Saturday, September 29, 2012

Truth beats fiction in the crazy world of Sheriff Joe

Last week I was sent one of those gung-ho emails about a US sherrif who had solved the problem of stray dogs in his district by getting prisoners to care for them, thus saving the county money (costs fell from $10m to $3m a year, it claims), providing care and an adoption scheme for the strays, and training prisoners in animal care. 
The email says his policies are so popular, he keeps getting re-elected, term after term (by a 83% majority last time, it claims).
It goes on to praise another scheme whereby prisoners grow their own food and earn income via a farm, which also produces fertiliser for a Christmas tree nursery, which, in turn, creates more income.
All sounds perfect.

Too good to be true, in fact. 

So I thought I'd check a few facts, to make sure it wasn't all fantasy.
Search for "Joe Arpaio" or "Maricopa County" and you'll find he's real enough – but there's much more to the story than that.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Picture: Rolling Stone magazine
Republican Sherrif Joe, now 80, is of Italian heritage and was born in Springfield, Mass., and has been head of law enforcement of Maricopa County, Arizona, for nearly 20 years. Before that he served in the US army and was a Fed with the DEA, serving overseas as well as in the US.
Sadly he undermines my theory that Americans who travel are more moderate than those who spend their whole lives in the US.
First elected in 1992, his eccentric tough stance has gradually been overshadowed by claims against the Sheriff’s Office of discrimination, corruption and financial irregularities.
              In 1993 he launched the idea of a tent city for inmates to solve overcrowding problems, leading to complaints of breach of human rights as temperatures in the remote Arizona desert setting topped 100ºF (38ºC+) and often reached 120ºF (49ºC). He told them to suck it up – if it was good enough for US forces defending their country, it was good enough for convicts. Tours of Tent City can be booked; apparently all 2,126 inmates have been checked to ensure ‘dangerous and predatory individuals’ are not placed there, so apparently this is the ‘soft’ option.
              He stopped prisoners’ access to coffee (saving $150,000 a year, he claims), cigarettes, hot lunches, TV (except for education broadcasts in the evening) and banned porn.
              He makes prisoners pay for meals. According to Arpaio in 2003, it cost $1.15 a day to feed each guard dog, and 40c a day to feed each inmate.
              Convicts must also pay $10 for each visit to a nurse.
              If they want to write to their families they have to use special postcards with the sheriff’s picture on them.
              In 1995 he reinstated chain gangs, initially in striped uniforms with pink underwear.
              In 1996, to make it fair, he included female inmates too. Burial duty at the local cemetery was one regular task for women.
              He later launched a supposedly world-first juvenile volunteer chain gang, in which volunteers can earn high school credits towards a diploma.
              Inspired by the pink undies idea, in 2007 he forced men convicted of drunk driving to clean up the city in pink jail suits.
              The animal adoption sanctuary is housed in a former jail. Animals are supposedly rescued for abusive situations – a scary number of pit bulls are up for adoption, and a few seem to have dodgy temperaments, according to their details..

However attractive some of those ideas may be, critics find plenty to complain about.

Tent City, as it's called on  
Does the tough regime work? When inmates complain, Arpaio loves to retort: "If you don't like it, don't come back." But, according to CNN, jail spokeswoman Lisa Allen McPherson said that 60 per cent of inmates did in fact come back for more than one term.
Does it save money? Running costs have certainly dropped, but the legal bills have been hefty. Among the hundreds of inmate-related lawsuits, and at least $43 million paid in settlement claims, $8.5 million was paid to the family of Scott Norberg who reportedly died of asphyxiation as he struggled with guards in 1996; $2 million to the family of a blind man who died after being beated in jail, and $1.5 million was awarded to an inmate denied medical treatment for a perforated ulcer (he was arrested for driving with a suspended license). In several cases, it was alleged Arpaio’s office destroyed digital video evidence.
Do the chain gangs work? Catholic priest Father Bill Wack, who receives help from female prisoners in burying those too poor to pay for funerals – often babies and itinerants – told CNN: “It’s free labor and it’s undignified. How is this helping to rehabilitate anyone?”
Prisoners’ calories have been cut from 3,000 to 2,500 a day, but some complain that food is rotten, with spots of mould on meat and cheese.
Does the office protect and serve? “Integrity, accountability and community” is what is plastered across Arpaio’s website,, which encourages citizens to vote for the “mugshot of the day” and ranks lists of ‘deadbeat parents’, ‘sex crimes’, alongside boasts of how many illegal migrants have been detained. Trouble is, the mugshots are of people booked within the last three days, not those necessarily found guilty of any crime. While the page declares the caveat ‘Pre-trial inmates are innocent until proven guilty!’ one wonders how much mud sticks. Or if juries can truly claim to be impartial (and how can seven people have been charged with kidnapping in one day!?)

