World·In Depth

Royal marriages throughout history

A look at some of the more interesting royal marriages throughout the centuries.

Past monarchs may not have been as in love as William and Kate

A 19th-century illustration of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Upon Albert's death in 1861, Victoria went into a deep depression. (Jan Bondeson/Amberley Publishing/Reuters/Handout)

The upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will assuredly not be short on pomp and tradition; one would expect nothing less from a royal family steeped in more than a thousand years of history.

When Prince William marries Middleton on April 29, he will take his place in the annals of British historical lore.

While William and Kate seem to be head over heels in love, British royal couples of the past have not always shared that feeling.

"Primarily, marriages were for strategic reasons, usually to create alliances, sometimes with France, sometimes with Spain and often with Germany," said Sandra den Otter, an associate professor of British history at Queen's University.

"This would be sometimes to prevent another rival power from being in a position of opposition to Britain, but it could also be to strengthen the power base within the country itself.

"Occasionally, there was love in addition to these strategic considerations, but personal affection and romance were secondary to these diplomatic and political reasons."

This is not to say there is no element of strategy to the hype surrounding William and Kate's nuptials.

"The pressures on them are enormous," she said. "Because of celebrity culture, every detail of their lives can be consumed for the enjoyment of a worldwide public.

"The wedding as spectacle has a political function even though the weddings are no longer political in themselves."

Den Otter said that when talking about the romance and strategy of royal weddings, there are several examples throughout history that stand out.

William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders

William, then Duke of Normandy, invaded England in 1066 to become the first Norman king of the country. As his name would suggest, he was not known to have the sunniest of dispositions. He married Matilda of Flanders in 1053.

"He was devoted to his wife even though we know of him as a hard and brutal man who conquered Britain," said den Otter.

The marriage was not a popular one.

"We don't quite know why it was, but they were both excommunicated by the Pope," she said. "Some people speculate that it might have been because they were distantly related.

"Nonetheless, their marriage was very long and very, very happy, and some people say William became much more tyrannical after Matilda's death in 1083."

He ruled until his death in 1087.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Oddly enough, it was not Henry VIII who was meant to end up with Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of what is now Spain. She was initially betrothed to Henry's older brother, Prince Arthur. Den Otter says the marriage established a powerful alliance with Spain.

"Henry VII was really using the wedding of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon to assert the legitimacy of the Tudor line," she said. "He had just emerged from a civil war, so he really wanted to establish to Britain, and Europe, that the Tudor line had authority."

Like the organizers of the upcoming wedding of William and Kate, Henry VII ensured his son's union would be a spectacle.

"That marriage had huge public interest," said den Otter. "It was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, and it's estimated that about half the population of London turned up to watch the wedding."

Prince Arthur, however, died in 1502 at the age of 15 after only 20 weeks of marriage to Catherine. Initially, the younger Henry was meant to marry Catherine at only 10 years old, but Henry VII lost interest in the Spanish alliance. The wedding eventually took place in 1509 after his death.

George II and Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach

After a loving courtship, George, then Prince of Wales, married Caroline in 1705.

"This is a great example of a marriage that was both diplomatic as well as resulting in life-long romance," said den Otter. "When George II died in 1760, he had requested he be buried alongside his wife, Carolyn, who had predeceased him.

"He instructed the coffins to be removed so that their dust could mingle after death, and the notion was they had such a romantic attachment even though their marriage was initially for strategic considerations."

George IV and Princess Caroline of Brunswick

In 1783, when King George IV was still a prince, as William is today, he was far from the apple of his father George III's eye.

"He had a huge gambling debt and lived quite a riotous lifestyle," said den Otter. "He had also contracted a secret marriage to somebody called Mrs. Fitzherbert, who not only was a widow but also a Catholic."

But the young George's gambling debts were too great, and he was forced to ask his father to bail him out.

"So, his father made as a condition for the bailout that he would need to contract a respectable marriage," den Otter said.

"He was contracted to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick; he was drunk through the wedding and probably [through] the consummation of the marriage."

In 1796, once Caroline had given birth to Princess Charlotte, the couple parted company, and Caroline spent much of her time traveling throughout Europe.

"He really despised her," den Otter explains. "When he became monarch [in 1821], he tried to have her barred from the crown. There's images of her pounding the doors of the abbey trying to be part of the coronation."

She died within weeks of his ascension to the throne.

"There was a lot of support for her on the part of the British public, who saw George IV as a lazy, womanizing, gambler," den Otter said.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

This 1897 photo of Queen Victoria was taken at the time of her diamond jubilee. Her marriage to Prince Albert was one of deep love and devotion. ((Associated Press/file))

Much has been made of the love shared between Queen Victoria, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, and Prince Albert, who were wed in 1840.

"The romantic attachment the couple had is well known," said den Otter. "Victoria's devastation following his death, after all, led to an emotional collapse."

The political gains, however, are not as widely acknowledged.

"Victoria is also interesting in that she really used her happy marriage with Albert to cement the legitimacy of the British Crown," she said. "She depicted herself as a respectable wife, a virtuous mother, and this gave her grounds to be the 'mother' of the British nation.

"When Queen Victoria removed herself from public life after the death of her husband [in 1861], there were real challenges to the legitimacy of the monarchy, including attempts on her life."

It was only after her son, the future Edward VII, was sick with typhoid fever in 1872 that such resentment subsided.

King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Although not one of the royal family's fondest memories, Edward VIII's abdication of the British throne in 1936 allowed him to marry the woman he loved — an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. Den Otter says this marriage could have brought down the entire monarchy.

"Had his abdication not been followed by the very successful reign of his brother," she said. "There would have been a bigger movement towards republicanism.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in France in 1939. Theirs is one in a long, tumultuous history of royal romances. ((Associated Press/file))

"Whatever battering the monarchy took during the abdication crisis was really turned around dramatically during the Second World War."

Following the abdication, Edward and Simpson married in 1937 and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Amidst growing concern about the former king's apparent support of Adolf Hitler, whom he met on a visit to Germany in 1937, the couple left Britain in 1940 when Edward was made governor of the Bahamas. Edward died in Paris in 1972, and Simpson died 14 years later.

"It's a testament to their love that he gave up so much just to be with her," said den Otter.