Historic Love and Marriages From Hell

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell

Khalid Elhassan - September 22, 2020

The line between love and hate is often pretty thin, and only a short step separates the two. Likewise, marital bliss and a marriage made in hell are often separated by a thin line, and a pretty short step. Following are thirty-five things about disastrous love affairs and marriages from history.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Prices August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Pintrest

35. Princess of Wales’ Disastrous Marriage

The wedding of Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1719 – 1772) was not the culmination of a love journey. Augusta was a German noblewoman who became Princess of Wales by marrying the Prince of Wales. Her marriage kicked off inauspiciously, with a terrible wedding ceremony, and continued as disastrously as it had began. To cap off her marital bad luck, she was one of the only four Princesses of Wales who never got to become queen.

Augusta was born in Gotha, Germany, the second youngest of its duke’s 19 children. In 1736, at the young age of sixteen, and young for her age at that, she was sent to Britain, still clutching her doll, as a bride in an arranged royal wedding. She arrived in England not knowing a word of English, to marry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son and designated successor of King George II.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Princess Augusta’s wedding portrait. Wikimedia

34. Princess Bride Kicks Off Wedding by Vomiting on Wedding Dress, Then Hurling on Mother in Law

Britain’s royal family was in a rush to conduct the wedding, in order to squelch rumors that the Prince of Wales was about to marry a British noblewoman. There was no wooing or any attempt to try and get Augusta of Saxe-Gotha Altenburg to fall in love with the Prince of Wales. Almost immediately upon her arrival in England, Augusta was shoved into a wedding dress, and on May 8th, 1736, she was led up the aisle of the Royal Chapel in Saint James Palace to marry the 29-year-old Frederick.

Finding herself in an entirely new environment, and taking part in a ceremony conducted in a language she did not understand, Augusta grew increasingly nervous. As the groom’s mother, Queen Caroline, translated from English into German and whispered it into Augusta’s ear, the bride suddenly vomited all over her wedding gown. As her mother-in-law lent a hand to wipe the mess off Augusta’s dress, the nervous bride had a second bout of the heaves, and hurled all over the queen.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Princess Augusta and her family in 1939. Wikimedia

33. Married Life With No Love

Augusta’s married life was just as awkward as her wedding had been. The new Princess of Wales continued playing with her dolls, until her relatives finally forced her to stop. Her husband, taking advantage of his wife’s naivety, got Augusta to employ his mistress as her lady of the bedchamber, after convincing her that rumors of an affair were fake news.

The Prince of Wales and his parents had a lot of family drama going on, and Augusta was often dragged unwillingly into the middle of the mess, taking fire from both sides. Stuck in a marriage without a glimmer of love, she nonetheless performed her expected role and gave birth to nine children. However, she never got the hoped for payout of becoming queen consort: Augusta’s husband died before her father-in-law. Upon the latter’s death, the crown went to her son, George III.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Heloise and Abelard, by Jean Baptiste Goyet. Imgur

32. Medieval Star-Crossed Love

Romeo and Juliet might have had the world’s most star-crossed love affair. However, they are fictional characters, conceived in the imagination of William Shakespeare and brought to life by his quill. For real-life star-crossed love, the most famous is probably that of Heloise and Abelard, two medieval scholars whose romance ended as painfully – especially for him – as it gets.

Peter Abelard (1079 – 1142) was born into minor French nobility in Brittany. From an early age, he exhibited a love of learning that marked him for a life of scholarship. His father encouraged him to study the liberal arts, and by his early 20s, Abelard was famous for his debating skills, particularly in philosophy. Like some super smart people, however, he also gained a reputation for arrogance.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Abelard seducing his student. Fine Art America

31. Love Struck Scholar Worms His Way Into Beloved’s Household

By 1115 Abelard was an accomplished theologian, the master of Notre Dame, and a canon in the archdiocese that included Paris. That was when he ran into Heloise d’Argenteuil (circa 1095 – 1164), who lived in the precincts of Notre Dame under the care of her uncle, a secular canon named Fulbert. A rarity for women in her day, Heloise had mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and had gained renown for her knowledge of classical studies.

