Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony

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9780451416766: Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony

It’s no secret that the marriages of monarchs are often made in hell. Here are some of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history....

In a world where many kings, queens, and princes lacked nothing but true love, marital mismatches could bring out the baddest, boldest behavior in the bluest of bloodlines. Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands, but at least they weren’t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses were. King Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed Louis XIV’s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did. Forced to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania—a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—proved herself one of the heroines of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles.

Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start.

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About the Author:

Leslie Carroll is the author of several works of historical nonfiction, women’s fiction, and, under the pen names Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot, is a multipublished author of historical fiction. Her nonfiction titles include Royal Romances, Royal Pains, Royal Affairs, and Notorious Royal Marriages. She is also a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit, and is an award-winning audio book narrator.

A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including MSNBC.com, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. She also appears as an expert on the love lives of Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon on the television series “The Secret Life of [fill in the name of famous figure]” for Canada’s History Channel. Leslie and her husband, Scott, divide their time between New York City and Washington, D.C.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PRAISE FOR LESLIE CARROLL’S NONFICTION

ALSO BY LESLIE CARROLL

 

 

Foreword

“And love is a thing that can never go wrong; / And I am Marie of Roumania,” the American humorist Dorothy Parker satirically quipped in the Roaring Twenties, when the glamorous sovereign, one of Queen Victoria’s multitudinous grandchildren, was the most famous royal on the planet. The instant recognition of Marie’s name, and her reputation as the victim of an unhappy arranged marriage, have become lost to subsequent generations, but her rocky nuptial road mirrors that of countless royal spouses.

Naturally, their ancient and venerated families expected these unions to be glorious—conferring additional distinction or fame upon their respective dynasties—not to mention “glorious” as in “magnificent” and “grand.” But all too often, the opposite occurred, and the royal marriages that began with such high hopes for the couple and the kingdom became inglorious—bringing shame and dishonor to one or both partners. Their marriages, and by extension their families, were instead disgraced by scandal and reduced to ignominy. Some of the unions profiled in this book were viewed at the time as inglorious because traditional gender roles were reversed, with wives assuming the reins of power. Or because they failed to fulfill their primary contractual duty by remaining childless for years. Or both.

Because these royal unions were intended to be political and dynastic strategic alliances, nearly all of them were arranged, even through the Victorian era and beyond. No one expected the spouses to be in love, or even to love each other, and yet their families and friends would always act surprised when the man and wife barely got along and the marriage failed. A much-anticipated “glorious” life of glamour, wealth, and power was doomed or destroyed, not only by such connubial disasters as adultery or infertility, but by the banalities of real life and the natural emotional reactions to marital neglect. The only reason so many of these unions lasted was because divorce was invariably unthinkable or legally unattainable. The rare royal divorces brought scandal and disgrace on the entire dynasty. As Czar Nicholas II opined—at the end of the nineteenth century—when two of his first cousins horrified the family by calling it a day, the death of a dear loved one would have been preferable to a divorce. One wonders whether Nicholas might have felt differently had he been trapped in a miserable union instead of having the good fortune of wedding his one true love.

Every royal marriage in this volume makes the hit parade of history’s myriad mismatches. And as much as it’s true that some marriages were more terrible than others, it’s hardly surprising that there were so many bad ones; several of the girls were only in their mid-teens when their parents sacrificed them on the altar of matrimony to grooms who were total strangers, barely older than their brides. For centuries, this practice was not considered unusual. Even nowadays, some couples do wed in their late teens. But they usually know each other before they get hitched; and, being commoners, their responsibilities scarcely compare to those of young royals of centuries past.

The idea that these mere adolescents were routinely expected to make the weighty decisions required of governing a kingdom, to lead armies, set policy, and be the arbiters of the nation in fashion and culture is mind-boggling today. Their brains had not yet fully matured; how could they have the requisite judgment to wisely rule? By the time these children—and that’s what they were—had wed at the age of fifteen or sixteen, they had reached their legal, if not emotional, adulthood, and no longer had a regent to do the heavy lifting. Yes, they had ministers, and in some situations there was a parliament, but the monarch had a tremendous amount of authority and, in many cases, the last word.

When you add to the burden of king- or queenship that of parenthood at such a tender age, as well as the fact that there was usually no rapport between the spouses, it’s no wonder so many of these marriages were miserable. But what if there were no children—a different problem altogether? Royal wives had one major duty, even if they were the rulers: to bear an heir for the kingdom. When trouble in the bedroom, for any number of reasons, resulted in childlessness for an extended number of years, or even for the duration of the marriage, it was the wife who was blamed. She could be sent back to her native land in humiliated disgrace or shoved into a convent and forced to become an abbess—the inglorious marriage annulled so that her husband could try again with a more potentially fertile womb. The world would know that she had failed her spouse, her family, and her country.

