Chris Hallam asks: "How many Royal marriages have been a genuine product of love?"
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
How many of England’s monarchs got married during their lives? The answer is simple: very nearly all of them. Of the 40 or so monarchs to have ruled England since the Norman Conquest of 1066, only William the Conqueror’s son, William II and the famous ‘Virgin Queen’ Elizabeth I managed to avoid tying the knot. Technically speaking both Edward V and Edward VI should be included on this list too. But both sadly died during childhood, so neither really ever had the option of getting married.
William II, often nicknamed ‘Rufus’, is best known for being killed in a hunting ‘accident’ in the New Forest in the year 1100. Most people now think he was murdered. His brother Henry immediately rode off to claim the throne for himself leaving Rufus’s body (he had been struck by an arrow) lying unceremoniously by the side of the road. William’s assassination (if that’s what it was) does not explain his bachelor status in itself. He had been well into his 40s at the time of his death and many have speculated that he may well have been gay or bisexual. This has been true of other English kings too but the fact remains, William was the only adult male English monarch to remain single.
In contrast, given the circumstances of the time, Elizabeth I’s failure to marry is somewhat incredible. She was queen for 45 years and died a few months before her 70th birthday. Valentine’s Day is, of course, fast approaching, but ignoring romance, the fact is there were hard, practical reasons why a monarch should marry. Marrying a foreign bride or groom can prove an invaluable tool in strengthening diplomatic ties to another country. Even more importantly, marriage was and is a vital stepping stone towards securing legitimate children and thus consolidating your own rule by delivering up heirs to succeed you. Throughout her long reign, Elizabeth saw off a number of rebellions and cleverly played off her potential rival suitors against each other to her own advantage. It worked. She survived and remained her own woman. The Royal House of Tudor died with her in 1603.
How many Royal marriages have been a genuine product of love? It is impossible to say. Often the marriage would have been arranged for practical reasons. Sometimes love will have grown out of this, sometimes not. Did Henry VIII love all six of his wives? The answer is, no. He was strongly motivated by lust in the cases of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (both of whom he later had beheaded for committing adultery) and befriended Anne of Cleves, but never loved her. He may well have loved his third wife, Jane Seymour who he was ultimately buried alongside. Although he may well have just been eternally grateful to her for delivering him his lifelong dream of a legitimate male heir.
Some Royal spouses have put up with a lot. Queen Victoria’s uncle, William IV had ten children out of wedlock. Charles II and Edward VII (amongst others) were compulsive womanisers. George IV always hated his wife Caroline of Brunswick and the marriage ended in an ugly, messy divorce. Before he became king, George I locked up his wife for 20 years after accusing her of adultery.
Other Royal marriages such as those of Edward IV and Edward VIII led to disaster simply because feelings of love were allowed to override all other practical considerations.
Queen Victoria’s love for her consort, Prince Albert was clearly so genuine and intense that despite outliving him by 40 years, she never recovered from his death in 1861. The death of Prince Philip last year brought an end to the longest marriage for any British monarch. The present Queen and Philip were married for 73 years. In contrast, three of her four children are now divorced although three (Princes Charles and Edward and Princess Anne) are at least now apparently happily married. With the Queen (at the time of writing) now having eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, on paper at least, the Royal line of succession looks secure into the 22nd century.