Abelard wormed his way into Fulbert’s household, claiming that he could not afford a place of his own, and offering to tutor his niece in lieu of rent. Fulbert agreed, tutor and pupil hit it off, and were soon in love. In 1115, Heloise and Abelard began an affair. It was torrid, and the duo were too blinded by their passion to pay heed to the risks involved.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
‘Abelard and Heloise Surprised by Master Fulbert, by Jean Vignaud, 1819. Flickr

30. Kissing and Telling Backfires

Heloise lived in convent, but snuck out – or Abelard snuck in – whenever possible. They got physical whenever and wherever they could, making love in gardens at night, in her convent cell, in the convent’s kitchens, and in her uncle and guardian’s bedroom. She eventually got pregnant, so Abelard arranged for her to visit his family in Brittany, where she gave birth to a son.

Unfortunately for the love birds, and especially for Abelard, his arrogance betrayed him: he started boasting of his conquest. Word got back to Fulbert, Heloise’s uncle and guardian, and things took a turn for the worst. To appease Fulbert, the duo got secretly married, but when her uncle disclosed the marriage, Heloise denied it in an attempt to protect her husband’s career.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
The tomb of Heloise and Abelard. ThoughtCo

29. Love Ends in the Unkindest Cut of All

To protect Heloise from her uncle, Abelard sent her to a convent, where she pretended to be a nun. Her uncle interpreted that as Abelard trying to bury the scandal by forcing Heloise to become a nun. The enraged Fulbert set out to make Abelard pay for defiling his niece. So he hired some thugs to break into Abelard’s room one night, where they beat him up. Then delivered the unkindest cut of all, by castrating him.

After recovering from his injuries, Abelard became a monk and retired to a monastery. He cajoled Heloise, who was reluctant to become a Bride of Christ, into becoming a nun for real. Eventually, Abelard got over the trauma and resumed lecturing and writing. Heloise became prioress of her convent, and the duo spent the rest of their lives writing each other letters.

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Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Bust of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Wikimedia

28. New Zealand’s Founder and His Criminal Love

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796 – 1862) was a British politician who played a key role in the colonization of Australasia. He is considered by many to be the founder of New Zealand. Before that, however, Wakefield had earned a footnote in history as the criminal defendant in a scandalous case involving the abduction and marriage of a fifteen-year-old.

Wakefield had been a diplomatic courier at the tail end of the Napoleonic Wars. Then he seduced a seventeen-year-old wealthy heiress in 1816, and got her to fall in love and elope with him. That netted him a marriage settlement from her father worth about U$8 million in 2020 dollars. However, his wife died soon after childbirth in 1820, and although now wealthy, Wakefield wanted more money to launch a political career – seems there was never a time when politicians were not obsessed with campaign finances. That quest eventually led him in 1827 to Ellen Turner, the only child of a wealthy textile manufacturer.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Naomi Clifford

27. Kidnapping a Bride

Standing in the way of Edward Wakefield’s plans to marry Ellen Turner was the fact that she was fifteen, and there was zero chance of her father consenting to the marriage. Undaunted, Wakefield hatched a plot with his brother to elope with Ellen. He figured her parents would eventually relent and respond as his first wife’s parents had. Departing from the modus operandi preceding his first marriage, Wakefield did not try to seduce Ellen and get her to fall in love with him. Instead, he sent a carriage to the girl’s boarding school in Liverpool, with a message to the headmistress stating that Ellen’s mother was dying, and wished to see her daughter immediately.

Ellen was taken to a hotel in Manchester, where Wakefield told her that her father’s business empire had collapsed, and that Mr. Turner was now a fugitive, on the run from his creditors. He then convinced Ellen that his banker uncle had agreed to release some funds that would save her father, but only on condition that she wed Wakefield, and that her fugitive father had consented to the marriage.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
The route of Wakefield during the abduction of Ellen Turner. Big Issue North

26. A Wedding So Lacking in Love and Romance, it Was Officiated by a Blacksmith

Ellen Turner agreed, so Wakefield took her across the border to Scotland, whose marriage laws were less strict than England’s. There, they were married by a blacksmith. Eventually, Ellen asked to see her father, and Wakefield promised to make it happen, but the meetings always fell through. Eventually, he convinced her that her father had gone to France, and wanted his daughter and her husband to follow him.

