Much has been said about Kate Middleton waiting so long for Prince William to finally pop the question, but other royals have shown equal or more endurance.
King George VI in love
Love reigned in the heart of George VI for Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. When he first proposed, she refused him because she feared the royal life. However, a glimpse into monarch reality changed her mind a year later when she served as bridesmaid in the wedding of Princess Mary. George proposed a second time and this time she accepted. They were married on April 23, 1923.
Catherine of Aragon – a life of sorrow
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, travel was difficult and took a long time so a royal marriage by proxy would sometimes take place. It was a ceremony in one or other of the couple’s homeland, in the absence of the other partner. The ambassador of the other country, or some other representative would be present as witness. Its purpose was to demonstrate the seriousness of the couple’s parents for the union. Sometimes the parents changed their minds and annulled even the proxy marriage. This happened many times during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as alliances were quickly formed and broken between countries.
Catherine of Aragon was married five times to Arthur, future king of England: four times by proxy and once in the real thing when Arthur was fifteen years old and Catherine, sixteen in 1501. Her trip from Spain to England took two months because of storms. Only six months later, Arthur died. Not wishing to lose Catherine’s rich dowry for the English treasury, King Henry VII kept her dallying in England for fourteen months after becoming a widow until she was betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII. He who was too young to marry at the time but by the time he was of age, his father had changed his mind and broke off the betrothal. Catherine remained in limbo for four years until a very young King Henry VIII took the throne. His first act as king was to marry Catherine.
Having grown up in the midst of sickness and death, Henry was anxious to produce an heir to his throne to ensure the Tudor family would retain the crown. He also became obsessed about his own vigorousness and virility. When Catherine’s only living child was a girl, Mary, Henry looked for other ways to produce a son. Eventually, he broke ties with the Pope so that he could order an annulment from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Catherine was robbed of her title as Queen and designated Princess Dowager of Wales as a nod to her first husband, Arthur. For the rest of her life she refused to acknowledge this title, not only because it removed her status, but it robbed Mary from the line of succession. She and Mary were separated for the rest of her days, but she devoted her life to petitioning the king for Mary’s position as heir to the throne.
Once again finding herself unmarried at the wishes of the reigning monarch, Catherine lived in relative humility, being moved from one place to another within England until she died in Kimbolton Castle in 1533, aged forty-nine.
Mary Tudor – a late marriage and false pregnancy
In early European history, kings used their children as pawns to gain alliances with other countries. Even in marriages among commoners, love, mutual attraction or even similar age wasn’t considered. The purpose of a marriage was a practical union for survival of the family. While a commoner could marry or give a child in marriage to strengthen the family unit, royalty arranged marriages on a world stage. Commoners most likely married someone from their community. Royal children, however, married a total stranger of a different language and culture. Sometimes the marriage was arranged while the bride and groom were still children, or even babies. They were betrothed until they reached marrying age.
Mary Tudor, like Catherine of Aragon, spent her life waiting for a true partner. Her father, the notorious King Henry VIII, arranged a match for her while she was a toddler. At only two years old, she was betrothed in a ceremony to the Dauphin, heir to the French throne. She was held by her nurse and wore a ring on her finger. This contract was later annulled and other betrothals came and went over her young life while her father wrestled with world as well as marital turmoil. Mary longed to be married but could do nothing on her own. At thirty-eight she ascended the throne, still single. She, like her father, arranged her own marriage and chose Philipe of Spain.
Poor Mary. All that waiting and then for what? She and Philipe were married in 1554 and soon after, she developed a “phantom pregnancy”: she experienced all the outward appearances and symptoms of being pregnant, but there was no baby. It was thought her body was reacting out of her great desire for a child. She was so sure she was pregnant she invited her sister Elizabeth to visit court for the impending birth.
Eventually Mary’s symptoms receded and no child was born. Philipe was so embarrassed, he returned to Spain. They remained married, but never lived together again. In 1556, Philipe became King of Spain and visited England on state affairs one year later. He met with Mary a short time to persuade her to join forces with him in war against France. She was in favor but couldn’t convince her councilors. After that visit, she developed another false pregnancy. She died heartbroken, age 47, a year later.
Today’s monarchs still face a far-reaching decision in choosing a partner because of the demands placed on their unique lifestyles. Fortunately, they enjoy freedom to choose their own spouse based on mutual respect and attraction. Never the less, Kate and William are well aware of possible disastrous consequences when hasty choices are made. They exhibit maturity by considering carefully before taking that weighty step.
- Bell, Lynne, Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli. Elizabeth and Prince Phillip 60 Years of Marriage. The Dundurn Group: Toronto, 2007.
- Wikipedia. “Catherine of Aragon”
- Wikipedia. “Mary I of England”