NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES was featured online today in the venerated New Yorker magazine. I'm over the moon about this! And I finally have something else in common with my late grandfather Carroll Carroll, who used to write humorous pieces for the magazine in the 1920s -- as well as with one of my all time favorite poets and snarks, Dorothy Parker.
Thank you, Thessaly, and thanks to THE NEW YORKER for making this New Yorker extremely proud. I only wish my grandfather were still around to read this. But hopefully, from that great Round Table in the sky, he's grinning at me over his rocks glass.
THE BOOK BENCH
February 17, 2010 The Exchange: Notorious Royal Marriages Posted by Thessaly La Force
Notorious Royal Marriages
by Leslie Carroll
Thomas More’s father once said that marriage was like putting “your hand into a blind bag full of snakes and eels together, seven snakes for one eel.” (It helps to know that eels were a staple of Renaissance diets.) In other words, marriage wasn’t easy. Leslie Carroll, the author of “Royal Affairs,” has a new book out documenting over two dozen of the royal set’s juiciest marriages. For those who tackled Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” and can’t get enough of the scandal surrounding Henry VIII’s wives, here’s the perfect companion book. You can get all of the dirt you want, with none of the guilt (it’s history, O.K.?). Carroll took time this week to answer some of my questions about “Notorious Royal Marriages.”
There have been so many notorious marriages in the past decade—why focus on royal marriages? True: we all love to read dishy stuff about the high and mighty, particularly when their lives are revealed to be less than rosy. Yet Americans in particular have enjoyed an ongoing love affair with royalty—perhaps because we’ve never had any—so we’re especially enamored of castles and crowns. I like to shine a light on what the life of a royal really means and to depict them as human beings and not as glamorous icons. Mel Brooks’s famous quip “It’s good to be the king” is less of a truism than Shakespeare’s “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Royal scandals and scandalous royals have become my nonfiction niche. I débuted in nonfiction with “Royal Affairs” in 2008; writing about these powerful relationships from the legitimate side of the sheets, was the logical next step, and that’s how “Notorious Royal Marriages” came about.
How do you define “notorious”? I chose marriages that in some way impacted the monarchy itself as well as the kingdom or empire. That said, there have been so many royal unions that fit this criterion that I couldn’t cover them all in one volume (which, conveniently, leaves lots of room for a sequel). I also aimed at balancing some of the notorious “greatest hits,” such as all six of Henry VIII’s marriages, with some of the more obscure European royal unions: for example, the marriage of George Ludwig of Hanover (the future George I of England) and his wife (and first cousin) Sophia Dorothea of Celle. Come to think of it, there were so many of them that I probably could have written a book limited solely to first-cousin royal marriages!
For a royal, what did it mean to be a good wife or a good husband? Queens were primarily expected to be brood mares. In a time of high infant mortality, they were expected to be fertile, and give the kingdom as many children—preferably boys—as possible. They were also expected to be docile, complacent, and ornamental; the brightest jewel in the king’s crown. Kings could pretty much do anything they wanted; being a good husband was in the eye of the beholder. Or the monarch. Charles II, who fathered seventeen illegitimate children, considered himself a very good husband because he didn’t send his wife, Catherine of Braganza (who was very much in love with him) back to Portugal after she proved unable to carry a child to term. He realized that it wasn’t her “fault,” and that he had put her through the emotional ringer by flaunting his bevy of royal mistresses.
Why did people from royal families get married? How is marriage different from the ceremony we perform today? The primary purpose of a royal marriage was to beget an heir to continue the line. The stakes could not have been higher. No direct heirs of the king’s body could lead to civil war between competing contenders for the crown, each asserting a stronger claim than the other, or to an invasion by a foreign monarch claiming the throne.
In France, only a male heir could inherit the throne, putting additional pressure on the queen. Royal marriages were dynastic and political alliances. A foreign queen who proved to be barren, or could not beget a male heir, ran the risk of being sent back to her country of origin. Henry VIII was desperate for a male heir even though women could inherit the English throne. His was still a very martial era and the monarchy was far more of an autocracy at the time. It was commonly believed that only a male who could lead his troops into battle could govern the kingdom and keep any rebellious nobles in line, quashing any local uprisings as well.
The notion of anyone wedding for love would not only have been laughed at, it would have been ignored; and even in the nineteenth century the young queen Victoria and, two generations later, her granddaughter, Alexandra of Hesse, were looked at somewhat askance for insisting on a love match (with Prince Albert, and with the tsarevich, Nicholas Romanov of Russia, respectively).
Before the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome, everyone was Catholic. Because the royal gene pool was not terribly deep (and would grow even shallower as time went on), more often than not, marriages between cousins were arranged. And, more often than not, their familial relationship to each other, or consanguinity, often presented an obstacle to their marriage. The more closely related the royals were to each other, the greater the degree of consanguinity. However, the popes, always eager to increase their coffers, made dispensations available to the royal houses of Europe. After some wrangling and a bit of paperwork, a papal dispensation made it O.K. for cousins to wed each other. Conveniently, these dispensations were sometimes overturned because—shock, horror!—the spouses were cousins! Eleanor of Aquitaine and her fourth cousin, King Louis VII of France, who had required a papal dispensation permitting them to wed in the first place, raised the subject of their consanguinity after several years of marriage during which Eleanor bore Louis two daughters, but no sons. By that time, both of them wanted a divorce. The Pope reversed the dispensation because the pair were fourth cousins.
