Wedding bells are ringing here in the UK as Prince Harry is set to marry American divorcée Megan Markle, who first found fame as an actress. Although his choice of bride may seem unusual at first, throughout history the British royal family have fallen in love in unconventional ways. What lessons can Harry and Megan learn from their predecessors? Here is some love advice from eight royal couples from the past:
Edward I and Eleanor of Castile- Create a simple memorial
Edward and Eleanor’s marriage was arranged by two ambitious kings, Edward’s father Henry III and Eleanor’s brother Alfonso X. Despite this, the two teenagers quickly fell in love. During the course of their marriage they stood by each other as close allies. In the Second Baron’s War, Eleanor imported archer’s from her mother’s homeland to help Edward and when he went on crusade she accompanied him to Palestine.
Together they created a loving home and had sixteen children, six of them surviving to adulthood. Edward is said to be one of the few medieval kings who didn’t have affairs nor have children out of wedlock.
In 1290, while travelling North through the country, Eleanor became seriously ill. They stopped in the little village of Harby in Nottinghamshire where the queen stayed for nearly two months. On 28 November, Eleanor died with Edward at her bedside. He later wrote to a friend, “I loved her tenderly in her lifetime and I do not cease to love her now she is dead.”
Straight after her death Edward had her body moved to Lincoln for embalming before the funeral procession headed south to London for burial at Westminster Abbey. It took nearly two weeks to reach the capital. In each of the towns where the procession stopped to rest Edward had a huge memorial cross built. The Eleanor Crosses measured more than 40 feet in height and were erected in twelve spots, from Lincoln to what is now known as Charing Cross in London.
John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford- Never lose hope
Katherine Swynford met John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and brother to the Black Prince, when they were both married to other people. In fact, it looks as if the two couples were allies, perhaps even close friends. Katherine’s husband Hugh was a devoted soldier of John’s while Katherine was governess to John and his wife Blanche’s daughters. Hugh and Katherine’s eldest child was even named after Blanche and John of Gaunt was her godfather.
Hugh died in 1371 leaving Katherine a widow at twenty one. John of Gaunt had lost his wife Blanche a few years before and had since remarried. The two long-time friends soon started an affair that would last decades.
John and Katherine were fairly open about their elicit relationship and she bore him 4 children. This is not to say that society condoned the couple’s affair. Katherine was described as, ‘that unspeakable concubine, that witch, that whore, that enchantress’.
John’s older brother Edward, the Black Prince, died in 1376 and his father the king died a year later. John was left as regent to his young nephew Richard II. This change of circumstances caused great upheaval throughout the land and John bore the brunt of the country’s ire. It was during this time that John and Katherine’s relationship cooled. He could no longer flaunt his mistress so publicly.
When John’s second wife Constance died in 1394, he returned to Katherine. He petitioned the Pope for permission to marry and, in an unusual move, requested that their children be legitimised.
After being together for nearly 30 years, John and Katherine were finally married and lived out the rest of their lives together.
James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort- Sometimes it really is love at first sight
James I of Scotland had been kidnapped as a young boy and held by the English for years as a valued member of the royal court. He was given an education, a knighthood and even accompanied Henry V during his French campaign.
It is said that James first saw Joan Beaufort from his window as she was walking the grounds of Windsor castle. Struck by her beauty he watched her over the course of several days. One day he dropped a rose out his window as she passed by. At dinner that night she was found wearing the flower pinned to her dress.
Eighteen years after he was captured, his ransom was arranged and James was finally allowed to leave England. One of the terms of his release was that James could marry Joan Beaufort. The couple were married in February 1424 and returned to Scotland a month later. They were happily married for 13 years and had eight children together.
Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville- Try to keep your relationship private
Elizabeth Woodville was the widow of a Lancastrian knight and had two young sons. She met the Yorkist King Edward IV when she approached him to plead for her son’s inheritance, kept from them by her former mother-in-law. Edward was immediately captivated by Elizabeth, described as “the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain.” Despite the fact that Edward was expected to strengthen alliances by marrying a foreign princess or the daughter of a Yorkist ally, Edward wanted Elizabeth, a wealthy commoner five years his senior.
Edward and Elizabeth were married in a secret ceremony attended by the bride’s mother, Jacquetta, and two ladies. Neither the date nor the exact location is known but it is believed that they were married in May of 1464 near Elizabeth’s home in Northampton. When the king’s advisors found out about the marriage, they were outraged. However, the deed had been done and Edward had Elizabeth crowned queen a year after their wedding.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn- Be willing to convert
Henry VIII had been happily married to Catherine of Aragon for 24 years. Unfortunately, due to a lack of a male heir, Henry began to grow restless.