In the meantime, Wakefield had written Ellen’s father, informing him of the wedding. He was disappointed in his expectation that Mr. Turner would react as his first wife’s father. Instead, Ellen’s father, who also happened to be High Sheriff of Cheshire, called in favors from the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office duly sent a lawyer and a policeman to France, where they found Turner and Ellen in a Calais hotel. Ellen was returned to her father, and Wakefield and his brother were eventually arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The marriage was eventually annulled by Parliament.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Princess Margaret of Valois. Pintrest

25. Queen Margot’s Wedding Began With a Murder, and Ended With a Massacre

Margaret of Valois (1553 – 1615) was a French queen known both for her numerous love affairs and general licentiousness. She is also known as the first woman in history to pen her memoirs – a vivid depiction of the turbulent France of her lifetime. She was made even more famous, or perhaps infamous, by Alexander Dumas’ portrayal of her in his historical novel, Queen Margot. She was unlucky in marriage: her wedding began with a murder, and ended with a massacre.

Margaret was born to King Henry II of France and his formidable wife, Catherine de Medici. Growing up, Margaret was quite close to her brother Henry – the future king Henry III, the last of the Valois kings. So close that rumors spread about an incestuous love affair between the siblings. Closeness turned into lifelong hatred, however, when she was discovered having an affair with an aristocrat, Henry of Guise. It ended in 1570 with Margaret’s mother and her brother, King Charles IX, beating up Guise and banishing him from the court.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Wikimedia

24. No Love Lost Between the Bride’s and Groom’s Religions

At the time of Margaret of Valois’ nuptials, France was under serious religious strains, with no love lost between French Catholics and Protestants. To ease the tensions, Catherine de Medici sought to bring the Catholic Valois closer to their Bourbon relatives, a Protestant branch of the French royal family. Accordingly, Catherine arranged for Margaret to marry her Bourbon relative, the Protestant Henry of Navarre.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Catherine de Medici with her children in 1861: Francis, Charles IX, Margaret, and Henry. Derniers Valois

The wedding was held at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on August 19th, 1572. Things went wrong from the start when the Protestant groom refused – or was not allowed – to set foot in the Catholic cathedral. So he spent the wedding day outside Notre Dame. Things got worse for religious reconciliation five days later, when the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre began on August 24th, Thousands of Protestants who had traveled to Paris for the wedding were murdered by Catholic mobs. Tens of thousands more Protestants were massacred throughout France in the following days.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Henry of Navarre at war with his wife’s Catholic co-religionists. Musee de l’Histoire de France

23. Henry of Navarre’s Understandable Lack of Love For His Wife

Margaret of Valois’ husband-to-be, Henry of Navarre, only survived the massacre of his coreligionists by promising to convert to Catholicism. He was forced to live in the French court, until he escaped in 1576. Margaret had nothing to do with the killings, and had done much to save her husband’s life. However, after the massacre and four years of captivity, it is perhaps understandable that Henry of Navarre had no love for Catholics – including his Catholic wife – by the time he escaped.

Once free, he renounced Catholicism and joined the Protestant military forces. When Margaret’s brother Henry succeeded their brother Charles IX to become king Henry III, her husband became next in the line for the throne, as Henry III had no male heirs. His being a Protestant, however, complicated matters. Soon a three-way struggle, known as the War of the Three Henrys, erupted between Margaret’s brother king Henry III, her husband, Henry of Navarre, and her former lover, Henry of Guise.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Margaret of Valois. Derniers Valois

22. “Paris is Well Worth a Mass

In 1588, Margaret of Valois’ brother, King Henry III, had Henry of Guise assassinated, along with a brother who was a cardinal. That horrified the public, and led to a collapse of the king’s authority throughout most of France.

