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The Fundamental Laws
User logged in as JanEl
As was his right. Nicholas I decided that the marriage of his daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nicholaievna to Duke Maximilian of Leuchtenberg was equal demonstrating that in the end it was the Tsar as Head of the Imperial House had the freedom to make such decisions unlike for instance the Austrian Emperor who had a list of acceptable families to deal with and that was it.
My understanding is that the Romanov imperial house laws didn't originally require that dynasts married equally. That got added only later on, after Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich got passed over in the Russian succession, after the death without surviving male issue of Tsar Alexander I.
You're quite right that the Fundamental Laws don't explicitly define *equal*. However, my understanding is that the Romanovs adopted a higher marital standard than I had originally thought. Evidently the requirement was the the spouse coming from either a reigning or royal family. In other words, the house can be below the royal rank (e.g. grand duchy or principality), as long as it's reigning (e.g. Hesse-Darmstadt, Montenegro). Or if it's deposed, then it must be royal.
As such, Princess Hélène of Orléans (daughter of the Count of Paris, the French royal pretender) was seriously considered as a bride for the future Tsar Nicholas II. She certainly was the favored choice of his parents -- but for the religious issue
What this means, then, is that the Romanovs would not accept members of mediatized houses, like the Habsburgs. You're quite right that Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria had no choice but to approve Princess Isabella of Croÿ as the dynastic wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. Of course, the latter belonged to only a member of a cadet branch of the imperial family ...