There are a whole host of accusations that have been leveled against Arpaio over the past 20 years.

Immigration issues hit
Arpaio, never one to shrink from publicity, also hit headlines more recently when he challenged Barack Obama about his US-citizenship, demanding to see his birth certificate.
His campaign against illegal migrants has led him to fighting two sets of legal action as a result of his so-called “crime suppression sweeps” that have led to complains of police targeting Hispanics for ID checks, traffic stops and detention. In December 2011, the US Justice Department said it had found cause to believe the sheriff’s office “has engaged in a pattern of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law” and launched civil action against him.
He is also facing a class action of racial discrimination brought by a number of Hispanics in Arizona, a battle that has been simmering since at least 2009.

Joe and Ava Arpaio in 2011. Picture: Gage Skidmore
Millions mis-spent
If that was not enough, there’s the accusations of misspending millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
Complaints laid in 2011 after a county budget office audit found Arpaio had used about $100 million designated for jail funds to pay deputies’ salaries.
Calling the findings a “payroll discrepancy issue”, Arpaio pledge to fix the problem internally and resisted calls for him to resign.
Other accusations were that there were frequent errors in managing inmate’s cash accounts, with deficits of hundreds of dollars in some cases; that the office spends 3-to-6 times more that other jurisdiction for extraditions; that outside bank accounts prevented county officials from monitoring transactions; and that sheriff’s officials charged “unusual expenses” to county -issued credit cards, including first-class upgrades to flights, entertainment, and stays at luxury hotels.

But wait - there’s more!
In late 2010 Arpaio's 2012 re-election campaign committee was fined for sending out flyers deemed illegal by the county election department's finance committee because they sought the defeat of a political opponent.

Don’t forget the steak knives!

For about four years the US Justice Department has been investigating Arpaio and his former chief deputy, David Hendershott and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his deputy Lisa Aubuchon. While the exact nature of the investigation was ever revealed, Thomas and Aubuchon were both disbarred earlier in 2012.
The gist of the proceedings is that those officials used their positions and power to press criminal charges against their political enemies: four judges were accused of racketeering by Thomas and Arpaio in December 2009, plus other cases.
However, in September the US Attorney’s Office in Phoenix announced it would not be filing federal or state criminal charges.
It seems there are no federal statutes that cover the alleged actions, and both sides complain the action (or lack of) is politically motivated.

Embezzlement charges
Previously Federal prosecutors ran an investigation in the late 1990s into allegations that David Hendershott (Arpaio’s deputy) embezzled funds from the sheriff’s office's pink-underwear sales and ordered surveillance of the sheriff's political enemies, including the former county attorney.
That probe ended with the U.S. Attorney's Office sending a letter to Hendershott clearing him of wrongdoing. The letter was issued in part because of the media attention the investigation received at the time.
On the Arizona Central website next to this story, Arpaio’s campaign team is running an advert offering a link to the true story.

Civil rights abused?
Locally he is loved. He boasts a “posse” of 2,500 ‘volunteers’ (vigilantes?) who go after prostitutes, graffiti artists and criminals at shopping malls (says CNN).
In charge of 7,500-10,000 inmates, he employs more than 3,400 staff, making Maricopa the nation’s third-largest sheriff’s department.
In April 2005, Arpaio's deputies arrested an Army reservist who held at gunpoint a group of Hispanics whom he believed were undocumented immigrants (writes the Huffington Post). The sheriff said the reservist had no right to take that step. The reservist was never prosecuted.

