. For instance, by letting her daughter Julia to be married to Pompey, Caesar had an orchestrated agenda to solicit financial support. Pompey’s financial status labelled him as a target for the Caesar’s opponents. Caesar successfully manipulated Pompey to join his campaign by offering him a wife.
The unification process
The unification of states was the main process through which Empires could expand their jurisdictions. This was the main agenda by all Kings since it was a sign of superiority and ensured populace support, which was needed to succeed an empire. Unification encountered impediments such as lack of hegemony.
In a bid to advance to the inlands, leaders would marry from targeted territories, give out their daughters to prominent people in these areas, and encourage their sons to marry outside their boundaries. Such intermarriages improved hegemony and created the possibilities of annexing new territories. Apart from using marriage to purse diplomatic ties to exploit opportunities that would strengthen an empire, the reverse was also applicable.
Leaders sought to weaken their rivals by giving out their daughters to marriage for members of the rival party who could respond by withdrawing to join the new group. For example, “after Pompey’s wife died during childbirth, Caesar offered Pompey his great-niece in marriage in a bid to sustain Pompey’s support.”6 Pompey declined and instead married a daughter of a political rival of Caesar. The decline of their marriage links meant that Caesar was falling short in his bid to secure more territories and it was time to work out other marriage plans to gain the competitive advantage against his opponents.
The family forms the basic unity upon which leadership starts and develops. The kingdom represented a normal royal household, which needed to show great social support to the king. Even though marriages were done at tender age especially for women, it was necessary for the king to have a stable family upon which leadership would be nurtured.7
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It was common for nobles and the kings in the past to be married as well as have mistresses. This was move considered unnecessary since it would cause conflicts when deciding on whom to succeed the king. The family served as the immediate advisers to the king and it played important roles in organizing and overseeing critical issues, which were vulnerable to sabotage such as military campaigns. Noble women serving as wives to the kings assisted their husbands in key decision-making areas as well as taking roles assigned to them.
Marriage was an indispensable requirement for ancient kingdoms to prosper. It was a strategy for empires to gain the freedom to maneuver beyond boundaries in search for support via joining hands with influential personalities. Even though at times marriages were used as a device to solicit finances, support, and weaken the opponent, the tactic benefited many empires at the expense of others. The game of politics entails manipulating and controlling leaders. It was necessary for kings to exercise control over their wives and ensure all activities by the family were geared towards harnessing political power for the empire. In cases where marriage was not contributing to the success of the Empire, the wife would be conspiring to bring it down.
Freeman, Philip. Julius Caesar. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Kleiner, Diana. Cleopatra and Rome. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
Smith, Preserved. Luther’s Correspondence and other contemporary letters, Volume One: 1507-1521. Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
Williams, Carlton. English Historical Documents, 1485-1558. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
- Carlton Williams, English Historical Documents, 1485-1558, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 16.
- Preserved Smith, Luther’s Correspondence and other contemporary letters, Volume One: 1507-1521 (Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers), 47.
- Williams, 32.
- Ibid, 33.
- Diana Kleiner, Cleopatra and Rome, (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 7.
- Philip Freeman, Julius Caesar (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 43.
- Diana Kleiner, Cleopatra and Rome (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 19.