England’s Scandalous Marriages



History has no end of scandals and forbidden marriages. In a few cases, cross-cultural or status-challenging relationships changed entire nations. One such romance involved the War of the Roses. The Lancastrian King Henry VI was mad. The York King Edward unseated him. In an unstable new reign, Edward needed to establish alliances.

Rather than wed a French princess, Edward announced he had married Elizabeth Woodville in secret! Marriage to lowborn English women were unheard of for English kings, whose unions needed to forge important European ties. This caused dissent and unease at the court. Elizabeth used her position to marry everyone in her immediate family off to the richest English landowners, which excluded other families from status climbing. Elizabeth only birthed two sons, further jeopardizing their reign.

Royal marriages established trade, bought loyalty from foreign armies, and promised favoritism within foreign courts. While Edward and Elizabeth fought to keep England, in Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella married, their union uniting a once-divided Spain. They arranged careful, profitable, dynastic marriages for their children—alliances with Burgundy, Portugal, and England, to help defend Spain against France.

Edward’s death left England in upheaval. His brother Richard assumed the regency for Edward’s underage sons—who soon disappeared. Richard’s reign was short. Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, invaded from France. Richard died within a lance’s length of the future king.

Elizabeth Woodville was no fool. She agreed to marry her eldest daughter and namesake to Henry VII, to unite Lancastrian and York bloodlines. Her daughter went on to birth two queens, who sat on foreign thrones (Scotland and France), and Henry VIII.

Desperate to establish his reign, Henry VII needed alliances and wasted no time securing them. His prized union was Spain, through marrying Isabella and Ferdinand’s daughter Katharine of Aragon to Prince Arthur. The boy’s sudden death broke the alliance. Katharine stayed in England as a pawn. A decade later, she became Henry VIII’s first wife. The match united different cultures; Henry benefitted from Katharine’s experience. She inherited her mother’s talent for seeing potential and her father’s cunning.

Then the king’s eye fell on another “lowborn” lady, Anne Boleyn. With no son to secure the succession, Henry saw in Anne the potential for another Elizabeth Woodville. Both women refused to lie with kings outside marriage and won crowns. Henry’s refusal to take no for an answer demolished Catholic influences in England, resulting in wars, social upheaval, and violence.

This marriage ended differently from his grandparents’. Anne went to the block. Catholic and Protestant rivalries extended for generations. Both their mothers’ marriages found “unlawful,” Katharine and Anne’s daughters strove to fight labels of illegitimacy in their reigns. Executions, uprisings, civil wars, and religious rivalries endured for centuries… because two kings were courageous or foolish enough to marry across social barriers. ♥


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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