Royal relationships attract a whole lot of scrutiny—from the greater public, the media, rival factions, and even from members of their own families. This might explain why so many notable royal unions and romances throughout history break down, often spectacularly and tragically. Here are a few tales of royal relationships that did not live happily ever after.
No list about ill-fated royal relationships would be complete without a mention of King Henry VIII and his many failed marriages. Henry VIII first married Catherine of Aragon. However, their relationship soon deteriorated. Catherine was unable to produce a male heir; though she did give birth to future Queen of England Mary I.
Henry VIII attempted to annul the marriage. The Catholic Church denied him, so he separated the Church of England from papal authority. Henry VIII next married Anne Boleyn, but although she gave birth to Elizabeth, another future Queen of England, Henry VIII did not receive his desired male heir. As a result, Henry VII had Anne Boleyn imprisoned and eventually executed.
He then married Jane Seymour, who did give Henry VIII his desired male heir in Edward, but she tragically passed on shortly after giving birth to him. Henry VIII had his next marriage to Anne of Cleves quickly annulled without much incident. He would then marry Catherine Howard, but when he discovered that she’d had an affair, he had her imprisoned and eventually executed.
Finally, Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife. The union ended when Henry VIII passed on in 1547.
If you’ve been watching the Netflix series The Crown, you are probably familiar with the sad tale of Princess Margaret and Air Force officer Peter Townsend. For the uninitiated, Margaret and Peter were deeply in love. However, the fact that Peter was previously married and divorced made a marriage between them impossible.
Similar to the earlier situation involving Margaret’s great uncle Edward VIII, the British government and the Church of England would be against a royal marrying a divorced person whose first spouse was still alive. They would only permit a marriage between the two if Margaret renounced her place in the line of succession to the throne.
Ultimately, the two ended their relationship. Margaret would marry photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. While Townsend would go on to tie the knot with a young Belgian woman named Marie-Luce Jamagne, who many said had a strong resemblance to Margaret.
When Edward VIII became the King of England in 1936, he was unmarried but in the midst of a romantic relationship with Wallis Simpson. She had been previously divorced and was technically still married to her second husband. Edward would go onto make his wish to marry the American socialite public. However, the British government and many others were vehemently opposed to the union because of Simpson’s marital status.
After much deliberation, love eventually won, but it came at the cost of Edward abdicating his position as the King of England. The couple eventually married in 1937 in a private ceremony in France. The new King of England, George VI, who was Edward’s younger brother, forbade any members from the royal family from attending.
The couple spent their married life largely away from England and they stayed together until Edward’s passing in 1972.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s marriage started to unravel, as Andrew was away from home for long stretches of time due to his various naval commitments. People also frequently saw Ferguson with other men and as a result, the couple announced their separation in 1992. Ferguson brought great shame to the royal family when the British tabloids published photographs of her sunbathing without a top on with an American businessman. The couple officially divorced in 1996.
Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, married Diana Spencer in a lavish fairy tale-like ceremony. A who’s who of esteemed dignitaries attended, and a global television audience of 750 million people watched the ceremony. However, the supposed fairy tale marriage of a future king and his queen was actually more like a horror story.
The couple’s almost 13-year age difference and general incompatibility made them drift apart. The marriage was also marked by infidelity from both Charles and Diana. The Palace announced the couple’s separation in 1992. They were formally divorced in 1996.
In the summer of 1997, Princess Diana began a relationship with Dodi Fayed, the son of UK-based Egyptian billionaire Mohamed El Fayed. Tragically, a car accident took the lives of Diana, Dodi, and their driver. The couple had just completed a vacation together in the south of France and were en route to London. Dodi’s father, who at the time owned Harrods, commissioned two memorials honoring the couple within the London department store.
Aly Khan was the son of Aga Khan III, the leader of the Ismaili Muslims who had “princely” status from the British rulers in India. Prince Aly Khan was something of a playboy and dated many prominent socialites and movie stars. After divorcing his first wife, Aly then married Hollywood star Rita Hayworth. However, Aly Khan’s playboy ways reared its head once again.
Hayworth was especially irritated when she saw her husband dancing with fellow Hollywood actress Joan Fontaine. The couple also had arguments over which religion to raise their daughter Yasmin in. Their divorce was finalized in 1953, only four years after their marriage.
In the early 1980s, Prince Andrew began a relationship with American actress Koo Stark. The two were smitten and Andrew was even apparently ready to pop the question. However, the press and then the royal family soon got wind that Stark appeared in a pretty racy film called Emily. Due to pressure from his family, Andrew decided to call things off.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips first met at a party for horse lovers in 1968. Five years later the two officially tied the knot. The couple had two children, son Peter and daughter Zara. However, as was the case with the marriages of Anne’s brothers Charles and Andrew, Anne and Mark’s marriage was marked by infidelity and ended in divorce.
