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Mismatched monarchs and other royal disasters

| Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella may well have lived happily ever after with their princes.

But throughout history, many of the marriages of other royals have been miserable for both spouses.

As you can see by these examples, wedded bliss can be as elusive for monarchs and their consorts as it is for commoners:

Commitment issues

English King Henry VIII (1491-1547) holds something of a record for his serial commissions of marital misery. His matrimonial woes began in earnest in 1526 when Henry was unsuccessful at obtaining an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, his wife of 17 years. Henry circumvented the pope's power by declaring himself head of a new English church, which would grant him his freedom. Banished from court, Catherine, a devout Catholic, never recognized the divorce and died a decade later, some say from a broken heart.

Henry's second marriage, to Anne Boleyn, lasted less than three years. Convicted -- possibly unfairly -- of witchcraft, incest and adultery, she was beheaded in 1536. Less than two weeks after Anne's death, Henry married Jane Seymour, with whom he had a son. Their marriage was happy but short-lived. Jane died in 1537, soon after Edward's birth.

Diplomacy, not love, was the impetus for Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540. Henry loathed her at first sight and quickly moved to end the arrangement. This Anne fared better than her predecessor. The marriage was legally annulled. Anne got a good financial settlement and lived happily in England.

Catherine Howard came next. In 17 short months of marriage, she went from being Henry's beloved "rose without a thorn" to a woman beheaded in 1540 for infidelities.

His final wife, Catherine Parr, wed Henry in 1543 even though she was in love with another man, Thomas Seymour. She at least got some satisfaction in the end. After Henry's death in 1547, she quickly married Seymour.

Love me, love me not

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Josephine de Beauharnais had a relationship that was tempestuous and plagued from the beginning. Napoleon was head-over-heels in love and lust for this ambitious widow. Josephine was savvy enough to know that a woman with a past needed someone with a future to support her and her two children from her first marriage. The marriage suffered from Napoleon's long and frequent forays on the battlefield and soon succumbed to charges of adultery -- real and imagined on both sides.

In January 1810, after 13 years of marriage, Napoleon -- set on getting a male child that would follow him as Emperor of France -- divorced Josephine. Three months later, he married Marie Louise of Austria, who gave him that son within a year of their wedding.

It's not you, it's me

Much has been written about what went wrong between British Prince Charles Windsor and Lady Diana Spencer. A decade older and emotionally attached to Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles was not exactly prime marriage material to begin with. But pressured by family and the press, and feeling a genuine affection for Diana, Charles proposed. The marriage took place July 29, 1981, in St. Paul's Cathedral.

"There were three of us in this marriage," Diana famously quipped. "It was a little crowded."

They divorced in August 1996. A year later, Diana died in a car accident in Paris.

On April 9, 2005, Charles and Camilla were married and she became HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

Can't buy me love

British King George IV (1762-1830) and Caroline of Brunswick were a mismatch from the outset when the high-living 32-year-old George agreed to marry his cousin in exchange for having his dad -- King George III -- pay off his humongous pile of debt.

George conveniently forgot that he was already secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Roman Catholic. Besides, that union was illegal because, as heir to the throne, he was forbidden by law to marry a Catholic and he had not obtained his father's legally required approval.

On their first meeting, George was repulsed by Caroline's lack of hygiene and staggered from the room, calling for a drink. Observers at the wedding said he was so drunk he had to be held up by his groomsmen. He spent his wedding night passed out on the bedroom floor. Their marriage reportedly was consummated the next night. Within nine months, their daughter Charlotte was born and the king informed his wife -- by letter -- that he intended to have no further relations with her.

Cast aside, Caroline continued to plague him with outrageous behavior that embarrassed the court and shocked society. He returned the efforts by banning her from his coronation and allowing a royal commission to open an investigation into her alleged infidelities. Also, an attempt was made at divorce proceedings in the House of Lords. Both ultimately proved fruitless.

Caroline died in 1821, 19 days after George's coronation. He did not remarry.

Perfect for each other ... or not

The marriage between British Prince Andrew and Lady Sarah Ferguson, Duke and Duchess of York, began on July 23 1986, at Westminster Abbey. It should have been a slam dunk. They had known each other since childhood. Their backgrounds were similar. Their parents shared an interest in polo.

But media attention, Sarah's mounting debts and Andrew's prolonged absences while serving in the Navy took their toll. The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in April 1996. They remain on good terms, however.

Never mind, I'll do it myself

Russian Tsar Peter III (1728-1762) was childlike and sickly when he married Sophia Frederick Augusta in 1745. It took them nine years to produce a child, either due to mutual ignorance and Peter's lack of interest or possible physical impediments on Peter's part. By 1762, Sophia had had enough.

Following a palace coup, she was crowned Tsarina Catherine II, Empress of all the Russias. Despite rumors that she married her longtime lover, Grigory Potemkin, it's likely that she never remarried.

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