History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

05 January 2010


I can't believe that my thirteenth book releases today!

NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire is my second foray into the world of historical nonfiction (my debut was back in June 2008 with ROYAL AFFAIRS, A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy.)

Here's a sneak preview ... from the book's forward:

Everyone loves a royal wedding. Except, perhaps, the bride and groom. Throughout history, most royal marriages were arranged affairs, brokered for diplomatic and dynastic reasons, and often when the prospective spouses were mere children. The perfect royal marriage brought territorial gains to the ruling dynasty's side (usually the groom's) and cemented alliances between families and regions. It was of little consequence that the spouses often didn't meet until their wedding day. Or that they had been in love with someone else and were now compelled to abandon all hope of the personal happiness or emotional fulfillment that might have come from nuptial bliss with another. There is no I in dynasty.

In general, there was always one primary goal of a royal marriage: to beget an heir. And for a good part of the past millennium, when much of Western Europe was embroiled in perpetual warfare, it was believed that only a male heir would be able to defend and hold the throne, although a female could legally inherit the throne in England and Scotland. During more martial eras, royal wives who managed to produce only daughters-Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, for example-were disposed of by their spouse, powerless to challenge his authority. If execution was no longer an option to ending a problematic or infertile marriage, there was always divorce. Napoleon Bonaparte divorced his first wife, Josephine Beauharnais, because she failed to bear him a son.

With so many marriages being little more than dynastic alliances, how did these royals manage to survive their arranged nuptials and make their peace with the world into which they were born? Or did they? Precious few of the notorious royal marriages profiled in this book began as love matches—although they didn't necessarily stay that way. For several centuries, if things weren't working out, the monarch might play the all-purpose, get-out-of marriage-free card known as a papal dispensation on the grounds of consanguinity. In other words, plenty of unions were sundered after cousins who had received a dispensation to marry in the first place suddenly decided to become appalled and repulsed by how closely they were related when it became expedient to wed another.

With so many intriguing relationships, choosing whose stories to omit was nearly as difficult as selecting which ones to include. Within this volume are some of the world's most famous royal unions, as they affected and were affected by the historical and political events of the times; it is not intended to provide an overview of world history, to probe with great depth the wars and revolutions that gripped Europe for centuries, or to present a full biography of the principals.

Comparing the selection of a marriage partner to fishing for an eel—that staple of Renaissance diets-Sir Thomas More's father commented that it was as if "ye should put your hand into a blind bag full of snakes and eels together, seven snakes for one eel."

In these pages are the snakes as well as the eels—the disastrous unions and the delightful ones; the martyrs to marriage and the iconoclasts who barely took their vows seriously; the saintly and the suffering; the rebels, and the renegades-all of whom took the phrases "I do" and "I will" and ran as far as they could go with them, exploring and embracing the broad spectrum of passion, power, and possibilities far beyond the royal bedchamber.

Who is your favorite royal couple ... and why?


Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Leslie, and this book sound fabulous! I've been intrigued ever since you first started talking about it. I love stories that explore marriages, whether real or fictional. As to my favorite royal couple--apropos of our discussion in New York with Lauren, probably Richard III and Anne Neville. Because in the midst of all that politicking and intrigue, they genuinely seemed to care for each other. I love the story about how she ran away and he found after her in the aftermath of Tewkesbury.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

And the irony of this, Tracy, is that I didn't know anything about their actual courtship and marriage (only the Shakespearean version!) until I began to research Richard for ROYAL PAINS. So all the juicy stuff about his marriage to Anne will be in the next book. :)

When you created the brilliantly multidimensional marriage of Charles and Melanie, did you have any real life marriages in mind?

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite royal couple? Hmmmm. There are so many that are so very interesting! I think John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford are at least in the top 3, if not my favorite couple. They spent so much time apart, yet remained quite devoted to one another through a lot of trials and tribulations.

Congrats on your fabulous new release. I'm still waiting for mine to arrive in the mail. Arrgh!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great pick, Christine. They make it into ROYAL AFFAIRS, and of course fit the famous "duke and the babysitter" paradigm. It's amazing, though, how many royal families were descended from their children. In fact, just about everyone!

This is what you get for checking "supersaver." ;)

1:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Major congrats! I loved the last one and can't wait to run out and grab this one too.

Favorite royal marraige is a hard one . . . I've always been kind of fond of George III and Queen Charlotte. They had a long life together and seemed to have been very much in love. But if I'm going for pure fasination, it's Katherine of Aragon and her two royal hubies all the way.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for the nice words and interesting question, Leslie! I was definitely thinking of fictional couples when I created Charles & Mel (notably Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane and Bernard & Fiona Samson). But I was also thinking of bits and pieces of real marriages. The political partnership of couples like Lord & Lady Holland and Emily Cowper & Lord Palmerston (who eventually married), Harriet Cavendish & Granville Leveson-Gower, John & Abigal Adams. Oddly, I think there may be a bit of William Lamb (promising young politician married to a woman who might destroy his prospects) in Charles, though Mélanie isn't in the least like Caroline (except that they both potentially pose different types of disaster for their husbands).