He’d always had a wandering eye but Anne Boleyn was different. After Henry had fathered an illegitimate child with her sister Mary, Anne knew that she didn’t want the same fate for herself. Anne was an accomplished courtier and understood the rules of courtly love. She repeatedly refused Henry’s advances, holding out for something more. This only served to stoke the flames of Henry’s desire. Anne held strong and refused to be his mistress, wanting only to become someone’s wife, or better yet Henry’s queen.
Henry decided that the only way to get Anne was with an annulment from Catherine. When the Pope refused to grant Henry his wish, the king did something radical. Suffering from what can only be described as the world’s worst midlife crisis, Henry decided to bypass the Pope altogether and declare himself head of a new Protestant church in England.
His act dragged the entire country into turmoil but Henry was able to grant his own annulment and marry Anne.
Unfortunately for this couple, the happiness wasn’t to last. Three years after they were wed Anne was charged with a number of transgressions including adultery, incest and treason. She was executed at the Tower of London on 19 May, 1536, leaving Henry free to find his next wife.
Charles II and Nell Gwynn- No one likes a gold digger
In the late 17th century, when theatres were beginning to reopen after the Cromwell years, Nell Gwynn was a star of comedy in the West End. She had started out as an ‘orange girl’, selling fruit and other confectionary to audiences inside what is now known as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her good looks, charm and wit caught the attention of the theatre manager and he soon gave her a job on the stage.
Nell was already famous when she met King Charles II. The pair were attending a comedy performance and their theatre boxes were right next to each other. Rather than watch the show, the two spent the evening flirting with one another. Afterwards, Charles invited Nell to supper and their 18 year love affair began.
As the diarist Samuel Pepys described her, Nell was ‘pretty and witty’ but more importantly, unlike the king’s other mistresses, she wasn’t greedy. She was given a house in London and £500 per year, a small amount compared to her rivals. The couple had two sons together, one of them died at the age of 9 and the other became the 1st Duke of St. Albans.
On his deathbed, Charles famously asked his brother James to ‘Let not poor Nelly starve.” James did as he was told by paying off Nell’s debts and granting her a yearly pension of £1500.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert- Never, ever, ever move on
Queen Victoria’s marriage to her first cousin Albert was a love match. This is despite the fact that the union was encouraged by her mother and uncle, both of whom had complicated relationships with the queen.
Victoria and Albert’s marriage was filled with passion both in the bedroom and in their raging arguments. With each pregnancy, of which there were nine, Albert took on more and more of Victoria’s royal duties which caused great conflict between the couple. Victoria’s tantrums were so severe that Albert often wondered if she had inherited the madness of her grandfather, George III. For the most part, though, they were happy.
In December 1861 Albert died of what is believed to be typhoid fever. Victoria was beside herself with grief. The queen wore mourning clothes for the rest of her life, rarely made public appearances and insisted that Albert’s private rooms were prepared as if he were still alive. Victoria’s extreme mourning lasted 40 years and gained her the nickname, the Widow of Windsor.
Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII- When in doubt, abdicate
Wallis Simpson was an American socialite on her second marriage when she was introduced to Edward, Prince of Wales by his then mistress Thelma, Lady Furness. Wallis was no stranger to elicit affairs, having had many herself. When Lady Furness was away, Wallis stepped in and became Edward’s new lover.
Wallis was no shrinking violet, she was known for her domineering personality and her unwillingness to treat Edward with the respect due to his station. This, apparently, was a real turn on for the heretofore revered Edward and he fell head over heels for Wallis.
In January 1936, George V died and Edward became King Edward VIII. He made no secret to the fact that he wanted to marry Wallis even though she was still married to her second husband Ernest. Although the British press kept the love affair a secret, those in the know branded Wallis a social climber, out for Edward’s wealth and position.
Wallis filed for divorce from Ernest in October of 1936 and by November Edward was petitioning the parliament for permission to marry her, parliament refused. British laws and rules of the Church of England stated that the king couldn’t marry a divorced woman who’s former husband was still alive, as both her exes were. Having exhausted all options, the love sick king saw only one way out. On 11 December, 1936, less than one year after ascending the throne, Edward VIII abdicated. His younger brother George became king and Edward was free to marry Wallis.
Ironically, Wallis never wanted any of this. She was happy to be Edward’s mistress and probably never expected it to last very long. Although she loved him, her affection for him was never as ardent. It was only Edward’s extreme infatuation that propelled the affair into something more. Wallis was horrified when Edward abdicated and felt trapped into marrying him. The couple did marry in June of 1937 and were given the title of Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They lived together until Edward’s death in 1972.