As promised in my blog about Improbable (or Impossible?) Historical Relationships, I’m going to talk about royalty marrying into common blood in history. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about others who married people of a “lower station,” and how/if things are changing in modern times.
There has been much talk about Prince William and Catherine Middleton, who is the great-granddaughter of a coal miner and the daughter of a pilot and flight attendant (who now run a successful party-planning business). But this princes-marrying-commoners thing–is it purely a modern construct? Or did it happen in history as well?
It’s true that the British monarchy has married into other royal families for much of its most recent history. Even Prince Charles’ marriage to Lady Diana Spencer was somewhat scandalous, because though she was the daughter of an earl, it was the first time since James II that a future king would marry an English-born wife.
But royals marrying commoners has happened in history, certainly, in several different countries. Here are some of the unions I found from England:
-Several of Henry VIII’s wives were commoners (although descended from noble families).
-Edward IV married commoner Elizabeth Woodville (this relationship is beautifully rendered in The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman–one of my favorite historical fiction novels!).
-James II married commoner Anne Hyde.
-Queen Catherine of Valois (Henry V’s wife) married Owen Tudor, a commoner–and the ultimate father of the Tudor line of monarchs
-Edward VIII married American divorcee Wallis Simpson in the 1930s (but he had to abdicate the throne in order to do so)
-John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katherine Swynford after she was his long-term mistress & bore him four children (This love affair is portrayed brilliantly in Anya Seton’s novel Katherine–I definitely recommend!)
Do any of these ring a bell for you? Can you think of any other royals (English or otherwise) who married commoners?