Updated 9 April 2019
How often these days I see articles stating that when Prince Harry of Wales married Meghan Markle in May 2018, it would be the first royal interracial marriage ever. Obviously most articles mean, the first British royal interracial marriage – as lots of media tends to forget there are other royal families than the British – but even in that case the statement is not true.
Interracial marriages are nowadays quite normal, but they weren’t until some tens of years ago. Only in 1967 a marriage between people of different race was allowed in all the USA, in 1960 interracial marriages were still forbidden by law in 31 US states. When searching I found a recent article saying that one in 10 marriages in the Netherlands are mixed, they actually meant Dutch people marrying people of another nationality, rather than another race.
I think in many countries, including mine – the Netherlands – most people had never seen someone with a different colour than their own until rather recent. Unlike my parents who grew up in a tiny village, I grew up in a small town with children in my class with an Italian, Indonesian and Suriname background. I remember however the first Chinese arriving in the neighbourhood (this was halfway the 1980s) were quite an attraction. An acquaintance of mine who is slightly older, grew up in a smaller village and had never seen others than white people until he was 12 or so. Luckily times are changing.
The question however is: were there ever mixed race marriages in noble and royal circles? Surely there were some, not only in noble and non-reigning royal families, but certainly also in reigning royal families. A rather interesting and early case was a Japanese-German marriage, or rather more than one. Aoki Shuzo (1844-1914) was born to a Samurai family in Japan. He was a diplomat and Foreign Minister. Later in life he was elevated in title to viscount, and became Viscount Aoki. In the late 1860s he was sent to Germany to study. During that time he married a German aristocrat, Elisabeth von Rhade. Their daughter Hanna Aoki (1879-1953) married in 1904 Count Alexander von Hatzfeldt und Trachenberg. Their daughter Hissa (1906-1985) married 1927 Count Erwin von Neipperg (1897-1957).
When searching online for unusual interracial royal marriages I came across an African-Asian one that wasn’t to take place in the end. In 1931 Prince Lij Araya Abebe of Ethiopia (who died in 2002 and was a nephew of Emperor Haile Selassie) traveled to Japan, as he liked the idea of a Japanese bride. Ties between the two countries had become quite strong at the time. After his return a Japanese businessman, Tomoyoshi Sumioka set up the arrangements and circulated advertisements for select women in Japan. About 60 applications were received. Chosen was the young daughter of Viscount Hiroyuki Kuroda, Masako Kuroda, who started soon studying Ethiopian culture. However the marriage plans alarmed the European powers and especially Italy seems to have been uncomfortable about the Japanese interference in the region. In the end the marriage was called off early 1934.
Not much later, in 1948, Seretse Khama, heir to the throne of Botswana, married Ruth Williams, a white English woman. He later became the president of his country. Both in Botswana and Great Britain people were against this marriage. The story of their life was recently turned into a film: A United Kingdom. Quite known also is the case of the American Hope Cooke (1940), who in 1963 became the Queen Consort of the 12th Chogyal of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal (1923-1982). The couple had two children and divorced in 1980. The monarchy in Sikkim had been abolished in 1975 and the country became a state of India. Hope Cooke returned to the USA and is now a writer, historian and lecturer.
I am certain there will be some more examples, if one has a good look into royal and noble genealogy and would know a bit more about the backgrounds of people. There are also lots of intermarriages with people from Central and South America, which I didn’t even mention, as there are so many of them. So if you know of any interesting marriages, let me know, or post below in a comment.
A few more royal examples from reigning royal houses I can think of
- The 21st Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor in 1870 married secondly Cecilia Catherina Lange. She took the name of Zubaidah. She had a Danish father and a Chinese mother.
- Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, Prince of Phitsanulok, a son of King Chulalongkorn of Thailand, around 1906 married Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya, from Kiev (Ukrain, then part of the Russian Empire). They had one son and divorced in 1919, one year before the death of the prince. For an interesting article see here.
