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In regards to marrying into noble houses, if a noble man marries a noble woman from a different house, I would assume one of two things happens: 1. The woman takes the man's name and the two houses become allied to one another. 2. They make their own name and marshall the coat of arms. If this is incorrect, please do correct me by all means.

But say a common man marries a woman of a noble house. Does he take their name? Does she take his name but he is of her house? Or, assuming the noble woman is the heir, does she take his name and the name of the house changes also?

I would point out I am speaking in general for fantasy purposes (and yes, I know I can technically say what I want because I'm making it up, but I'd like to have strong basis in fact), so I understand that this exact situation may in fact never have actually occurred; but even so, I'm supposing there'd be a set precedent in case.

EDIT: As it's fantasy it isn't strictly European but drawing from pretty much anywhere with a similar social structure. Information from any European country or elsewhere (Russia, for instance, but anywhere) would make me very grateful, especially if the area could be mentioned in the answer. Also, let me stress, this isn't like a plot point or anything, I'm just curious but as I'm thinking about it in terms of personal fantasy fiction it doesn't have to have a real-world example of it happening to satisfy me. I realise it's an unlikely thing to happen but the point is it is possible.

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I'm guessing you're looking for answers regarding European nobility, but you should probably be more specific - where in Europe, and in what time frame. These things change over time and across borders. Think of the closest historical analogue to your fantasy kingdom. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Mar 1 '14 at 14:49
Oh, actually I should have mentioned that -- thanks! Pretty much European, yes, but because it's not historical I like to draw from pretty much anywhere: unfortunately I don't know that much about the world as a whole so I wasn't sure how to phrase the fact that if Russia, say, or Africa or wherever has a similar noble setup then answers based from anywhere are fair game. – Mac Cooper Mar 1 '14 at 15:21
Why the hurry to accept an answer? Realize that once a question has an accepted answer, the eyeballs interested in reading your question (never mind responding to it) reduces several times. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 1 '14 at 15:48
up vote 7 down vote accepted

So your fantasy is about about a common man obtaining a title by marrying into a noble family? To my best knowledge the chances of this happening are slim. What is more likely is that the woman (or at least her children) will lose her title.

As cases in points in recent history, consider Alfonso Díez Carabantes (the third husband of the Duchess of Alba and 24 years her junior) or Max Kothbauer (a rich banker who married Maria-Pia Ludovika Ulrika Elisabeth Paschaline Katharina Ignazia Lucia Johanna Josefa, Princess of Liechtenstein who is currently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Liechtenstein to Austria as well as Mrs. Maria-Pia Kothbauer). Japanese former Princess Nori (now Mrs. Sayako Kuroda) also married a commoner and "left the Japanese Imperial Family, as required by law".

I'm sure there are are also some exceptions (esp. in the lower ranks of nobility), yet apparently a fantasy it must remain...

You may also want to recall Napoleon's biography: he started from relatively humble roots but rose to high enough power to reframe all kinds of rules: he raised several Dukes to Kings and married an Emperor's daughter. Nobody complained too loudly while he remained in power, and some (such as new Kings) preferred not to complain even afterwards. So here was one who able to pull it off quite fantastically...

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I didn't actually consider the woman or her children losing the title, and in actual fact this personally opens up far more fun and possibility for me than the options I thought existed; and the examples for both side of the argument just make the answer even better, and the fact that it happens all over the world is the sprinkles on top. Thank you so much, Drux! – Mac Cooper Mar 1 '14 at 15:43

During the preparation of the royal wedding between The Royal Heiress to the Swedish throne and a commoner, people talked about heraldry and the possibility that a new royal house will emerge. But this changed when The Royal Household afirmed that the commener Westling will change and add his surname into The Royal Family name.