King Henry III was assassinated by a monk in 1589, and Margaret’s husband, Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. The Parisians had no love for the Protestant Henry, however, and barred him from the city. To secure the throne, he converted to Catholicism, this time willingly, remarking cynically that “Paris is well worth a Mass“. One of his first acts as king was to arrange an annulment of his marriage to Margaret of Valois.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Linlithgow Palace, where Mary Queen of Scots was born. Flickr

21. Love Turns Mary Stuart’s Tragic Life More Tragic Still

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587), had a tragic life. Her father, James V of Scotland, died when she was six days old, and she was crowned as queen while still in her swaddling clothes. Scotland was ruled by regents, while Mary was packed off to France, where she was raised in the French royal court. There, she married the French Dauphin, and eventually became queen of France when he succeeded to the throne as Francis II. However, that marriage lasted only a year, because her husband got an ear infection that spread to his brain and killed him.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary and her husband Francis. Bibliotheque Nationale de France

The widowed Mary returned to Scotland, where she fell madly in love with and married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. It turned out to be one of history’s worst royal marriages: Darnley flipped from Prince Charming to Psycho Hubby. In a series of dramatic twists and turns, Darnley murdered Mary’s secretary in her presence, and she retaliated by hooking up with a lover who blew up her husband with gunpowder. It ended with the shocking Scots dethroning Mary and chasing her of out Scotland.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Queen of Scots, by Francois Clouet. Google Art Project

20. From Gay Paris to Grim Scotland

Mary Stuart was raised Catholic. However, the Scotland to which she returned in 1561 was tearing itself apart between Catholics mounting a desperate rearguard action, and increasingly assertive Protestants. There was no love lost between the two sects.

Compared to the gaiety of the French court, where Mary had grown up, Scotland was a decidedly dour place. The leading Protestant reformer John Knox denounced the habits she had picked up in France of dancing, dressing too stylishly, and hearing the Catholic mass. It was against that backdrop that Mary met an Italian nobleman, David Rizzio, who arrived with the staff of an embassy from Savoy to Scotland in 1561.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
David Rizzio. Pintrest

19. Rumors of a Love Affair Plant the Seeds for Tragedy

David Rizzio, who was considered a good musician and a great singer, stood out and caught the attention of Queen Mary. A cosmopolitan and cultured courtier was a rare find in Scotland, so Mary wasted no time in snatching Rizzio up, and adding him to her staff as a court musician and bass in her personal choir. By 1564, Rizzio had grown rich off the queen’s patronage and had been elevated from musician to Mary’s private secretary.

As private secretary, Rizzio controlled access to Mary, making him a powerful figure in his own right. That did not sit well with the Scots, who resented a foreigner – and a Catholic foreigner at that – wielding such clout at court. Rumors soon spread that Rizzio was abusing his power for his own benefit, and that he and the queen had a love affair. Unfortunately for both Mary and Rizzio, they paid no attention to the rumors, and did little to dispel them. That indifference would come back and bite both.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. National Galleries of Scotland

18. The Queen Falls in Love

Whatever the truth about an affair between the queen and her private secretary, Mary’s affections were soon captured by another beau. Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545 – 1567) was Mary’s cousin. A handsome and well-proportioned young man, Darnley was nineteen when he first met Mary in 1565. The queen was captivated by her cousin, and soon fell head over heels in love with him. In addition to the attraction, a marriage made dynastic sense: it would unite two branches of the Stuart line, and thus strengthen the Scottish royal family.

A marriage was swiftly arranged, and Darnley ascended the throne of Scotland as king consort. Soon after the wedding, however, Mary discovered that her second husband was a spoiled brat, with an excessive sense of entitlement. Darnley grew livid when Mary refused to grant him the Crown Matrimonial, which would have allowed him to continue ruling after her death. When his wife got pregnant, instead of being pleased, Darnley worried that an heir would push him that much further from the throne.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Queen of Scots, and Lord Darnley. Unofficial Royalty

17. From Love to Resentment

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, became Mary’s second husband, and king consort of Scotland, from 1565 until he died two years later. Darnley had accomplished little of note in his brief life before his violent death at age 22. His single legacy was to impregnate his wife with the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. The Scottish royal couple’s sole offspring succeeded Queen Elizabeth I on the English throne, and gave rise to the Stuart Dynasty, which united England and Scotland.

