For the Dunmer a secondary spouse is a relic of the past. Our Chimer ancestors allowed such marriages, in part, I have heard scribes say, because they wanted to increase the number of heirs for each family.
Of course, naturally, as the practice become commonplace there came to be many issues over inheritance. Specifically the order of inheritance. Was it based off of age or order. And if order, was it order by spouse or by when they were birthed in relation to their siblings? Each of the houses had their own system in place, but the rate of regicide and fratricide rose dramatically within the main houses. It was said that mer everywhere feared that the great houses would topple upon themselves from the inside out.
Of course, laws were changed and customs altered. Dunmer currently only recognize a single marriage at a time. At least, the state of Morrowind will only allow a single marriage at a time to be legally binding. Outsider its borders I suppose it would matter more about the state you were in and how they recognize marriages.
Now, the concern over heirs is still very much surviving today and several customs have arisen to combat that.
I shall start with the one which has the darkest past. Our people rarely birth more than one or two children in their life time. Three is uncommon. Four is considered a miracle.
Yet if you observe many of the great house lines, you will notice not two or three children, but 5, 8, 10 children! Well, how is this accomplished?
It was discovered early on in our people’s enslavement of man races, that a woman who has many intimate relations with men produces more children. I am sure you can see the dark places this is headed.
There were certainly families who imported slaves, mostly Nords, who were considered particularly potent in affecting a Dunmeri woman’s ability to have children. It also resulted in some small increase in mixed children, but records of what happened with those children is unclear at best. I would assume if they looked mer enough they would be put in the line of succession with the rest and if not, I tremble to consider that poor child’s fate.
Obviously this is not a current practice and has not been for some little time. However, it is not unusual for Dunmeri women who are soon to be wed, or newly wed, to go looking for loose Nord men to share their evenings with in order to increase their virility. I have also heard of male Dunmer following such a practice, but I am not sure if the effects are as potent.
Another method still very much in practice today is that of a un-official spouse or secondary partner. If the secondary partner is female, her children are added into the line of succession with the official children, but are only considered valid candidates on the condition that the official heir next in line is not ready or fit to inherit.
If the secondary partner is male, any children he may bare with another partner are eligible to enter the line of succession if both the mother and child can prove their loyalty to the house. If they both pass, then the child is added, but is only considered valid if the two official heirs next in line are not ready or fit to inherit.
I understand this must sound very complicated, but in practice it is often very simple. House council votes after all parties have presented their evidence one way or another. Often if a grandmaster is growing weak or has reason to believe they will not be alive much longer, a special session is called for the grandmaster to choose their next heir. This has the potential for changing order of inheritance. Of course, if the house council disagrees with a vote of over 93% against the grandmaster’s decision, then the order continues as per usual. There are no counts in all Dunmeri history of the vote being overturned. There is a legend of it happening once, but it has been under great scrutiny as to its validity for centuries.
Finally there is the semi-secondary spouse status of most officially designated guardians. In case of tragedy befalling a family, such as the streak massacres that were done to wipe entire family lines out at the start of the 1st era, a non-direct blood relative is appointed as an officially guardian for each child. It is not uncommon when one spouse dies, for that official guardian to take on the duties of helping to raise that child in the deceased spouse’s place. Often times if the couple works well together, the guardian is granted a sort of change in status that is the equivalent of a marriage and order of succession follows the same pattern as with the secondary spouse.
It is important to note that a grandmaster who is unable to produce a single heir, will be given rank of master’s advisor and the next eligible heir will take over for them. For this reason both the selection of a spouse and any secondary spouses is held with utmost importance. My people have the most terrible rituals to introduce potential partners. But I shan’t bore you with those details. I have spoken enough for now.