Do you love YA historical fiction as much as we do? Eleanor Herman, author of Legacy of Kings, is here today to talk with you about eye-opening origins of virgin brides.
Be sure to check out her INCREDIBLE debut book, Legacy of Kings, now available!
Guest Post: Eleanor Herman
Good-bye, Virgin Princess Brides
While as recently as the 1980s, kings and princes were forced to marry virgins from acceptable royal or noble families, now they can marry, well, practically anybody they want. Suddenly, thousands of years of royal protocol have gone whistling down the drain.
For one thing, there’s the toll it took in human misery. The king, marrying a woman he wouldn’t have chosen and might not be attracted to, inevitably took mistresses, and the disenchanted queen often took her own lovers and crossed her fingers that her children didn’t look like the gardener, the prime minister, or whoever else she was sleeping with.
For another thing, it’s pretty stupid to value virginity–which disappears on the wedding night—over compatibility, a brain and a personality, which last for decades. And while girls could be expected to be virgins at fifteen—when most royal brides married because people died at thirty—anybody trying to marry a fifteen-year-old these days would end up in jail. Today most women finish college and work a few years before getting married, and a twenty-eight-year-old virgin might find herself very frustrated.
That’s not to say that kings and princes of centuries past didn’t try to marry their girlfriends, but people generally hated it because everyone was so glued to the idea of a virgin princess bride. When Prince Pedro of Portugal married his mistress and the mother of his four children in 1354, his father, King Alfonso IV, was so ticked off, he sent men to stab her to death in her garden. Eric XIV of Sweden married his long-term mistress and crowned her queen in 1568, a fact which his brother used as proof of insanity to lock him in a dungeon and poison him. In 1578, Archduke Francesco of Tuscany married his mistress and his furious brother poisoned them both. King Alexander II of Serbia married his main squeeze in 1900 and a mob broke into the palace and tore them both limb from limb.
It wasn’t so rough in the ancient world when most kings had numerous wives. King Solomon reportedly had more than seven hundred. Some were virgin child brides foisted on the king, others sexy intriguing women he chose for himself. Egyptian pharaohs had a Great Royal Wife—the one whose profile was carved into walls—and dozens of others: slave girls, prostitutes, daughters of allied kings, and whoever else captivated the royal fancy. Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, had seven wives (though things did get hairy when they started trying to kill their rivals along with their children.)
It was the advent of Christianity and its insistence on one wife at a time that ruined it for kings, who weren’t allowed to choose the one wife. Which brings us to Poor Prince Charles who, in the 1970s—when most people already got the you-don’t-have-to-be-a-virgin-bride thing—wanted to marry his girlfriend, Camilla Shand. His parents refused to allow it because Camilla had had two boyfriends in college in addition to Charles (so she was actually three times not a virgin), and it’s really hard to rebel against your mother when her picture is all over the money and the postage stamps. So the palace looked around for a virgin over eighteen from a good family—there weren’t terribly many—and actually made nineteen-year-old Diana Spencer undergo a virginity test before Charles reluctantly proposed to her. She passed, they married, and, well, we all know how well that went and who he’s married to now.
Charles was the last prince to immolate himself on the altar of Hymen, probably because his and Diana’s relationship troubles were so very public and had devastating consequences. Younger princes who watched this drawn-out slow-motion slasher movie from hell rebelled against the old rules and married the girls they loved, some even threatening to abdicate their place in the succession if they weren’t allowed to do so. In 2001, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway married his live-in girlfriend, Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, not just a commoner, but a very common commoner: a high school dropout and former drug addict with a four-year-old illegitimate son whose father was in jail on drug charges.
In 2004, Crown Prince Fredrik of Denmark married a Tasmanian real estate agent he met in a bar. Prince Albert of Monaco lived with an Olympic swimmer in his pink palace five years until they tied the knot in 2011. And Kate Middleton, a middle-class girl whose grandparents were coal miners, lived with Prince William, her college boyfriend, for years until their glorious 2011 wedding televised globally in Westminster Abbey. Princesses in line for the throne, too, have joined the modern world when it comes to marriage. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden married her personal trainer.
And so royal virgin brides have landed firmly in the dust heap of history, where they belong. And royal mistresses—those silken women who profitably entertained the king when he was neglecting his unloved wife—have become royal girlfriends, some of whom have become princesses and even queens.
Alas, as many of us know, marrying the person you love isn’t a guarantee of eternal married bliss. King Felipe VI of Spain married his girlfriend, a divorcé named Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, in 2004, and two kids later Queen Letizia is reportedly fending off a nervous breakdown from all those designer gowns and palace balls. But at least modern royals have the same chance of happiness as the rest of us, which is better than what their ancestors had.