- The 22nd Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim married in 1930 (divorced 1938) Helen Bartholomew Wilson. She was from Scotland.
- Their son Prince Chula Chakrabongse in 1938 married a British woman called Elizabeth Hunter. They had one daughter, Nerisa.
- In 1952 King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia married Paule-Monique Izzi, better known as Queen Monineath. She had a father of French, Corsican and Italian descent, and a mother from Cambodia.
- The 22nd Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim married in 1940 Marcella Mendl from Romania. They had one daughter.
- The 24th Sultan of Johor married in 1956 (divorced 1962) Josephine Ruby Trevorrow. They had four children. After their divorce she returned to the UK.
- In 1961 King Hussein of Jordan married Antoinette Gardiner, from Great Britain. They got divorce ten years later. King Hussein and Princess Muna, as she is called, had four children including the present King Abdullah II.
- Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid of Jordan in 1963 married Margaretha Lind (Majda) from Sweden.
- In 1968 Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan married Sarvath Ikramullah, born in India to a Muslim family, later raised in Pakistan.
- Princess Ubol Ratana of Thailand, daughter of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, married 1972 Peter Ladd Jensen, from the USA. The couple had three children. They got divorced in 1998.
- King Hussein of Jordan married fourthly in 1978 Lisa Najeeb Halaby. She was American born, with a Syrian-American father and a mother of Swedish descent.
- Tengku Idris, now the Sultan of Selangor, married secondly in 1988 (divorced 1997) Lisa Davis. They had one child.
- Prince Joachim of Denmark – son of Queen Margrethe II – in 1995 married Alexandra Manley. The couple divorced in 2005 and has two sons. Alexandra was born and raised in Hong Kong. Her mother Christa Nowotny came from Austria, her father Richard Manley was partly British, partly Chinese. From their three daughters, Alexandra was the most Asian looking one. See for her ancestry here.
- Christian baron de Massy, a cousin of Reigning Prince Albert II of Monaco, married (fourthly) in 1996 Cécile Gelabale, who is from Guadeloupe. The couple has two sons. It seems they are either separated or divorced.
- US-marine Jason Johnson married in 1999 Meriam Al-Khalifa, daughter of Sheikh Abdullah bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain. They filed for divorce after five years. He was a Mormon, she a Muslim.
- Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad of Jordan married in 2000 Sarah Butler from the USA.
- In 2002 Marc Coumeri, an American, married Princess Pekina Norodom of Cambodia.
- Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein – son of Reigning Prince Hans Adam II – in 2000 married Angela Brown (11 years his senior), who was born in Panama as daughter of Javier Francisco Brown and Silvia Maritza Burke. His father consented to the wedding, even when apparently part of the family was shocked by this interracial marriage. The couple has one son. Not much is known about her exact background.
- In March 2004 the engagement was announced between Lady Davina Windsor, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and Gary Lewis. They married in July 2004 and had two children. The couple met in Indonesia in 2000. Gary Lewis turned out to be a Maori from New Zealand with an already 11-year-old son from a previous relationship. Queen Elizabeth II gave her permission for the marriage. They got divorced in 2018.
- In September 2004 the Crown Prince of Brunei Darussalam, Al-Muhtadee Billah, married Dayangku Sarah binti Pengiran Salleh, daughter of a distant member of the Bruneian royal family. She however had a Swiss mother.
- Princess Badiya bint El Hassan of Jordan married British Edward Blair in 2005. He took the Muslim first name of Khaled. They have one son.
- The Crown Prince of Perak (Malaysia; he now is Sultan) in 2007 married Zara Davidson, who had a British father and a mother who is a member of the Kedah royal family.
- Sheikh Sayyid bin Maktoum al-Maktoum of Dubai married Natasha Muslimorova, from Belarus, in 2007.
- Alejandro Garrido married in 2008 Princess Sarah bint Asem of Jordan.
- David Wheeler married Khun Ploypailin Jensen in 2009. She is a daughter of Peter Ladd Jensen and Princess Ubol Ratana of Thailand.