Most notably, Mark fathered a child in an extramarital affair with a schoolteacher from New Zealand.
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Caroline Matilda was born a Princess of Great Britain and would then become the Queen consort of Denmark and Norway when she married King Christian VII. The marriage, however, lacked any passion, as King Christian VIII was in no hurry to consummate his marriage and was cold to his wife throughout their relationship. He also had a number of extramarital affairs.
In addition, he also suffered from mental illness. As a result, his physician Johan Friedrich Struensee became a de facto regent. Struensee and Caroline Matilda worked together to usher in a series of progressive reforms—and in the process, fell in love. In fact, it is widely assumed that Caroline Matilda’s second child was actually fathered by Struensee.
Eventually, someone caught Struensee and Caroline Matilda. Her in-laws had her exiled to Hanover. This meant that they separated her from her children, whom she would never see again. Struensee met an even more tragic fate, as they had him executed.
Cleopatra was the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. She would form a strategic alliance with the Triumvirate of Octavian, Lepidus, and Mark Antony in their battle against the conspirators that took the life of Julius Caesar. In the process of that alliance, Cleopatra and Mark Antony would start one of history’s most fabled romances.
Together, the couple would have three children while Mark Antony coordinated various occupied lands to be handed over to their heirs. The ceding of Roman lands made Octavian furious, who was already at odds with Antony because Antony was married to Octavian’s sister and left her to be in a relationship with Cleopatra.
Octavian would declare war against Antony and Cleopatra and reconsolidate his power. With an Octavian’s invasion of Egypt imminent, Mark Antony stabbed himself and was brought to Cleopatra, where he died in her arms. Cleopatra would take her own life not too long after.
Like most Mughal emperors, Shah Jahan had multiple wives. But by far his favorite of his spouses was Mumtaz. He would name Mumtaz as his chief empress. Throughout their marriage, she would serve as a valuable confidante, even accompanying her husband’s entourage during their military campaigns. After Mumtaz passed on while delivering the couple’s 14th child, Shah Jahan decided to honor her memory in a truly grand way.
He commissioned a massive mausoleum made out of marble that would be her final resting place. That mausoleum was the Taj Mahal, one of the best examples of Mughal architecture and one of the most recognized structures in the world today.
Peter was the heir apparent to the Portuguese throne. Although he was married to Constance, he quickly became infatuated with one of her ladies-in-waiting Ines de Castro and started an affair with her. When Constance passed on, Peter asked permission from his father King Alfonso IV to marry Ines. However, Alfonso refused, as he was fearful that her links to Castilian nobility might undermine their power. Instead, Alfonso banished Ines from the royal court.
The couple still secretly carried out their relationship and would go onto have three children together. When Alfonso found out, his reaction was chilling. He ordered the execution of Ines. Peter would go onto succeed his father, as King of Portugal and one of his notable achievements was that he found Ines’ assassins and brought them to trial.
Although one of them escaped, he had the two others sentenced to death. In a powerful statement of his love for Ines, Peter reportedly ripped the assassins’ hearts out as payback for what they had done to his.
Queen Victoria of England and her husband Prince Albert married in 1840. In their 21 years of marriage, the couple had nine children. Sadly, Albert passed on in 1861 at the relatively young age of 47 from typhoid. It was a devastating loss that Victoria would never get over. For the rest of her life, Queen Victoria displayed her mourning by wearing black and largely removing herself from public life.
Elizabeth I of England famously never married, and historians have referred to her as the Virgin Queen. The one person Elizabeth I considered marrying was Robert Dudley, his childhood and trusted confidante. When Dudley’s wife Amy had passed on, Elizabeth and Dudley were serious considering nuptials. However, many speculated that Amy’s passing may have been a murder committed by Dudley, so it would free him to marry the reigning monarch.
Many influential peers advised against the marriage, and Elizabeth no choice but to comply to their wishes.
After his first two marriages both ended in divorce, King Hussein of Jordan married for the third time to Alia Baha ud-din Toukan. Queen Alia and King Hussein would have two children together and adopted a third child from a refugee camp. King Hussein helped establish the Office of the Queen of Jordan, which allowed Queen Alia to take on a variety of social development projects close to her heart.
