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Loretta Chase

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Royal Wedding 2011: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Posted: 04/28/11 04:35 PM ET

Of course I want Prince William and Kate Middleton to live happily ever after. I'm a romance writer, and having a hero and heroine overcome impossible odds and continue to love, truly, madly, deeply, forever, is what my books are all about.

Beyond a question, these two face daunting odds. The royal family's marital track record would make any romantic's heart sink. Prince Charles and Diana. Prince Andrew and Sarah. Prince Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Princess Anne and Captain Phillips. They looked so promising in the beginning. And then things went so terribly wrong.

Funny thing is, compared to their ancestors, these were quite civilized marital breakdowns. You see, infidelity, nasty divorces and the airing of dirty linens feature extensively in the royal family's history.

Cheatin' hearts? We could start with the first Henry, back in the 11th century. He wasn't by any means the first philandering royal (playing around was expected of manly men). But with more than 20 acknowledged illegitimate children, he might have been the most prolific. 

Hostile wives? The 12th century's Eleanor of Aquitaine incited her sons to rebel against King Henry II, and he put her under house arrest for 15 years. In the 13th century, when Edward II's wife Isabella was sent to France to negotiate a peace treaty, she got herself a lover, with whom she invaded England. She took the throne from Edward and had him imprisoned. He conveniently died shortly thereafter. Of natural or unnatural causes? To this day, no one's sure.

There's Henry VIII and his six wives. Charles II and his dozen illegitimate children. The history books are filled with examples. But the one who gets my vote for Worst Marriage Ever is George IV, of Jane Austen's time. Not because his wife tried to depose or kill him, but because their conflict, like Prince Charles and Diana's, played out in the media of the day: the scandal sheets and cartoons in print shop windows. These make our modern-day paparazzi and tabloids seem prim. And those recorded phone conversations and television interviews of the 1990s? Tame stuff compared to the stories that went around -- with brutally explicit illustrations -- in the 1790s and early 1800s.

George was still Prince of Wales when he first met Princess Caroline of Brunswick, three days before the wedding. It couldn't have been a worse match. The princess chosen for one of Europe's most fastidious dandies wasn't merely dumpy, clumsy and crass; she rarely washed or changed her underwear. She disgusted him and he wouldn't (or couldn't) hide it. She reacted by telling people he was fat and not nearly as good-looking as his portraits. During the wedding ceremony, he actually got up from his kneeling and started to leave. His father (the King) made him go back. Practically from the moment they met, the Prince and Caroline were bad-mouthing each other to their friends, who told their friends, who told their friends.

She said he spent most of the wedding night passed out under the grate. He said she turned his stomach. She claimed he was impotent; he retorted that she'd cried out in the throes of passion, "My God, how big it is!" ("Ah, mon dieu, qu'il est gros!") Within days, everyone knew the marriage was doomed, and the caricatures started appearing in print shop windows.

Even though the monarchy's future depended on their producing offspring, they stopped having sex within days or, at most, a few weeks. Even so, she got pregnant. This didn't bring them closer together. She said that he said the baby wasn't his. After their daughter was born, he wrote a will leaving most of his possessions to his mistress, Mrs. Fitzherbert. To Caroline he left one shilling. The relationship went downhill from there.

In 1817 the daughter died in childbirth. A mad scramble ensued, as his aging brothers, the royal dukes -- who had boatloads of illegitimate kids, but no legal ones -- gave up their mistresses, married young women and tried to make babies. Only one succeeded. He produced the personage we know as Queen Victoria.

She may be one of the true beacons of hope for Prince William and Kate.

The lasting marriages of the royal family often are a result of the parties learning to love or at least tolerate each other. Not so for Victoria. We see her as the grim old lady in black, but that's the grieving widow, not the wife. Unlike so many of her predecessors, she chose her own husband, and she chose him because she'd fallen in love with him. She went on loving him passionately. They worked together and supported each other.

That's what George IV and Caroline were too spoiled and immature to do.

Being a royal is not all gold carriages and Crown Jewels, and the downside goes well beyond the lack of privacy. Their position is mainly ceremonial. That means dutifully attending many, many ceremonies -- most of which must be dead boring. They have to seem captivated while listening to endless speeches. They have to sit down to eat with casts of thousands. They have to make small talk with perfect strangers from every corner of the globe. And whatever they do and wherever they go, they have to behave with grace and good manners.

It's no easy job. What can make it bearable -- and even fun -- is a partner who adores you and supports you and shares the work. That's what Queen Victoria had.

Prince William and Kate? Let's hope.

 
 
 

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