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So the fantasy may life on ... :) – Drux Mar 2 '14 at 21:23
So he took the name Bernadotte (the royal house name) as his surname, his previous surname becoming a middle name? That's interesting and spot on; shows that there are definately exceptions to the rule. Is there a reason why he's Prince Daniel instead of Prince Olof, do you know? – Mac Cooper Mar 2 '14 at 22:15
His official name is Olof Daniel Westling Bernadotte. His former surname Westling has become his new middle name. Why he´s Daniel instead of Olof can be that his parents called him Daniel as a child and everybody did the same. Olof could be the name of a former family member on father or mother side and given to Daniel as a commemoration name. – Juan da Cruz Mar 2 '14 at 23:17

First, I am assuming that you are giving your fantasy world a "Western European" flavour. Working from this assumption there are still a myriad details that vary from nation to nation within Western Europe, but in general the two houses are allied, but the offspring only marshall the coat of arms; the husband and wife are each only entitled to their own arms.

That said however, if the husband and wife are each head of their respective houses (as with Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile), then they have authority to do otherwise than above.

You can obtain much more information on European heraldic traditions, by nationality and culture, by looking up both heraldry and the respective national Colleges of Arms on the web:

Also note that the merging of two houses is not as simple as the wedding of respective heirs. There is usually continued friction between the nobles of the two countries, and sometimes the commoners as well. As noted in the link to Ferdinand of Aragon above, it was not until the ascension of Charles I (grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella) that Castile and Aragon truly united.

Likewise, Scotland and England still see themselves as distinct countries within the United Kingdom of Great Britain, with a common monarch, more than 400 years after the ascension to the throne of England by James the VI and I.

Note that someone who is entitled to bear (a coat of) arms may wear any arms desired, once the same have been registered with a College of Arms in order to ensure that:

  • No conflict exists with arms already granted;
  • No inappropriate marshaling of previously granted arms has been performed; and
  • No symbols of rank (sceptres, acorns, etc.) have been used inappropriately.
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Regarding the marshalling: that helps a lot! I did do some research before coming here but must have missed that point (no sarcasm). You're information on the heraldry is really interesting and helpful: thanks, especially for the links. I wonder, Pieter Geerkins, do you have any information regarding the names as well? – Mac Cooper Mar 1 '14 at 15:24
@Paul Hutton: Thank you for the edit; can you tell I've read Lord of the Rings many, many, times? – Pieter Geerkens Mar 2 '14 at 23:57

In one unusual circumstance, when the Count von Bohlen married Bertha Krupp (of the Krupp arms house), the man (von Bohlen) was asked by the Kaiser to add his wife's surname, Krupp, to his own. They became the Krupp von Bohlens.

This was true, even though as a member of the nobility, von Bohlen technically outranked his (commoner) wife. But the name "splicing" came about because the Krupp name had become synonymous with German armament.

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That transformation seems similar to what frequently also applied when commoners were raised (not by marriage) into the nobility in 19th-century Germany and Austria: e.g. Claus Schenk Count of Stauffenberg (original family name was Schenk) or Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (original family name was Conrad). BTW & FWIK von Bohlen was not formally a Count. – Drux Mar 3 '14 at 8:24
I really like this answer for its "twist" which I think always good for fiction writing +1 – Razie Mah Mar 3 '14 at 20:10
@RazieMah: Do you write historical fiction? I'm on Writers' SE; you might find it helpful also. writers.stackexchange.com/users/4599/tom-au – Tom Au Feb 26 '15 at 1:50

It's later than the middle ages (18th century), but the fictional Barry Lyndon (novel and film) involved Redmond Barry marrying Lady Lyndon and henceforth being known as Barry Lyndon. A main sub-plot of the story involved his struggle to get a peerage in his own right.

Thackeray based Redmond Barry on the real-life Andrew Robinson Stoney, who married Mary Eleanor Bowes, Dowager Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. He took the name of Andrew Robinson Stoney-Bowes.

In a fictional setting, the appropriation of a noble name by a commoner groom has some literary pedigree, and can raise some good dramatic tension in my opinion.

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