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Sex, Scandal And Debauchery Among Historic British Royals (PHOTOS)

Posted: 04/20/11 08:45 AM ET

The excitement that has been building around the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate certainly rivals the hoopla that preceded the wedding of William's parents, Charles and Diana, nearly three decades ago. While that union proved to be a spectacular fiasco, only time will tell how this young couple will fare as husband and wife. On the one hand, they've had plenty of time to get to know one another, which bodes well for their happiness. Yet on the other hand, he's royal. And that comes with its own set of complications. Perhaps some hint of what's to come can be gleaned from the marriages of some of William's ancestors--all detailed in my new collection of royal stories, Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain.

Henry VIII and Catherine Howard
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Henry VIII was a notoriously difficult husband, as each of his six wives would attest, but it was his fifth queen, Catherine Howard, who arguably had it the worst. She was still a teenager when she was married to Henry, who was pushing fifty and had become by then a bloated tyrant with badly ulcerated legs that left the once vigorously athletic monarch largely immobile and subject to savage bouts of temper.

"The King was now overgrown with corpulency and fatness," reported the contemporary chronicler Edward Hall, "so that he became more and more unwieldy. He could not go up or down stairs unless he was raised up or let down by an engine."

Only his diminutive young queen seemed to make Henry happy. He called her his "blushing rose without a thorn" and couldn't keep his fat paws off her. "The King's affection was so marvelously set upon that gentlewoman," wrote a secretary in Henry's court, "as it was never known that he had the like to any woman."

Young Catherine had vowed at her wedding to be "bonair [yielding] and buxom in bed," but that was no doubt difficult. King Henry was so enormous that the Spanish chronicler reported "three of the biggest men that could be found could get inside his doublet."Little wonder, then, that Catherine risked everything and took on a lover of more pleasing dimensions--a man who could make her happy. Unfortunately, it cost the young queen her head.
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