Darnley resented that his wife was queen, while he was a mere consort, with no independent power. His resentment grew when Mary removed from circulation the currency that had his head on it. Darnley eventually focused his rage on Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, whom he accused of turning the queen against him, as well as being her lover. The accusation was rich, considering that Darnley was himself infamous as Scotland’s most debauched and promiscuous nobleman. Indeed, his list of alleged lovers included David Rizzio.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Queen of Scots. Encyclopedia Britannica

16. The Queen Falls Out of Love

Whatever the truth, if any, of a three-way bisexual love triangle between Queen Mary, Lord Darnley, and David Rizzio, the royal marriage soured within a year. By 1566, the queen and her husband were estranged. So Darnley began plotting against Mary, who was pregnant by then. His nebulous plan was to push the queen out of the way, and take her place on the throne as king of Scotland in his own right. Whether or not he had ever been Darnley’s lover, Rizzio stuck with Mary when the rift opened up between the queen and her husband.

Rizzio’s loyalty to the queen further incensed Darnley. When rumors began making the round that the child growing in Mary’s womb was actually Rizzio’s, Darnley’s rage mounted. Eventually, the snickering at court and throughout Scotland about Darnley being a cuckold proved too much for the king consort’s pride and fragile masculinity. So he decided to do something about it. That something turned out to be one of the era’s most shocking public murders.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
The murder of David Rizzio. National Galleries of Scotland

15. Murder in the Queen’s Presence

Lord Darnley conspired with a cabal of aristocrats, including his father and other nobles, to effectively carry out a Protestant coup against Mary, with David Rizzio playing the role of scapegoat. On the evening of March 9th, 1566, Darnley led a group of 80 armed men and forcibly seized Mary’s palace in Edinburgh, then burst into the queen’s dining room, where she was supping with her confidants, including David Rizzio.

Mary was publicly accused of dishonoring her husband by conducting a love affair with her secretary. In the ensuing fracas, which entailed the queen being held with a pistol pointed at her head while her secretary attempted to hide behind her, Darnley and his henchmen stabbed Rizzio to death. All in all, David Rizzio was stabbed 56 times, then his corpse was unceremoniously flung down the palace’s main stairs, and stripped of its jewels and fine clothes.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
‘The Murder of Rizzio’, by John Opie, 1787. Wikimedia

14. Trying to Terrify His Pregnant Wife Into a Miscarriage

While David Rizzio was getting murdered, Queen Mary was held at gunpoint by her husband’s henchmen. One of them pointed a pistol at her pregnant belly, while another threatened to stab her. By murdering the queen’s secretary in her presence, Darnley had not only sought to intimidate and bend his wife to his will, but also to shock the pregnant Mary into miscarrying.

Mary did not miscarry, and gave birth to the future king James in June, 1566. However, between seeing her psycho husband commit bloody murder in her presence, while his sidekicks threatened to visit deadly violence upon her and upon the baby in her womb, the queen was, understandably quite intimidated. If her love for Lord Darnley was not already dead, it died then. After the deed was done and it was all over, Mary was forced to pardon Rizzio’s murderers. However, Darnley would not get away with it for long.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Queen of Scots, as depicted in a 2018 movie of the same name. Letterboxd

13. “Such a Young Fool and Proud Tyrant Should Not Reign

It did not take long for Lord Darnley to quarrel with his Protestant co-conspirators. Just two days after murdering the queen’s secretary, the queen’s husband switched back to his wife’s Catholic faction. On the night of March 11-12, 1566, he helped Mary escape from her palace, now teeming with Protestants. However, Darnley’s change of heart was too late to rekindle love or save the marriage, which was irrevocably ruined by the murder of Rizzio.

Mary neither forgot what had happened, nor forgave. After giving birth in June, 1566, Mary bided her time, until November of that year, when she met with her loyal nobles to figure out what to do about the “problem of Darnley”. They decided that the queen’s husband had to go. As described by contemporaries: “It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth … that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; … that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend“.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Pintrest

12. Getting a New Love to Kill an Old One

Queen Mary’s leading ally in the ensuing plot to get rid of Darnley was James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who organized a plot to assassinate Darnley. On February 19th, 1567, explosives were detonated beneath Darnley’s bedroom. He survived the blast, but upon staggering out of the wreckage, he was seized and strangled to death.