More often, however, the couples remained together, although some wives might have found one of the prior alternatives preferable to the daily torment they endured within their marriage. Royal women were expected to accept their husband’s behavior, no matter what he did. If he strayed, whether from frustration, disinterest in her, or a hyperactive libido, not only did propriety demand that she remain faithful to him nonetheless, but she was to turn a blind eye to his infidelities. Some wives even had to tolerate the presence of their husband’s paramours at court, or worse, within their households, feigning cordiality in public while dwelling in a private hell they could never reveal. It often mortified them to be gracious to their husband’s mistresses, and sapped their dignity day by day. Imagine the emotional and psychological cost. But part and parcel of the woman’s role was to put up, shut up, and bear an heir—to be the well-dressed womb with no point of view.

And when she crossed the invisible boundaries prescribed for her sex by evincing an interest in affairs of state or any area perceived to be a man’s sphere, including having the temerity to question her husband’s extramarital infidelities, she was cast as hysterical, a harridan, or an unnatural woman. Society was rarely kind to females, but in many ways, royal women enjoyed an even narrower world with fewer choices than commoners. They could not seek employment or professionally practice a craft. They might become patrons of artists, industries, or charities, but could never be entrepreneurs. It was imperative for a royal wife to be charming and gracious, but if she was outspoken or had strong opinions, she was viewed as a meddler. She was supposed to be elegant, but if she was too glamorous or flamboyant, she was derided for behaving like a royal mistress.

Yet many of the queens and other first ladies of their respective realms managed to overcome their marital disappointments in a variety of ways, from taking the reins of power to indulging in adulterous affairs. The aforementioned Marie of Roumania, who was compelled by her mother to wed her jug-eared, shy, unassertive, and boring cousin Ferdinand, became the “face” of her little-known country during the First World War, regaining massive swaths of land during the peace talks at Versailles through her personal charm and what I have dubbed “couture diplomacy”—simply knowing the right thing to wear!

Others became warrior queens like Margaret of Anjou; yoked to the childlike Henry VI of England, whose sudden paralytic illness rendered him incapable of ruling his realm, she raised an army during the Wars of the Roses, hell-bent on saving her husband’s throne.

Some royals were united with men who batted for the other team: For Marie of Roumania’s younger sister Victoria Melita, known as “Ducky,” things didn’t go so swimmingly in the marriage bed. Her first husband, also a first cousin, the Grand Duke of Hesse, preferred footmen and stable boys—which was less of a scandal than Ducky’s subsequent divorce and elopement with another first cousin, a Russian grand duke! The hypocrisy is astounding. Until very recently, divorced persons were personae non grata at the English court and were not even permitted into the Royal Box at Ascot, although for centuries, known adulterers swanned about with impunity within the royal inner circle.

During the seventeenth century, Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed the younger brother of Louis XIV, her French cousin Philippe d’Orléans, a man who wore more makeup and perfume than she did. Although the duc d’Orléans was able to fulfill his marital duty with Minette, when she died young he didn’t find it as easy to propagate with his second wife, a butch-looking, zaftig German princess. One night, she caught him hanging holy medals about his genitalia, insisting that the hardware enabled him to rise to the necessary level of performance. Philippe’s father, Anne of Austria’s husband, Louis XIII of France, wasn’t particularly interested in women either. It took nearly a quarter century before Anne bore an heir. Although there were a number of miscarriages, absent a live birth she was blamed for the problems in the boudoir, and stigmatized for her barrenness.

In some marriages, the love was hopelessly one-sided. Both England’s Mary I (Henry VIII’s older daughter, known as “Bloody Mary”) and the diminutive Portuguese-born princess Catherine of Braganza were tragically in love with their husbands. But their respective spouses, Philip II of Spain and Charles II, never returned their affection. Nicknamed the “Merry Monarch” for the jubilant and libidinous era inaugurated by his Restoration of the monarchy, Charles went so far as to flaunt his numerous mistresses in front of his love-struck wife for the duration of their twenty-three-year marriage! And Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret Tudor was the dupe of not one but three husbands who were incapable of fidelity.

At least these women survived to complain about their mistreatment—unlike Lady Jane Grey, wed against her will, and a victim of her parents’ and in-laws’ ambition. Ditto the two gorgeous Medici princesses Isabella Romola de Medici and Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, who learned the hard way that in Renaissance Italy powerful husbands could behave with impunity—their wives . . . not so much.

Italian men created their own rules, as Marie Antoinette’s elder sister Maria Carolina learned when she wed Ferdinand IV, king of Naples. She had no choice but to feign amusement when he dumped hot pasta on their subjects’ heads at the opera house; and she could only rail at him or wring her hands when he made passes at every signorina in sight. Married to a buffoon, Maria Carolina became the decision maker at a crucial point in Neapolitan history, with Napoleon encroaching from all sides.

