Sunday, January 9, 2011

Notorious Royal Marriages

Lord Darnley and Mary Stuart
Notorious Royal Marriage by Leslie Carroll is a delightful romp through European history by way of examining several of the most infamous couples of all time. Eleanor of Aquitaine and her consecutive kings, Isabella and Ferdinand, Juana and Philip, Henry VIII and all six Queens, Mary Stuart and Henry Lord Darnley, Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, Alexandra and her Nicholas and many more. It is a book which I found not only highly entertaining but in each chapter, even those about royals whom I have studied, I always learned  things I had never known before. In most instances, when addressing certain controversies, Leslie carefully presents the evidence, gives her opinion, but lets the reader draw their own conclusions. I have to say that I am impressed with the vast amount of information that was compiled for each royal marriage, yet summarized into compact narratives.  

Royal Marriages has a distinct common touch that makes it an easy read but contains enough dates and details for any lover of history. While the chapter on Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had a few items that Leslie and I could probably sit and debate about over cocktails, I was moved by the chapters on Franz Josef and Sissi, who suffered everything throughout their long and rocky marriage, as well as by the retelling of the saga of George IV and Mrs. Fitzherbert. I was very glad that Leslie pointed out the Nazi connection in recounting the bizarre relationship of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. Most of all, I loved the chapters on Mary Queen of Scots. On the book blog Historically Obsessed, Leslie gives a description of each of the doomed queen's doomed weddings. To quote:
The sun was not yet up on the morning of July 29, 1565, when Mary was led down the aisle of the Chapel Royal at Holyrood by Darnley’s father, Lord Lennox, and the Earl of Argyll. Over her wedding gown she wore her deuil blanc, a white gauze sack that covered her from head to toe—the traditional mourning garment for French queens—emblematic of her status as a widow, and by extension, the Dowager Queen of France.

Darnley entered the chapel and the bridal couple exchanged vows. Since they were first cousins, a papal dispensation was necessary in order for them to marry. It had not arrived in Edinburgh by July 29, but Mary blithely assumed the document was en route, and therefore, she married Darnley without it. Although the dispensation finally made it to Scotland, the July 29 marriage was technically not legal because it had been performed while the bride and groom remained within a proscribed degree of affinity.

After the rings were exchanged, despite the fact that he, too, was a Catholic, Darnley quit the chapel to avoid being charged with “idolatry,” leaving his bride at the altar to continue the mass. As soon as the ceremony was over, Mary invited her guests to help her cast aside her mourning garments by each removing one of the pins that affixed the deuil blanc to her wedding gown.
I had trouble putting this book down and must have been an incredible bore to my family over the holidays as I kept slipping away to read it. It was intriguing to see how even the best of marriages had ups and downs, with the complications of royalty adding to the challenges of compatibility.



Christina said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I've just bought the Kindle version and am reading it just as voraciously as you did. It's a fun read without the trashy, sensationalistic tone adopted by some who write "popular" history on these subjects.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it's fun without being trashy and is also quite poignant.