Soon thereafter, Mary married Bothwell. The marriage turned out to be extremely unpopular, and united both Catholics and Protestants in denouncing the queen for marrying the man who had murdered her husband.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Queen of Scots. Westminster Abbey

11. The Queen Abandoned by Her Latest Love

Queen Mary and the Earl of Bothwell raised an army against their opponents. However, before any battle was fought, the royal couple’s forces evaporated, as their men deserted them. Bothwell was allowed to leave, provided he left Mary behind. Whatever love he might have felt for Mary, it was not greater than his love for his own life. Bothwell jumped at the chance to save his skin, and abandoned his wife to the tender mercies of her enemies.

Mary was taken captive to Edinburgh, where she was denounced as an adulteress and murderess, and imprisoned. On July 24th, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, James. She fled to England, where she got involved in further political intrigues, which ended with her beheading two decades later.

Read More: Major History Mistakes Made in the Movie Mary, Queen of Scots.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Bowes’ first husband, John Bowes, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kingmore. John Mitchell

10. England’s Worst Husband?

Andrew Robinson Stoney (1747 – 1810) might have been England’s worst husband in the eighteenth century. An Anglo-Irish rake and adventurer, Stoney was a conman who gained infamy by tricking an unsuspecting noblewoman into a horrific marriage without any love, but with plenty of abuse. It was to Mary Bowes, Countess of Strathmore and Kingmore (1749 – 1800), an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II who became known as “The Unhappy Countess”. The marriage scandalized England, and led to a riveting divorce case.

Mary was born in London to a wealthy coal baron who died when she was eleven. He left her a fortune of about one million pounds – Paris Hilton type money in those days. That made Mary the wealthiest heiress in Europe, and one of Britain’s most desirable women. Aristocrats wooed her, and she enjoyed and encouraged the attentions, before finally marrying John Bowes, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kingmore, on her eighteenth birthday.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Bowes. Westminster Abbey

9. Torrid Love Affairs

Mary Bowes and the Earth of Strathmore and Kingmore had five children. However, when the Earl caught tuberculosis, Mary grew frustrated with his increasing debility and lack of sex drive. She started cheating on her husband, carried on a series of love affairs, and earned a reputation for licentiousness in the process.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Contemporary cartoon mocking the Earl of Strathmore and Kingmore for his wife’s licentiousness. Wikimedia

When the Earl finally died in 1776, the widowed Mary resumed control of her fortune, and took up with a new beau, George Gray. He got her pregnant four times within a year, with Mary aborting each one.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Andrew Robinson Stoney. Wikimedia

8. No Love? No Problem

Mary Bowes finally resigned herself to marry George Gray after the fourth pregnancy. Then she met and was seduced by Andrew Robinson Stoney, a British Army lieutenant who styled himself a “Captain”. Stoney wanted to get Mary to fall in love and agree to marry him, but although she liked him, she never fell in love with him. So Stoney concocted a fiendish plan to get her to marry him, love or no love.

In 1777, Stoney wrote scurrilous articles about Mary, and arranged to have them published in a newspaper. He then feigned outrage over the insult to Mary’s honor, and challenged the newspaper’s editor, who was in on the scam, to a duel. In the ensuing fake fight, Stoney pretended to have been “mortally injured”. Then he sprang his trap, by appealing to Mary’s romantic side, and begging her to grant him his dying wish: her hand in marriage.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Mary Bowes. National Trust, UK

7. A Hellish Marriage

Mary Bowes was moved by the “dying” Stoney’s romantic appeal. Figuring that the marriage would only last a few hours before her new husband died, she agreed to wed Captain Stoney, who was carried down the aisle on a stretcher. Soon after the vows were exchanged and the ceremony concluded, Stoney made a miraculous recovery. In those days, husbands had the right to control their wives’ finances, but Stoney discovered that a prenuptial agreement stood in the way. Undaunted, he forced Mary to revoke the prenuptial and hand control of her fortune over to him.

Stoney then began squandering Mary’s wealth like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and kept her a prisoner in their home. Now that she was his lawful wife, Stoney abandoned all prior efforts at getting Mary to fall in love with him. Over the next eight years, he made her life a living hell, abusing her physically and emotionally, while raping and impregnating her maids. He also brought prostitutes home, carried on numerous consensual affairs, and fathered a brood of illegitimate children in the process.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Andrew Robinson Stoney, hauled before the King’s Bench. All That is Interesting

6. Escape and Kidnapping

Mary Bowes finally escaped in 1785, and filed for divorce. However, Stoney was not about to give up on his meal ticket that easily. So he tracked Mary down and kidnapped her. He took her to northern England, where he tortured her, and threatened to rape and kill her. He also forced her to ride around the countryside on horseback during an extremely cold winter, hoping she would sicken and die.