But others believe the degrading treatment breaks international treaties protecting human rights, which supposedly bind all US officials.
"The intent is humiliation of the inmates and political grandstanding for the public," said Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, a Washington think-tank that promotes reduced reliance on incarceration in the justice system. “It makes the sheriff look tough and that's all it does.”

Either way, it’s makes for great media.
Two Phoenix New Times editors were arrested by Maricopa deputies after a run-in with Arpaio; the case was dropped the next day and the prosecutor fired.
Another local paper, the East Valley Tribune, won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of five articles run in 2009 criticizing the decline in regular police protection due to the increased focus on arresting illegal immigrants. A series of sex cries are among those his agency allegedly failed to investigate.

So at 80 will he stand again for election? You betcha, although it’ll be his toughest campaign. According to the Huffington post, he has $4.2 in his campaign fund, and is still favourite, The AzCentral website puts his fundraising at more than $7.5 million, mostly for out-of-state donors, while his main opponent, former police Sgt. Paul Penzone is battling him with about $72,000.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Australia's barbie - can we fit another shrimp?

What an extraordinary week it’s been for viewing. 

On the world stage there’s been the brilliant Paralympics, where every athlete has a story worth telling; in Australia there has been the brilliant SBS series, Go Back to Where You Came From, which has stirred some fiery debates; within Australasia the YouTube video of New Zealand troops performing a spine-tingling haka to welcome home the bodies of their comrades who died in Afghanistan went viral, and for good reason; and here in Melbourne I was priviledged to see the Black Arm Band perform their celebration of Aboriginal culture and music, Dirtsong

The wider debate stirred up by the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From has been good, if only because I think the only people who watched it were probably the left-of-field folk (me included) who wanted to watch Peter Reith squirm and see how much heart was hidden under Angry Anderson’s tough, tattoed skin.
Former shock-jock Mike Smith had to be included so we really had someone to bag for being such a bastard. And that Imogen Bailey turned out to have some brains as well as looks I think surprised a lot of people – possibly even the producers.

But I digress. One of the conversations that sprung from this was with a woman at my gym who hadn’t seen the program; I was trying to describe the format, journey and outcomes to her.
She’s a lovely, compassionate person who I’ve seen support dozens of women in all shapes and sizes as they battle with fitness and body image at the gym, so ‘gobsmacked’ doesn’t convey how shocked I was when she said: “Well I’d be one of the ones turning back the boats around and shooting anyone who tried to land; they should wait their turn like everyone else.”

So few words, so many urban myths; where do you start?

Do you mention that Australia is legally obliged to give (a) protect those at risk in our waters and (b) give at least temporary asylum to those found to be genuine refugees; or point out that shooting is just a tad more illegal than any ‘illegality’ attached to landing without a passport?
How about that old chestnut about “waiting your turn”, when there’s no official list and no-one can tell you how long you have to wait (some on the show said they’d been living in limbo in Indonesia for years, accepted by the UN as refugees but still in danger of being arrested and not allowed to work).
And what about that “like everyone else” bit? – the vast majority of refugees arrive by plane then apply for asylum when they get here, and most of the ‘illegal immigrants’ expelled from Australia each year are Kiwis and Poms who’ve overstayed their visas or non-citizens who get deported after a stint in jail.
After all, I was an illegal immigrant for a year or two, I told her.

“But you’re different – they don’t assimilate,” was the reply.

OK so here’s the even bigger can of worms.

Did I assimilate because I speak English, have a reasonable level of education, some work experience, know how western ‘civilisation’ works and have been introduced to deodorant?
Or because I’m white and, for all intents and purposes, a Christian?
Let’s face it, assimilation is a two-way street. To fit in you have to both be willing to adapt – and be welcomed in by the dominant culture.

And, by definition, that ‘home’ culture will then take on an infinitesimal change because it has taken in that new person.