She was very instrumental in getting women in Jordan the right to vote. Sadly, their marriage and Alia’s life was cut short as she lost her life in a helicopter accident in 1977. Queen Alia was only 28.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the ruthless French leader who would go on to crown himself as Emperor of France. In 1796, Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais. Although they both had extramarital affairs, the two actually loved each other immensely. Unfortunately, Empress Joséphine was unable to produce an heir for her husband.
As a result, the two agreed to a divorce, so Napoleon may remarry and sire a desired heir. Even after the end of their marriage, Napoleon still had feelings for Joséphine. He was in exile on the island of Elba when he heard of her passing and reportedly was so despondent that he locked himself in his room for two days. When Napoleon passed on the island of St. Helena in 1821, his last words were “France, the army, the head of the army, Joséphine.
Maria Antonia was born as an Archduchess of Austria. Her mother the Empress Marie Theresa decided to end hostilities with France by arranging a marriage with her then-14-year-old daughter and the heir apparent to the French throne, Louis-Auguste. Four years after the marriage, Louis-Auguste ascended to the throne as Louis XVI and Marie Theresa, now known as Marie Antoinette, became the Queen of France.
However, their reign was marked by scandals that further fueled the French public’s disillusionment with the monarchy. Marie Antoinette was especially targeted, as many people in France blamed her lavish spending on the country’s financial issues. In 1789, the French Revolution officially started with the primary goal of abolishing the monarchy. The revolutionaries declared France as a republic in 1792. In the following year, they had both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette executed by guillotine.
Although both Marie of Edinburgh and Prince George of Wales were both grandchildren of Queen Victoria, making them first cousins, the two were romantically linked. George was smitten by Marie’s “sparkling blue eyes and silky fair hair.” George wished to propose marriage to Marie and the couple even got approval from George’s grandmother Queen Victoria and their respective fathers.
However, both their mothers were against a union between the two. George’s mother disliked Marie’s family’s pro-German leanings, while Marie’s mother, who grew up in the Russian Orthodox Church, was against marriage between cousins. George would eventually become King George V of England and Marie would go onto become the Queen consort of Romania.
Baji Rao served as a general and the Peshwa (the equivalent of Prime Minister) in the Maratha Empire in present-day India. He would eventually marry Mastani, the daughter of Chhatarsal, an ally ruler of the Maratha Empire. Despite their religious differences, they were happy together. However, their enduring love story had a tragic end. According to a story about the couple, Mastani passed on (possibly even by suicide) shortly after hearing the passing of Baji Rao.
In the year 1900, King Alexander of Serbia announced his intentions to marry Draga Masin, a former lady-in-waiting for his mother, and who at 36 was 12 years his senior. The vast age difference, the unlikelihood of her producing an heir, and the fact that she was of low status meant the union was met with widespread objections from both Alexander’s family and the Serbian people.
Alexander went ahead with the marriage and gained further outrage from naming Draga’s brother as an heir presumptive to the throne. A group of officials plotted and carried out a successful coup against the couple. The plotters stormed the royal palace and brutally dismembered the bodies of both the King Alexander and Queen Draga.
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the heir presumptive to the Austria-Hungary throne met Sophie in 1894. Their relationship at first was kept secret because although Sophie was a countess, she was not a member of a European ruling dynastic family—a requirement to marry a member of the House of Habsburg like Franz Ferdinand.
Franz Ferdinand, however, was steadfast in his love for Sophie and refused to marry anyone else. His uncle Emperor Franz Joseph agreed only on the condition that their marriage would be morganatic, meaning that their descendants would not have any claims to the throne and Sophie would not be involved in any official events.
The couple would go onto have four children. Tragically, an assassin took their lives in 1914 in Sarajevo, an event widely considered to have launched WWI.
Prince George, the son of King George III of England, gained a notorious reputation for living an exorbitant lifestyle and in turn, racking up large debts. His father refused to help him pay off the debts unless he married his cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick. The marriage was not a success. After the birth of their only child, they began to live separately and carry out affairs.
George is reported to have had many children out of wedlock. When George became king (now named George IV), he introduced a bill that would allow him to divorce Caroline and strip of her any rights to any titles such as queen consort. The bill was ultimately rejected by Parliament. George then forbade Caroline from attending his own official coronation ceremony. She passed on not too long after his coronation.
King Henry IV was well known for his womanizing and for fathering many illegitimate children. He did, however, have a favorite mistress in Gabrielle d’Estrées. The two already had three children together and without a legitimate heir, Henry was considering an annulment of his marriage to Margaret of Valois, and making things official with Gabrielle.
Unfortunately, before a marriage could take place, tragedy struck. Gabrielle passed on from complications of giving birth to a stillborn son. A heartbroken Henry gave Gabrielle a lavish funeral usually reserved for royals and nobles.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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