- In 2009 Prince Moulay Ismail of Morocco married Anissa Lehmkuhl, a German Muslima.
- Nicolas Costamagna married Princess Ubbolvadey Nella Sisowath of Cambodia i 2009.
- In 2011 Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abd-al-Aziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, a grandson of the then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, married Lucy Caroline Cuthbert, niece of the Duke of Northumberland.
- Prince Rudolf of Liechtenstein – a nephew of Reigning Prince Hans Adam II – in 2012 married Tılsım Tanberk from Turkey. The couple has twins.
- The Dutchman Dennis Verbaas in 2017 married Tunku Tun Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Ibrahim of Johor.
- Prince Harry of Wales in 2018 married Meghan Markle from the USA. She said herself: “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white”.
- Crown prince Tengku Muhammad Faiz Petra of Kelantan is to marry Sofie Louise Johansson from Sweden in 2019.
- In 2019 Princess Theodora of Greece is to marry Matthew Kumar, an American, whose father was born in Fiji.
Other examples in non-reigning and noble families
- Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, married first in in 1864 Bamba Müller, who was the illegitimate daughter of a German father and an Abyssinian mistress. After her death he married in 1889 a British woman called Ada Douglas Wetherill. He had issue from both marriages.
- In 1892 Count Heinrich Coudenhove-Kalergi married Mitsuko Aoyama from Japan. They had seven children.
- Jagatjit Singh Bahadur, the Maharaja of Kapurthala married in 1908 the Spanish flamenco dancer Anita Delgado Briones. They separated. They had one son.
- Prince Yi Gu of Korea married in 1959 Julia Lee Mullock, an American woman of Ukrainian descent. They were never legally married by Korean custom and got divorced in 1982.
- In 1972 The 6th Marquess of Headfort married as his second wife Virginia Nable, who was from the Philippines.
- In 1976 former King Fuad II of Egypt married Dominique-France Loeb Picard (Fadila). They separated in 1996, got divorced in 2008. Her father was a French Jew, her mother French-Swiss.
- In the 1970s Princess Ketaki of Nepal married secondly Alan Roy Chester from Great Britain. They had two children.
- (Sir) Desmond de Silva married in 1987 Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia. They separated in 2009. He is partly British, partly Sri Lankan.
- Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss in 1989 (divorced) married Susan Doukht Jaladi, from Persia (Iran). They had two children.
- Prince Dhirendra of Nepal in 1991 married thirdly Shirley Greaney, British but born in Canada. They had a daughter.
- In 1998 Prince Karim IV Aga Khan married Gabriele Thyssen from Germany. They split up in 2003, divorced finally in 2011.
- The Hon. James Lascelles, son of the Earl of Harewood (cousin of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain) married thirdly in 1999 the Nigerian actress Joy Elias-Rilwan.
- Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in 1999 married Mary Nyanut Ring Machar, from Sudan, in Kenya. The couple has four children.
- Prince Adam Czartoryski married secondly in 2000 Josette Naime Calil. Not much is known, but she seems to be of Lebanese or maybe Syrian descent.
- Count Michel Lichnowsky married first (divorced) Yuiko Fujishiro, and secondly in 2004 Chikako Hashimoto. Both wives are of Japanese descent.
- Archduke Konrad of Austria in 2005 married Ashmita Goswami, of Indian descent. They have issue.
- The Hon. Thomas Philip Watson in 2005 married Rajkumari Xenia Ranbir Singh. He is a son of the 3rd Baron Manton (Great Britain), she is from the royal family of Kapurthala (India).
- In 2005 Archduke Maximilian of Austria married Maya Askari, originally from Iraq.
- Archduke Philipp of Austria married Mayasuni Heath in 2006. She is as far as I know partly British, partly Peruvian. They have one daughter.