Surely it’s unrealistic to expect the Australian culture to be static, as some more ‘whitebread’ conservatives would chose? Even if no more migrants moved here for the next decade, the national character would still change: children would still want a new lexicon to their parents, TV shows would bring their own catchphrases and trends, magazines and visiting chefs would influence foods and flavours, and overseas fashions and music would have their impact.
Which is why Pauline Hanson got such a rude shock when she headed back to the Mother Ship of England and was met by Jamaican accents and the world’s best curry. I’ve met some Greek yayas who’ve had the same shock on going ‘home’ after decades, too.

In fact it’s ironic that the Gym Lady even considers assimilation an issue, as her family is part of the 40-50% of my suburb who originate from Italy; whole villages migrated here in the 1960s and their combined influence on the area – along with that of Greeks, Slavs and other Europeans – has been huge; there are many shops (the best delis and bakeries) in the area where you could barely work if you don’t speak Greek or Italian, and many of my elderly neighbours still struggle with English, even after 40+ years.

There are two official meanings to the verb assimilate:
  •         to take in and understand fully, as in integrating ideas and culture (and to absorb and digest/use – either literally or metaphorically)
  •           to cause to resemble/liken or to come to resemble/be like something.

Surely to fully assimilate, not only do you need the understanding and “becoming like” bits happening, but also the acceptance.
That will always be harder for people who look different to what is perceived to be the norm, whether it’s in skin colour, disability, clothing or behaviour. Once you get past the looks and get to know people, naturally you discover what you have in common (or not) and can a better view of the sort of person they are.

I’m sure some of our Paralympic champions know all about that.
And I’m dead sure our Aboriginal community knows far more than they want to.

In fact, the difference between the story of fighting for acceptance in their own land that underlines Dirtsong, and the way New Zealand’s white community has embraced the Maori tongue and culture – such as the haka – is quite revealing.
I was amazed on visiting NZ that Maori words are used throughout children’s programs such as Playschool, and that news readers greet their audience with “Kia Ora” instead of “Good evening”.
Sitting in the Recital Centre on Saturday, I reckon I could safely challenge any non-Aboriginals in the audience to know even one word in any of the hundreds of languages once used by indigenous Australians. To mark their loss, eleven languages were used in Dirtsong – although sadly the writers had to ask academics for help in the translating because so much of the knowledge has been lost through colonial attempts to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginals.

Yet where is the evidence of non-Aboriginal assimilation with the land of Australia?
Experts still disagree on how best to manage the land and my interest in Australian plants is regularly met with surprise and admissions of ignorance by those who are otherwise proud to be 4th, 5th, or 6th generation Australian; knowledge of its bird and animal life, or understanding of its climate and seasons is equally woeful for most city folk.

So perhaps we should consider the true meaning of assimilation before we go accusing others of sticking with the people and cultural norms that make folk feel ‘at home’.

After all, it’s the unfair judging of people before you get to know them that gives rise to the word prejudice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Making friends with Dorothy

I love the backhanded compliment, reportedly made by a National Times reviewer on reading the 1967 play This Old Man Comes Rolling Home: “Surely management must recognize here, for God’s sake, is a writer – even if a woman’.
The play’s writer – most assuredly a woman – was Dorothy Hewett, whom I’m afraid to admit I’d never heard of until a couple of weeks ago.
Last week I reviewed a cabaret-style conglomeration of her work called Miss Hewett’s Shenanigans, so I did some digging beforehand – and I was so intrigued (and confused) by the performance that I did even more afterwards. It was presented to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, but was originally performed in 1975 when she was so alive that she even made a cameo appearance onstage. Which must have blurred the lines between autobiography and fiction even more, as the main character of each (seemingly unrelated) scene is a blonde, outspoken, melodramatic woman with a large bust and even larger love of life. And sex.
A quick squiz at any photo of Miss Hewett, and a glance through her wikibiography, quickly reveals the similarities.
Dorothy in Perth in 1972

