Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Royal Marriages - It's not all doom and gloom

The House of Windsor’s marital history is well documented with a focus on the failures - Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie and Anne and Mark Philips. When Willliam and Catherine married these examples were brought up as a warning, as if it is a foregone conclusion that their marriage will end the same way. It also highlights the pressure the couple are under to not only make it work but also to make up for the past; which neither one had control over. If anything, the positive aspects of royal marriages have all but been ignored. But there have been some success stories.

Yes, believe it or not royal couples can get along and stay married. It’s rare now but it does happen. Prior to Charles and Diana it would have been unthinkable to divorce, too scandalous. Better to stay married and save face. The reason for royal marriages have also changed over time. They used to be arranged, negotiations beginning for some couples while they were still in the cradle. Arranging royal marriages was done for a variety of reasons, to make political alliances or even to prevent them in some cases, to join royal houses, to secure the succession – Henry VIII married six times in an effort to have a son to succeed him, later on King George III’s sons gave up their mistresses and married in order to produce an heir.  If they happened to fall in love then that was an unexpected bonus. The planning of royal marriages was very strategic and a pragmatic approach was taken to choosing the right spouse. Despite this, sometimes they didn’t even meet each other until the wedding day! Sometimes neither attended the wedding ceremony and they married by proxy.

King George III and Queen Charlotte

Inn 1759, the future King George III was in love with another woman, Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. But he was advised against the marriage and so he gave up any thoughts of it. He is quoted as saying: "I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation," he wrote, "and consequently must often act contrary to my passionssomething that many royal bridegrooms can relate to. He became King in 1760 and had to find a suitable Queen. One candidate was seventeen year old Princess Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz. A minor princess who, though intelligent was not particularly attractive but the king announced his intention to marry her in July 1761. Princess Charlotte arrived in London on September 7, 1761 and met the King and the royal family. The next day, September 8th, they were married. Their marriage was successful, and rare for the time; King George III did not take any mistresses during their marriage. They had 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.  At the time of her death in 1818, they had been married for 57 years.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18, she was not thinking of marriage. She was young and she was enjoying freedom for the first time in her life after years of being overprotected. Prior to this she had slept in the same room as her mother and whenever she went down a set of stairs, someone held her hand.

Prince Albert was her first cousin, and when the first met neither made much of an impression on the other. But in 1839 when Victoria had become Queen, she felt differently about him: falling in love with him and proposing marriage, they were married in February 1840. After her wedding night, Victoria wrote in her diary:

"I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert ... his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! ... to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!"

Their marriage would be a happy one and they would have nine children, most of whom would marry into the royal houses of Europe, thus giving Queen Victoria the nickname – Grandmother of Europe. Prince Albert did not live to become the grandfather of Europe as he died in December 1861. The Queen was devastated and mourned him, wearing black for the rest of her life until her death in 1901. They were married for 21 years.

King George V and Queen Mary

In the early 1890s, Princess May of Teck was in an unenviable position. Due to her father’s morganatic birth, it was thought she would have a hard time finding a husband. Too royal to marry beneath her and not royal enough to marry above her station. She also wasn’t getting any younger either – 26 at the time of her marriage. Luckily Queen Victoria saw past her morganatic background and she became engaged to the elder son of the Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor.

It wasn’t a love match, the prince was in actually in love with another woman, Helene, the daughter of the Comte de Paris. Unfortunately, Prince Albert Victor died a month before the intended wedding. Queen Victoria felt that Princess May was too good a bride to slip away so a year later May married Prince Albert Victor’s brother, Prince George. This is not the first time a sibling has married another’s intended. King Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon in 1509.

Theirs was not a love match. Prince George had a purely platonic attitude towards May. But there was affection between them. May wrote to him:

I am very sorry that I am still so shy with you. I tried not to be but failed. I was angry with myself! It is so stupid to be so stiff together and really there is nothing I would not tell you, except that I love you more than anybody in the world, and this I cannot tell you myself so I write it to relieve my feelings.

He wrote back:

Thank God we both understand each other, and I really think it unnecessary for me to tell you how deep my love for you, my darling, is and I feel it growing strong and stronger every time I see you – although I may appear shy and cold..’

George and May were married in July 1893 and were married for almost 47 years. They had six children, one of whom would have a happy marriage himself: Prince Albert, the future King George VI.