An overarching behavioral pattern emerges in many of the unions profiled here. Perhaps it was the fact that these royal couples couldn’t easily extricate themselves from a bad marriage. Consequently, a parabola of matrimonial misery can be drawn, beginning with mutual indifference on the part of the spouses, who in most cases scarcely knew each other, but certainly hadn’t viewed their mates with anything approaching passionate attachment. As the marriage progressed, familiarity did indeed breed contempt, if not utter loathing—often fertile ground for adultery. However, by the end of some of the lengthier marriages, the sparring spouses had become as comfortable together as a pair of bedroom slippers, settling into a benign state of tolerance and acceptance, occasionally sharing a platonic friendship that was solidified by their mutual devotion to their children. By the time death took one of them from the other, the survivor was often surprised by the intensity of his or her grief: It was a poignant realization, but a little too late to do anything about it.

The remarkable real-life stories in Inglorious Royal Marriages are interconnected; among the heroes and heroines of these connubial catastrophes are some of Europe’s most famous monarchs, as well as others whose lives may be less familiar to readers. Providing context and key events of their reigns, including Readeption, Reformation, restorations, and revolutions, this compendium of royal love gone wrong proves that once again, real life is often stranger—and juicier—than fiction!

It is said that history is written by the winners. Given the manner in which both sides of a conflict are often portrayed, this contention is unsurprising. For example, two of the fifteenth century’s biggest losers were England’s unpopular King Henry VI and his French-born wife, Margaret of Anjou. They were on the wrong side of fortune in what was then called the Cousins’ War—a bloody, decades-long dispute that would eventually be known as the Wars of the Roses, after the red and white floral badges adopted by the feuding royal houses of Lancaster and York.

History has not been kind to either spouse. Even Henry’s contemporary chroniclers drew biased portraits, based upon their own partisanship, fear of reprisals, or propaganda generated by years of civil war and multiple shifts in the political landscape, including regime changes.

Henry VI, who ascended the throne at the age of nine months, was the youngest English monarch to wear the crown, and the only one ever to be rightfully acknowledged and crowned as the king of France as well. Nonetheless, he is still perceived as one of the worst, and certainly among the weakest, sovereigns in English history. His reign was thirty-nine long years, and from the time he was a teen, he proved himself to be overly prudish and pious, credulous and malleable. He’s remembered as a failure, the only English king to lose his crown twice, his sovereignty ending in civil war.

Yet where has posterity largely placed the blame for Henry’s catalog of misjudgment and poor governance? On his wife, Margaret of Anjou, “she-wolf of France.”

This slur on Margaret’s character has endured for more than four centuries, and it came from the quill of a dramatist. William Shakespeare’s indelible portrayals of the key figures in the Wars of the Roses have forever shaped the way we view them, and although Shakespeare relied upon contemporary chronicles as a springboard for his history plays, scholars ever since have continued to promulgate his theatrical portrayal of Margaret as fact.

In Henry VI, Part 3, Act I, scene iv, line 110, Shakespeare places the words “She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France . . .” into the mouth of Margaret’s greatest enemy, Richard, Duke of York—the father of the man who will one day depose her husband and seize his throne. The “she-wolf” insult, which is utterly in character for the duke, comes at the top of a lengthy diatribe jam-packed with insults against Margaret, blaming her for the death of his teenage son, the Earl of Rutland. Very dramatic in the play, but the real Margaret wasn’t even present when Rutland was slain.

In Act V at line 80 in scene iv, York’s insult will be paralleled when Margaret calls his son, Edward IV, usurper of her husband’s crown, a “wolf.” I’ve yet to come across another analysis of Margaret of Anjou that refers to the other booke...

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Descripción New American Library, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It s no secret that the marriages of monarchs are often made in hell. Here are some of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history. In a world where many kings, queens, and princes lacked nothing but true love, marital mismatches could bring out the baddest, boldest behavior in the bluest of bloodlines. Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands, but at least they weren t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses were. King Charles II s beautiful, high-spirited sister -Minette- wed Louis XIV s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did. Forced to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania--a granddaughter of Queen Victoria--proved herself one of the heroines of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780451416766

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Descripción New American Library, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It s no secret that the marriages of monarchs are often made in hell. Here are some of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history. In a world where many kings, queens, and princes lacked nothing but true love, marital mismatches could bring out the baddest, boldest behavior in the bluest of bloodlines. Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands, but at least they weren t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses were. King Charles II s beautiful, high-spirited sister -Minette- wed Louis XIV s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did. Forced to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania--a granddaughter of Queen Victoria--proved herself one of the heroines of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780451416766

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