1:19 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks for the compliment, Kalen! Katherine of Aragon's two marriages are both profiled (each gets its own chapter) in NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES. I don't know much about the marriage of George III and Charlotte, though it must have broken her heart, when his "madness" set in and he often didn't recognize her, or tried to hump a tree, or one of her ladies in waiting.

Now you've piqued my imagination. I may research them and do a bonus post on their marriage on my blog ... or here.

Tracy, I have to confess that apart from seeing the Masterpiece Theatre episodes a hundred years ago that were adapted from the Lord Peter Wimsey books, I know nothing about his fictional marriage. I must, really must, read the mysteries. And while I'm familiar with the historical names you've mentioned, apart from the Adamses I know nothing about their political marriages.

Yet another fascinating thing to head off and read about!

1:34 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I highly recommend the Peter Wimsey books, Leslie, particularly the four about his marriage to Harriet (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon). The Edward Petherbridge/Harriet Walter tv adaptations are good too, though I thought they rushed Gaudy Night.

Lord and Lady Holland were an influential couple in the Whig party in the early 19th century. They're rather scandalous marriage began when she left her first husband and eloped with him. They're first son was born before her divorce and their subsequent marriage, so their second son was the heir, which I've always thought must have created some interesting family dynamics. She wasn't received in a number of houses, but their home at Holland House was a center of liberal Whig activity and she was a famous Whig hostess.

Emily Cowper (Lady Melbourne's daughters) was also a Whig hostess. She had a number of love affairs, including an ongoing one with the Tory Lord Palmerston (which didn't stop both of them from having affairs with other people). Eventually, after her husband died, she married Palmerston and was his wife and hostess when he became Prime Minister (by which time he'd become a Liberal, the party the Whigs had more or less morphed into). Palmerston was the father of at least one of her Cowper children, probably more. The son who was almost certainly Palmerston's eventually took his name and became his secretary. A visiting dignitary commented on how very much like Palmerston his son looked, not realizing the son was officially a stepson.

Harriet Cavendish (daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) married Granville Leveson-Gower, who had been her aunt's lover for years. The marriage proved remarkably successful (there are some lovely glimpses into their married life in her letters which I think influenced Charles & Mel). He was in politics (he too changed from being a Tory to a Liberal) and was a noted diplomat. Graville and Harriet presided over the British embassy in Paris together for many years.

William Lamb (Emily Cowper's brother) married Caroline Ponsonby (Harriet's cousin). They were very much in love, but Caroline was mentally unstable and needy and William was emotionally reserved. She had a number of public love affairs, including with Byron, and wrote the roman à clef Glenarvon which set society on its ear. William retired from politics at one point due to the stresses in his marriage. (Emily's frustration with what Caroline is doing to her brother comes through very clearly in her letters). Eventually they legally separated, though he continued to love her and was there when she died. After her death he became Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister as Lord Melbourne.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Tracy, thank you so much for this incredibly comprehensive marital history lesson. Each of those relationships is a story in itself! And I agree that the dynamic between Emily Cowper's two sons, with the eldest not being the heir, must have been fascinating!

7:06 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I was thinking how many plots were there as I wrote up the notes, Leslie. It's actually the Hollands' sons where the eldest wasn't the heir--which would make a fascinating novel, real or fictional. Emily Cowper's son who was Palmerston's wasn't the heir (her eldest son was probably the one child of hers her husband fathered). In the Cowper/Palmerston case everyone seems to have got on remarkably well. Lord Cowper was fond of all the children, though Palmerston gave Emily money to help pay his son's school fees. Emily and Cowper seem to have come to an agreeable compromise. There's a letter of hers where she laughs over her husband sheepishly asking if she'll invite a particular lady (in whom he's obviously interested) to a house party.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous lynna banning said...

My favorite "royal" couple would have to be
King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The impossibility of G's love for Lancelot heightens the tragedy of both relationships; there's always a plangent unspoken longing in impossible loves.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Lynna, I adore Arthur and Guinevere, too. Their romance and marriage are so poignant to me. I actually had the pleasure of playing Guinevere in an 1895 drama writtin in iambic pentameter; the underscoring was written by Sir Arthur Sullivan who had always hoped to write a serious opera about Arthur and Guinevere and the knights of the round table. The play was first performed by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. My theatre company was the first to bring a professional performance of it to NYC since Irving and Terry brought their production overseas here in 1896!

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't have a favorite couple, yet. I look forward to reading this book. You intro very nicely pointed out that these marriages weren't so much between the bride and groom as between two families.
My copy of ROYAL AFFAIRS is on its way and I can't wait. I look forward to the book on the children.
Good luck with the release of this one. It is on the list to buy for our library as soon as our fundin comes through.

10:09 PM  

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