But Dorothy Coade Hewett (21 May 1923 –25 Aug ’02) was more than just a playwright.
·      Brought up on a remote Western Australian sheep farm, she was home-schooled and had her first poem published at nine.
·      Later educated by nuns, she was atheist all her life.
·      A member of the communist party of Australia, she is one of the few Australian writers to have been translated into Russian during the Cold War, but later resigned in disgust over the Soviet suppression of the 1968 Czech uprising.
·      First married to a communist lawyer Lloyd Davies, whom she met at university in Perth, she left him for a Sydney boilermaker called Les Flood (seriously!), with whom life was such a struggle (they had three sons) that she had no time to write. However, her experiences inspired much of her later work.
·      Lloyd Davies later sued her (successfully) for libel over a collection of poems and two plays she wrote; they still cannot be performed in WA.
·      Her third marriage was finally happy and she had two daughters with Merv Lilley.
·      Her autobiography, Wild Card (1990) apparently deals with her lifelong quest for sexual freedom, which might explain the three marriages.
·      As well as bringing up six children (her first died aged 3 from leukaemia) and writing prolifically, her jobs ranged from laboring in a spinning factory and lecturing in English at university.
·      In 1990 she was also the subject of a portrait by artist Geoffrey Proud that won the Archibald Prize.
·      Awards include prizes for a national poetry competition (1968), a lifetime Emeritus Fellowship from the literature Board and in 1986 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia.
Dorothy in Perth with her children 
Reading an interview with her from 1986 (with Candida Baker - see here) I was interested to see that she felt leaving the communist party actually liberated her writing - escaping from the dogma, partly.
  • That she used a typewriter to write plays but had to write her poetry by hand.
  • She gained enormous therapeutic value from writing.
  • She suffered self doubts even when she was a successful writer: “I always thought the woman who tried to reach me French - who was still there (at university in WA) all those years later - would come in and say, ‘Dorothy Hewett, you are a fraud. I tried to teach you and you could never pass French. Leave now’.”
  • And of why her poems are more violent than her plays: “Sometimes I get a bit of a shock, because I’m not in my life a particularly violent person, but there must be a great residue of violence and obsession and – what else – maybe guilt and maybe anger hidden away there which comes out in the poetry. Poetry taps all these hidden things in oneself more than any other form of writing. It’s more difficult to hide things as a poet. So I suppose in many ways I do find writing poetry the most important form of writing that I’ve taken part in, and also the one I can least control.”

I love that idea of her being out of control when writing.
I can’t write poetry but I know what she means.
Think I would have got on well with this woman, and now I need to hunt down more of her work.
Hope your interest in her has been stirred a little, too.

Guide to Dorothy’s papers in the National Library:

Photos courtesy of the Estate of Dorothy Hewett.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Melbourne's wild harvest

Beautiful borage:
Weed or wonderful?
Melbourne's wild harvest

Last week a small Italian lady challenged the way I think about plants. Again.

The first time my brain was botanically challenged was moving to Australia and seeing pristine environments for the first time. Growing up in Europe, every patch of land has been so exposed to such a wide range of human activity for so long that even most remote areas have been altered in some way.

By contrast, the combination of Australia's vast size, the fact it is an island continent, and the Aboriginal culture of living with the land rather than trying to overpower it, has meant it has only subject to minimal mining, agriculture or introduced species over thousands of years.

As a result, I've come to classify all plants in Australia as either 'native' or 'exotic' (i.e. introduced since European settlement) and, while not all exotics are necessarily bad, I have no love for those introduced plants that tend to weediness and have spread rampantly across the country, displacing the original flora. And causing me to spend many hours weeding.

But last week Lina Siciliano from Rose Creek Winery challenged all that.
Mark Dymiotis harvesting mallow

At a Smart Gardening workshop on Wild Greens, led by Mark Dymiotis and held at the Rose Creek Estate in Keilor East, many of the plants that I curse for spreading too rampantly through my garden and the river valley beyond were held up as prized crops to harvest and value. Which I can pretty much cope with - I’ve eaten nettles and purslane and samphire before.

No, the most challenging moment came when Lina kindly picked me a handful of wild broccolini seeds – so I could actually encourage this weed in my garden. As she does. There’s a healthy crop of broccolini, thistles, mallow, chicory and even nettles filling the gaps between her neat rows of mustard, fennel, beans and artichokes, and it isn’t there by accident or because she runs the farm organically and won’t spray weeds; to her they’re not weeds, but part of the crop.