King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon

Prince Albert did not have a lot going for him He was shy, awkward, he had a stammer and he was overshadowed by his older and more glamorous brother, David. When he met Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon he was quite smitten with her but too shy to do anything about directly. She was fond of him but not impressed, especially when he proposed through an intermediary. He would propose twice, and on the third try she accepted. They were married on April 26, 1923 and came to the throne in 1936 upon the abdication of his older brother, David. The King died in his sleep in 1952. Had he lived, the couple would have marked 29 years of marriage in April of that year. Their elder daughter would go on to mark a historic royal wedding anniversary.

Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip 1947

Out of all of the marriages, theirs is the most remarkable. Though to have Prince Philip tell it, their decision to get married wasn’t necessarily romantic. He having claimed it was ‘fixed up’. We’ll never know her true thoughts about that but she became smitten with the 18 year old Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark when her family visited Dartmouth royal naval college 1939, where he was a cadet. This was their first photographed meeting. It is said that they’d met at the wedding of Princess Marina to the Duke of Kent. Though Princess Elizabeth was only 8 at the time. Prince Philip was assigned to escort her and her sister around the college and it is said that the Queen never looked at another man afterwards. After the war, her parents thought she was too young to get engaged. They wanted her to meet other eligible men but Elizabeth was determined. The King asked her to wait before announcing an engagement and the family went on a three month tour of South Africa in 1947. The king finally relented to an engagement and it was announced in July 1947 with the couple being married in November of that year. They had four children and in 2007 marked 60 years of marriage. A first for any British monarch in history.

Prince and Princess Michael of Kent

Prince Michael of Kent married Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz in 1978. Marie Christine had a complicated background, her father had been a Nazi party member and she had been previous married (which would be annulled by the Pope in 1978). The biggest strike against her was that she was a devout Catholic. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement, Prince Michael could not marry a Catholic and keep his place in the line of succession, where he was sixteenth at the time. Another obstacle was that due to the Royal Marriages act of 1772, no member of the royal family could marry without the sovereigns consent. Prince Michael and Marie Christine were unsure whether the Queen would give her consent. They turned to Lord Mountbatten, who approached the Queen, who did consent to the marriage, which took place in July 1978. They have two children and this year will celebrate 33 years of marriage.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles

After a 30 year love affair and an inconvenient first husband and wife, Charles and Camilla were finally able to marry in 2005. Many people thought it would never happen, nor whether it was even possible. The last Prince of Wales paid a high price for marrying a divorced woman. The late Queen Mother was said to be against Camilla. After she died in 2002 the way was paved for the couple to get married. Though it would take three more years for it to happen. Much to the shock and amazement of many, their engagement was announced in February 2005 and they married in April 2005. Upon her marriage she became Princess of Wales, however, in deference to the memory of Diana, Camilla took the title Duchess of Cornwall instead. It is still unclear what title she will take when Charles becomes king. By most accounts, theirs is a happy marriage, they are compatible and Prince Charles seems to be happier and more content.

Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence

Princess Anne was originally married in 1973 to Captain Mark Philips, who had been unfaithful to his wife during their marriage. They had two children but the marriage ended in 1992.  Six months later she married Commander Timothy Laurence in Scotland in a very low-key ceremony. Anne became the first Royal divorcĂ©e to remarry since Princess Victoria Melita did so in 1905.

Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys Jones

Prince Edward, the youngest son of the Queen and Prince Philip, is the only one of her children to stay married, a remarkable feat by today’s royal standards. Edward and Sophie had met in 1993 at a charity tennis tournament and began their relationship soon afterwards. Until Prince William’s courtship of Kate Middleton, theirs had been one of the longest royal courtships. They had dated for six years until they announced their engagement in 1999. They were married in June of that year and now have two children. In June they celebrated 12 years of marriage. 

© Marilyn Braun 2011

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Karen said...

I really do hope the best for William and Catherine. I agree that for them it will be the stress and the roles, not their lack of affection that will cause turmoil in the future. But like every marriage there will be ups and downs, and I really hope these two can stick it out together.

Marilyn Braun said...

I hope that they can stick together, they seem to make a great team. As well, William seems secure enough to deal with Kate's public appeal, unlike Charles and Diana. So far Kate seems to be handling the minute scrutiny well along with the royal baby pressure. I think this bodes well for their future.