Within weeks, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, the eighteen-year-old Duke of Normandy, who soon became King Henry II of England. And here’s the kicker about the ridiculousness of the papal dispensations for consanguinity. Henry was Eleanor’s third cousin!
Which marriage is your favorite, and why? I spent so much time researching these couples that each of them found a place in my heart. But if I have to choose one, I would say that Marie Antoinette and the dauphin—the future Louis XVI—became my favorite because what I came away with after extensively researching their relationship is that they were so misunderstood—as royals and as human beings. I entered my research with preconceived notions (for example, that he was a doofus or a dolt and that she was a bubbleheaded shopaholic); yet the more I read about this pair, the more sympathetic I found them. In fact, I found Marie Antoinette and Louis so intriguing—as individuals, as a couple, and in the context of their time—that I couldn’t wait to turn my historical-fiction pen (O.K., keyboard) to Marie Antoinette’s story. The wedding of Marie Antoinette Josephe Jeanne Archduchess of Austria and Louis Auguste Dauphin of France. They were married on Wednesday, May 16, 1770.
Are there any parallels you’ve seen with more contemporary marriages to any of the marriages you write about? (Is there, for example, a modern day Henry VIII? Or Anne Boleyn?)
Let’s hope there isn’t a monarch ready to execute his wife because she has so far failed to bear him a son, or because (in the case of Kathryn Howard) she may have taken a lover! Of course, European monarchies are now constitutional ones, and the sovereign can no longer get away with judicial murder. Because governments are now in the hands of parliamentary bodies, royal spouses don’t have the same ability to shape their kingdoms in their own image. Tabloids might be filled with the sexcapades of current royals, or with their hypothetical battles with drugs or depression, but you don’t read about outsized colorful figures that really put their stamp on the world. The closest we’ve come lately was Princess Diana, but her effect on England and the world was more sentimental and emotional than literal. For example, she didn’t (as Anne Boleyn did) inspire her husband to change the course of world history by breaking with the church and establishing himself as the head of a new national religion, an act that forever impacted European history. Leslie Carroll
Marriage, especially in royal court, can be very public, but I imagine there were also very private moments. Can you explain how you researched this book?
I read about sixty biographies of the royals profiled in “Notorious Royal Marriages,” in addition to a couple of dozen biographical articles published in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Many of the secondary sources contain primary-source material, including diary entries, poems written by the royals, and correspondence, including love letters, as well as primary-source material written by others close to the royal spouses (e.g., parents, courtiers, governesses). Although journal entries, and even some correspondence, can be written with an eye firmly on posterity or on one’s own reputation, and therefore are not entirely reliable, these primary-source materials do provide a valuable, and fascinating, window into the private lives of royal spouses.
You’re also the author of “Royal Affairs.” How common were affairs? Extramarital affairs were extremely common—more the rule than the exception, actually. Because royal marriages were political and economic unions, odds were that the spouses had little affection, let alone love, for each other. However, what was good for the gander was not acceptable for the goose. Kings strayed constantly. But queens were expected to remain one-hundred-per-cent faithful to their husbands, to shut up and put up with the king’s mistresses, turning a blind eye to his infidelities.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I am offering a giveway of an autographed copy of NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES. Life wasn't always hearts and flowers for these famous royals. So, you can either count yourself lucky that you're in a much more rewarding relationship, or steal a few tips from some of the genuinely happily married couples. Hint: some of them wrote some extremely erotic love letters to each other. Others were hopless romantics in their correspondence.
To enter, post a comment below. A comment gets you 1 chance. Becoming a follower of this blog gets you an additional chance to win. Becoming a follower of my other blog, "The Lady Novelist" at http://www.leslie-carroll.blogspot.com/ garners you a third chance. Tweet about it as well and you get 4 entries.
The winner's name will be drawn on Sunday, February 21, 2010. I will notify the winner by email and post his or her name on the blog.
Happy Valentine's Day to all, and may it be everything you'd hoped for!
Last week began with a bang. I had the honor and privilege to guest host the first anniversary of Lady Jane's Salon on Monday, February 1.
On February 5, the marvelous Barbara Vey published a report on her PW Book Blog, "Beyond the Book," written by Leanna Renee Hieber, whose unique writer's voice is moving copies of her debut novel, THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL CASE OF MISS PERCY PARKER off the shelves as though they were hotcakes at a firemens' breakfast.