SO REALLY? You want me to actually encourage these plants??

Lina's patch of broccolini
That was a bit too much. I kept the seeds for about a week – the cats played with them for a while and my laid-back family shuffled them from one end of the kitchen bench to the other, without questioning why mum had yet another weird-looking bit of plant material dagging about the house.

But then I couldn’t bring myself to actually spread weeds and I threw them out.

However, I have been down the river gathering some of the ‘weeds’ that Mark and Lina introduced us to – many of which I would never have thought of as food. Some, like mallow, were a bit too moth-eaten to try; the nettles were just too painful to pick after a few attempts (Mark reckons he doesn’t use gloves but my fingers tingled from the stings for about 24 hours afterwards), and others I trimmed off the bits I’d been instructed to use – usually the growing tips or, in the case of wild broccolini, the flower buds – and pulled out the rest of the plant.

I’m not that much of a convert.

Later, I cooked them up using one of the recipes Mark had shown us and it did get eaten, eventually, but the family didn’t embrace it with the gusto I’d hoped for. Still, I’ll try again and sneak some bits in here and there and see how I go.

Mark and Lina cooked us three main dishes to try: a bean casserole, a pastry-lined pie (with rice included to soak up the juices from the greens) and stir-fried greens with a dressing. Lina also sliced up some of her wood-fire oven baked bread and dressed it with chopped parsley, oregano and her best home-made olive oil, and that was the yummiest of the lot! The oil is expensive but nothing like any other I’ve ever tried.
One of the many edible thistles

While Mark is of Greek descent and Lina's family is from Italy, their cooking methods were pretty much the same – except Mark adds lemon to everything! 

The rule Mark follows when cooking with greens is to make the bulk of the meal ‘filler’ greens – silverbeet, nettles, thistles, broccolini, cat’s ear, chicory, dandelion, mallow (on their own or a combination of a few) – and add in a smaller amount of herbs and other greens for taste. These might include mint (good with nettles), fennel fronds (either Florence fennel or the wild plant), parsley, mustard, rape, or the tender shoots of radish or zucchini.

Mustard - great colour; fierce taste!
He showed us a few basic cooking rules but, in most cases, you use them in the same way as you would spinach.

The notes for the talk, with photos, can be found at the Moonee Valley Council website, here

If you decide to give this recipe a try, good luck, but please don’t pick and eat any plants unless you’re familiar with them and are 100% sure of what you’re gathering.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m happy to go out with Melburnian readers, and we run occasional weed walks during open days at Werribee Park Heritage Orchard (see, and Mark also runs courses via the CAE. For details check with the CAE or visit Mark’s website at:
Bean casserole

1 cup of black-eyed beans, (prepared as per below) or 1 tin of pre-cooked beans
Virgin olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
2-3 handfuls of wild greens, chopped in roughly 2cm lengths

If preparing beans from raw, soak them overnight in salted water. Bring to boil in fresh water the next day. When beans just start to split their skins, drain them and start again with more fresh water. When beans are soft, drain and rinse.
Cover the base of a large, heavy-based fry pan with virgin olive oil and bring to heat. When oil is fragrant, add onions and reduce temperature. When onion is soft add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, then add pre-cooked beans to heat through.
When combined, add the greens (which should be damp from being washed; if not, add a dash of water).
Stir through then cover and allow to cook for 2-5 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.
Serve warm or cold, on its own or as a side dish.

Marigold flowers are edible.


Rose Creek Estate is next open to the public as part of the Sunbury Wine Festival, on Sunday August 26, from 11am-4.30pm. It's at 2 Craig St, Keilor East. SEE:

My Smart Garden events and notes from other workshops can be found here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Win a morning-after gift with Wallis

I recently stumbled across a new phrase I had to check online: Morganatic marriage.

It was used in the context of a book on that black sheep of the House of Windsor, Edward VII – you know the one who abdicated so he could marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.

Duke of Wales and Wallis Simpson in Kitzbuhel, 1935.