- Prince Hussain Aga Khan married Kristin White, from the USA, in 2006. She took the name of Khaliya. His mother by the way was British, Sally Croker-Poole (known as Salimah). Separation in 2011, divorce in 2013.
- Princess Michelle Lobkowicz in 2007 married Vishal Khanna, of Indian descent. They both had a Catholic and a traditional Hindu ceremony. They have issue.
- In 2008 the 11th Duke of Marlborough married thirdly Lily Mahtani née Shani of Indian descent.
- Prince Mir Wais of Afghanistan, youngest son of former King Zaher Shah, married Antonella Mularoni (Safya), of Swiss-Romanian descent.
- Édouard Comte Desrousseaux, 3rd dux romanus de Vandières in 2010 married Thu Ha, from Vietnam.
- Michael Count von und zu Trauttmansdorff-Weinsberg married Hanh Lai, originally from Vietnam, in 2010.
- Prince Charles de Ligne La Trémoïlle married in 2010 Ran Li, from China.
- Charles Count von Faber-Castell in 2011/12 married Melisa Eliyeşil, from Turkey.
- Prince Rahim Aga Khan in 2013 married Kendra Spears (Salwa) from the USA.
- Prince Muhammad Ali of Egypt and Princess Noal Zaher of Afghanistan married in 2013. He is half French, see for his parents above.
- In 2013 Viscount Weymouth, heir to the Marquess of Bath, married Emma McQuiston. Her father is from Nigeria, her mother from England. They have two sons.
- Archduke Franz of Austria in 2013 married secondly Leontra/Leondra Carol Breeden (“Lei”), from the USA. His first wife 1994-2011 was Teresa Manuel Carlos. As they married in Mozambique, the chance is big this was an interracial marriage too.
- In 2013 Prince Viktor von Isenburg married Jung-Eun Anés Lee, from South Korea.
- Prince Antoni Mikolaj Radziwill in 2015 married Dan Yang from China.
- Olaoluwa Olamide Modupe-Ojo – clearly of African descent – married in 2015 Maddison May Brudenell, a descendant of the Earls Mountbatten of Burma.
- Prince Konstantin of Bavaria married Deniz Kaya from Turkey in 2018.
Some more distant examples
There are however also some examples of people with a (much) more distant connection. Even I didn’t know that the 14th great-grandfather of Queen Silvia of Sweden née Sommerlath was the Amerindian leader Tibiriçá, leader of the Tupiniquim tribe in the village Inhapuambuçu, who was married to Potira. Silvia descends from his daughter Isabel (born Bartira) and her Portuguese husband João Ramalho.
Prince Nikolaus von Nassau, halfbrother of Grand Duke Adolphe I of Luxembourg, married Natalia Alexandrovna Pushkina (1836-1913), daughter of poet Alexander Pushkin. Alexander’s great-grandfather Abram Gannibal was an African (probably Cameroon) who had been kidnapped as a child, and taken to Russia as a gift for Tsar Peter the Great. He was freed, adopted and raised as a godson of the Tsar. He even became a noble in 1742 under Empress Elisabeth.
Interracial – An explanation
As the hot topic online has usually been skin colour, rather than the basic race division, for the above list I have used that extinction between people instead of the traditional racial differences.
A race is officially a group of people with particular similar physical (thus biological) characteristics, who are considered as belonging to the same type. Such factors are for example bone structure and skin, hair or eye colour. Most anthropologists recognise three or four basic races today, which actually can be divided into at least 30 subgroups. The ethnological division is: Caucasian, Mongolian and Negroid races, while sometimes also Australoid is added. The Caucasian race not only refers to “white” people, but also to people in parts of North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia and Russia. The United Nations opted in a statement in 1950 to drop the term race and rather speak of ethnic groups (associated with culture instead of biology), of which there are more than 5,000 in the world.
Myself I have been raised by my parents not to look at skin colour or whatever distinction, and not be a racist. And I find it interesting to see how people of different origins – whether racial or ethnical – mix nowadays. It makes the world a more colourful place to live in.