See my reprint of the article here:
February 5, 2010
Author Leanna Renee Hieber here with birthday wishes to Lady Jane! Monday marked the one year anniversary of New York’s only reading series devoted to Romance Fiction; Lady Jane’s Salon. Lady Jane’s was founded in late 2008 by myself, fellow romance authors Hope Tarr, Maya Rodale and internet guru Ron Hogan over drinks one night discussing why New York, in all its literary splendor, didn’t have a reading series for Romance Fiction. So it was up to us to start one. And we did, in the red-velvet-drenched upstairs of Madame X, with our first authors Cara Elliot and Lauren Willig- who becauseof their partnership at Lady Jane’s are now teaching romance in the big leagues (Yale). While the night boasted champagne, corsages and cupcakes, the spirit of Lady Jane’s is always about great fiction and a good cause. Now New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig returned to our stage to help us celebrate this landmark year with her latest hit, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, along with guest emcee and fabulous Historical author Leslie Carroll and her Notorious Royal Marriages, and scintillating debut author Sara Lindsey with Promise Me Tonight.
Leslie Carroll (fittingly dressed as Tudor Queen Lady Jane Grey) with fellow history hoyden and NY Times Bestselling author Lauren Willig; [this photo courtesy of my husband, Scott]
And so a year later… thanks to the support of people like you, Barbara, and Romantic Times Magazine, our wonderful venue Madame X, a host of bloggers, newspaper articles, radio interviews, thanks to a slew of talented authors and an ardent crowd of loyal supporters, Lady Jane’s is one of the most vibrant forces in New York’s experience of fiction in real-time; a face to face opportunity for readers, authors, industry and fans to talk about and applaud (literally) the genre we love. And then, of course, to share the love, by donating money and gently used romance novels to women in need, as charity remains a core part of our Salon’s identity.
A ton has happened through the year, for the co-founders, our readers and authors. Our co-founders published new books, the year marked my dream-come-true with my debut; The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, we watched as our featured readers’ books hit lists and thrilled at the news of contracts for our some of our Lady Jane’s audience who will now be debut authors too, Ron Hogan got a cool new job ruling the interwebz for the very smart New York publishing house who snatched him up, and 2010 proves to be no less than spectacular.
With featured readers returning to the Lady Jane’s stage unveiling new names and new initiatives, we’ll also have a host of debut authors take the stage. We’ll continue our mission to promote every single sub-genre within Romance. We’ll be expanding our charity options, we’ll have a Salon at the Romantic Times convention (please come!), and most importantly, we’ll get to see you again, Barbara Vey, our supporter from the beginning, and we can’t wait for it all to unfold. Keep in touch at Lady Jane's Salon and come see us! Blessings, thanks and happy reading!
Thanks again to Barbara Vey for showcasing a very special program that benefits an equally important cause!
Then, on Saturday, February 6, I had a double-header in southern Vermont. First, the Royal High Tea at the picturesque 18th century Dorset Inn, was a splendiferous success. Hosting in the guise of Marie Antoinette, I chatted with readers as they enjoyed their afternoon repast, dishing the dirt on various renegade royals throughout the ages. I was tremendously impressed with our guests' erudition when it came to royal history.
It was also a treat to finally meet the talented Heather Rieseck, author of the very popular historical fiction blog, The Maidens' Court. We've been connecting in cyberspace for months, and I'm happy to say that she's just as much of a delight in person!
Dorset Inn owners Lauren and Steven Bryant and their wonderful Chef Thom really pulled out all the stops. The royal tea was a delicious and elegant event and such a success that we're already batting around ideas for the next themed tea. Jane Austen, anyone?
That evening , I was back in mufti for a reading, discussion, and signing of NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES at the marvelous Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT. I read from my chapter on the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which gave me the chance to share with readers who have also seen the recent feature film "The Young Victoria" a taste of how the marriage really transpired and what went on within it. I must confess, I suddenly became very emotional and teary as I was reading Victoria's own words about the last moments of her beloved Albert and her vows to rule her kingdom the way he would have wanted her to do so. I noticed some moist eyes in the house as well. The courtship and marriage of Victoria and Albert is one of the rare love stories in royal history.
Thanks are due to Northshire events coordinator Zach Marcus and his assistant Kate, as well as to my fabulous publicist at NAL, Kathryn Tumen, for making it all happen!
"From Eleanor of Aquitaine to Princess Diana, Carroll writes with verve and wit about the passionate - and occasionally perilous - events that occur when royals wed. From the occasional love match to the more frequent grudge match, Carroll’s fascinating account of nine centuries of royal marriages is an irresistible combination of People Magazine and the History Channel."
Look Who's Promoting NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES!
Leslie's most recent release! "Packed with gruesome details and brimming with wit, this is a wildly breezy read." -- Publishers Weekly
In this delightful addition to the countless other books written about the British Royal Family, Carroll (Choosing Sophie ) deftly constructs information chronologically by ruling dynasty, from the Angevins to the Windsors. Along the way, she shares with readers little-known facts-e.g., that the 20-year liaison between William IV and his actress companion was apparently a happy and contented one until he tossed her aside to become king-as well as facts more widely known, e.g., that Queen Victoria and John Brown were close friends but that no evidence of an affair has been discovered. As her previous experience writing historical fiction under the pseudonym Amanda Elyot attests, Carroll can ably research and distill facts and has a true talent for weaving fascinating narratives. Her entertaining writing style makes this one book you do not want to put down. Entertaining, impeccably researched, and extremely well written, it will appeal to all readers with an interest in British history as well as to those with a more specialized interest in the personal lives of the British royal family. Highly recommended.