Apparently he requested permission to make a Morganatic marriage, which would have allowed him to remain on the throne but denied the title of Queen to Wallis. Famously, this never happened and he instead decamped to Paris, elevating his stuttering, shy brother to the throne instead, thus creating another great role for Geoffrey Rush and giving us the wonderful Elizabeth II (although, as Edward and Wallis never had children, she would arguably have been next in line anyway).

So what is a Morganatic Marriage?

According to Wikipedia: "In the context of European royalty, a morganatic marriage is a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. Now rare, it is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom traditionally held his bride's right hand with his left hand instead of his right."

This raised a whole load more questions for me.

  • Why is it called morganatic? 
  • As most royal land and 'bling' is 'borrowed', not owned, what's the downside?
  • With so many royal rules being diluted or changed, does this still happen?

So the word apparently comes via a German variation on a Latin phrase that refers to the morning gift  or dowry, which was traditionally given to a bride on the morning after her wedding. A morganatic marriage is, according to 17th Century historian and philolgist Charles du Fresne, "a marriage by which the wife and the children that may be born are entitled to no share in the husband's possessions beyond the 'morning gift' ".

Hold on a minute - a morning gift? All I remember from the morning after my wedding is a massive headache.
I'm guessing few other girls get 'morning after' presents nowadays, either, unless a coffee on the way to your surprise honeymoon counts (and the chances are you booked the honeymoon anyway, right?).

This is an oversight I believe girls should remedy – and soon. But back to morganatic matrimony.
There's a good reason dowries were stopped...

It was more common on continental Europe – Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, Denmark etc – where the rules were stricter about royalty marrying royalty. In the UK, it seems, we're quite happy to have commoners as queens (and consorts, as the Duke of Edinburgh is himself descended from a morganatic union – the 1851 marriage of Prince Alexander and German-Polish noblewoman Countess Julia von Hauke, later made Princess of Battenberg – So, ironically, Prince Charles and his sons are also descendants of a morganatic marriage.)

One of the more famous morganatic marriages of recent times was in 1900 between the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Bohemia aristocrat Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa. His father initially forbade it but eventually relented (although he refused to go to the wedding himself). Sophie was made Princess of Hohenberg and her children inherited that name and rank but were excluded from imperial succession. Sadly she was pregnant with their third child when the pair was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 – the event that triggered World War I.
Franz Ferdinand, Sophie and their children, 1904

When you see the list of all the other cases in history when these marriages were later recognised – or the children eventually succeeded to a throne somewhere, a neighbouring country if not their own – then it all seems a bit silly.

The enforced interbreeding and likelihood of creating unhappy marriages (and, consequently, increasing the risk of affairs and subsequent challenges to the throne from illegitimate offspring) is probably what fuelled many of Europe's 19th and 20th century revolutions.

It certainly didn't help Russian Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, who eloped to Paris to marry a commoner Olga Valerianovna Karnovichin in 1902. You'd think he'd be happy enough staying there, but he loyally returned to serve in the Russian army during WWI and his nephew Tsar Nicholas II rewarded him by elevating Olga and her children to Princess and Princes Paley in 1915. Sadly that act got Paul and his son Vladimir killed by revolutionaries in 1919, although his wife and daughters escaped to Paris.

Sophie of Merenberg. How about that waist? 
Tsar Nicholar II also banished his cousin Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia to England when he insisted on marrying Sophia of Merenberg, herself the product of a morganatic marriage. Unwittingly he saved them from the Russian Revolution and one of their daughters went on to marry the wonderfully named Marquess of Milford Haven, aka Prince George of Battenberg, part of the family later known as the Mountbattens, related to QEII.

While Britain still hasn't really worked out what will happen when Good Queen Elizabeth II dies (will divorcee Camilla be allowed anywhere near the throne? will she be Queen Consort? Will Charles pass the baton directly to Wills?), these issues are still being kicked around.

And even if Australia is a republic by then, you can bet your bottom dollar they will be examined ad nauseum, whether you're interested or not.

In the mean time, I suggest all you married ladies bring up the subject of the morning after pressie, and maybe suggest you'll give up all claims to his title if that generous tradition is reinstated.

Source: Wikipedia

Would Wallis have been a good queen?