10 Toxic Royal Unions
10 Toxic Royal Unions

10 Toxic Royal Unions

D.G. Hewitt - June 28, 2018

10 Toxic Royal Unions
Princess Caroline Matilda married a mentally ill Scandinavian monarch. Pinterest.

Christian VII of Denmark and Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain

It’s fair to say that, by the time she died in 1775, Carline Matilda of Great Britain was tired of men. Not only was she the sister to ‘Mad’ King George III of Great Britain, but she was also the wife of Christian VII, one of the worst monarchs in the history of Danish royalty. Her marriage to the mentally unfit Dane might have produced a healthy daughter but it was, by every other measure, a tragedy. And it was Caroline Matilda herself who was the real victim in the whole affair.

Caroline Matilda enjoyed a sheltered childhood. While she was the youngest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, she grew up away from the royal court. So it would have been a huge shock for her when she was married to her first cousin, King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway at the age of 15. Not that an older bride would have been able to deal with the king’s ways. While they were perfectly suited in some ways – they were both Protestant and of similar social rank – it’s clear it was doomed from the start. In fact, they married ‘by proxy’ in St James’s Palace in London on October 1, 1766. Christian’s place at the altar was taken by her own uncle and she didn’t meet her groom in person for another few weeks.

When she did meet and started to get to know Christian, she would have been dismayed. While Caroline Matilda was criticised as being plain, plump and even pushy, her new husband was mentally unstable. He was consistently cold and indifferent to his young wife. Once Caroline Matilda had provided an heir, Crown Prince Frederick, in 1768, Christian preferred to spend his time in Copenhagen’s brothels than with his family. With time, he became increasingly paranoid. He hallucinated and became delusional. The king even mutilated himself. And then he publicly declared that he didn’t love his wife and could never love her.

Driven by Christian’s ways, Caroline Matilda took solace in the arms – and bed – of Johann Friedrich Struensee, a Germany physician to the royal court. Thanks to this relationship, Struensee became increasingly influential, even dictating court matters. Before long, Christian’s own stepmother and his own brother conspired to put an end to the threatening affair. In the spring of 1772, the doctor was arrested and found guilty of the ‘crime of familiarity’ with the Queen and was executed. Caroline Matilda was also found guilty of adultery. However, with British ships waiting off the coast of Denmark, it was decided that she should be allowed to live. She moved to Celle, close to Hanover, and lived in exile. She died of scarlet fever in 1775.


10 Toxic Royal Unions
Peter the Great hated his first wife Eudoxia so much he exiled her to a monastery. Pinterest.

Peter the Great and Eudoxia

The greatest ruler Russia ever had was indeed ‘great’ in many ways, but he was a pretty lousy husband to his first wife. Their short-lived, youthful union was doomed from the very start and should probably never have been arranged. However, in 17th century Russia, political and dynastical considerations trumped any ideas of love and compatibility – so both the Tsar and his bride had to endure an unhappy nine years. Once the marriage was over, however, her unhappiness would only continue.

Peter the Great was born in 1675 and from the very start of his life, his family was on the lookout for a suitable match. His mother, Natalia Naryshkina, identified a young girl by the name of Eudoxia as ideal marriage material. So, at the age of just 16, Peter was wed, very much against his will. Unlike many royal unions, the groom’s unhappiness didn’t stem from a lack of physical attraction to his bride. Rather, he was actively contemptuous of her personality and, more importantly for this well-read polymath, of her mind.

It’s a wonder the marriage lasted as long as it did. While Peter was a scholar, Eudoxia was anything but. By all accounts, she was poorly-read, ignorant and generally stupid. What’s more, while Peter was diplomatic, his wife was naturally argumentative. Initially, their two personalities clashed. Within a couple of years, however, they were living entirely separate lives. Peter regularly took lovers, often in full sight of his wife. And, though they had three children together – though two would died in infancy – by 1696, Peter had had enough. He wanted out of the unhappy marriage.

Peter asked his advisors to find a way to ‘persuade’ Eudoxia to leave the royal court voluntarily. Eventually, two years later, she agreed and entered a monastery. Peter had the marriage dissolved. Before long, he wed again, this time to Catherine. Though he saw her as an equal and adored her, he was consistently unfaithful throughout their 23 years together, though Catherine accepted his ways. Peter the Great died in 1725. In 1727, Peter III came to the Russian throne. One of his first acts as Tsar was to free his grandmother, Eudoxia from her exile. The former unhappy wife was welcomed back to Moscow with great fanfare and lived in luxury for the remaining four years of her life.

10 Toxic Royal Unions
Queen Tamar of Georgia had her good-for-nothing husband exiled from the country for good. The Culture Trip.

Queen Tamar of Georgia and Yury Bogolyubsky

In 1178, George III of Georgia announced he was to make his daughter, Tamar, his co-ruler. She was just 18 and, what’s more, a woman. Since the monarchy was battling unruly royals at the time, many thought this was a bad idea. But, she soon proved the doubters wrong. So much so, in fact, that when George died in 1184, Tamar took on the role on her own. She became the first – and only – female monarch of Georgia, and not even an ill-advised marriage could dethrone her.

While they were happy enough to have a lady as King, Georgia’s nobles would not tolerate her being head of the army. Nor would they be happy until their King produced an heir. Quite simply, they ordered Tamar to take a husband. Getting married through necessity rarely works out well, and this was most definitely the case here. The nobles chose for Tamar and the man they chose was Rus Prince Yuri, otherwise known as Yury Bogolyubsky, the son of an assassinated prince. The groom did have some desirable qualities. Above all, he was a skilled fighter and a smart military tactician. However, he was not suited to marriage and, before long, the differences between Yury Bogolyubsky and Tamar started to show and soon become untenable.

According to the records of the time, Yury was a raging alcoholic. He was also serially unfaithful and, some said, perverted. There were even rumours that he was homosexual. What’s more, Yury was ambitious and, after he got a sniff of power through his marriage to Tamar, he was hungry for more. Tamar, for her part, became increasingly confident in her position as ruler. And so, after just two years of a hugely unhappy marriage, she divorced her husband.

Like many divorced couples, they both wanted to get back at one another. Yury aligned himself with a small band of Georgian nobles and then proclaimed himself King of Georgia. Though she was once married to him, Tamar showed no mercy: she crushed his armies and, in 1191, he was expelled from Georgia. What happened to him after that is a mystery. Tamar ruled until her death in 1213, marrying again and enjoying a happy union. Over the centuries, tales of her doomed first marriage have been re-told countless times in Georgia, often becoming grossly exaggerated and usually focusing on the sexual deviancies of the ruler’s inadequate husband.

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“On this day in 1152: Eleanor of Aquitaine marries Henry II.” Dominic Selwood, The Telegraph, May 2017.

“Edward II marries Isabella of France.” Richard Cavendish, History Today, January 2008.

“A Brief History of Georgia’s Only Female King.” Baia Dzagnidze, The Culture Trip, February 2018.

“The True Story of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones’s Love Affair.” Katie Frost, Town and Country Magazine, December 2017.

“Isabella of Angoulême – Queen of England.” History of Royal Women, June 2017.

“Caroline Mathilde.” The Danish Royal Collection. Rosenborg Palace.

“A Royal Affair: one to remember.” Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian, July 2012.