She was eventually rescued when a hue and cry was raised, and Stoney was tracked down and arrested. The divorce case, along with the criminal charges against Stoney, resumed, captivating Britain for years. Stoney and his accomplices were eventually convicted of abduction and sentenced to three years imprisonment, and Mary finally got her divorce in 1789.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Camila O’Gorman in 1848. Wikimedia

5. A Love That Shocked a Nation

Camila O’Gorman (1828 – 1848) was a wealthy nineteenth-century Argentinean socialite, and one of the most famous romantic – and tragic- figures of that country. She carried on a romantic relationship and marriage with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Ladislao Gutierrez, that scandalized the country and ended in tragedy for the love birds.

Born in Buenos Aires, Camila’s cultivated manners, ladylike education, suave beauty, and kindly disposition were at odds with the Argentina of her day. Such traits belonged in a land of peace and beauty. Unfortunately, she lived in a brutalized country, whose dictator, an army general named Juan Manuel de Rosas, spiked town squares with the heads of political opponents. A pillar of polite society, Camila was a friend of the dictator’s daughter, when she was introduced to a Jesuit priest, Ladislao Guiterrez. Something clicked between socialite and priest, and in 1847, the two fell in love and began an affair.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
The execution of Camila O’Gorman. Revisionistas

4. Love Ends in Tragedy

Camila O’Gorman and Father Ladislao Guiterrez fled to a small provincial town. There, they posed as a married couple, living as husband and wife, and launching the town’s first school. Back in Buenos Aires, the scandal took on political tones, when the dictator’s opponents used it as an example of the moral decay under Rosas – a notorious womanizer. Camila and Ladislao were eventually tracked down, kidnapped, and returned to Buenos Aires. Rosas’ daughter pleaded for clemency for her friend, but the dictator replied that the case warranted “a show of my undisputed power, as the moral values and sacred religious norms of a whole society are at stake“.

The dictator himself signed a decree for the lovers’ execution. On August 18th, 1848, Camila O’Gorman and Father Ladislao Gutierrez were executed by a firing squad in a prison town near Buenos Aires. She was twenty-years-old, and eight months pregnant. As a last gesture of Christian charity, she was given holy water to drink, so her baby would go to heaven.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
A 1950s Jerry Lee Lewis publicity photo. Pintrest

3. A Love That Wrecked a Career

Few marriages in the history of Showbiz have been as catastrophic as that of Jerry Lee Lewis (1935 – ) and Myra Gale Brown. Born and raised in Louisiana, Lewis was an early pioneer of rock and roll, who began recording in 1956. The following year, he became world-famous for his hit There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. Soon thereafter came his signature song, the insta-classic Great Balls of Fire, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songs.

By then, Lewis had already gone through two failed marriages. He divorced his second wife to wed for a third time, after falling head over heels in love with Myra Gale Brown. One hiccup was that she was his cousin, although once removed. A bigger hiccup is that she was thirteen years old. She still believed in Santa Claus on her wedding night.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Jerry Lee Lewis and his child bride. Today I Found Out

2. Some Good Advice, That He Just Didn’t Take

It was not commonplace in 1950s Louisiana to marry one’s cousin, or a thirteen-year-old girl. However, while unusual, it was not considered extreme back then. Given his background and upbringing, Jerry Lee Lewis did not think that Myra’s age, or her blood relation to him, was a big deal. To the extent he was worried about scandal, it had more to with the timing of the wedding: his third marriage had been performed before finalizing the divorce from his second wife.

Lewis was warned not to take his child bride with him on his first European tour. Besotted with love and unwilling to part from Myra, he ignored the warning. He should have listened. Arriving in Britain in May, 1958, he introduced Myra to reporters as his wife, but claimed she was fifteen – still shockingly young. Myra made it worse by remarking that fifteen was not too young to marry, because where she came from: “You can marry at ten, if you can find a husband“.

Historic Love and Marriages From Hell
Jerry Lee Lewis and his child bride, back home after a disastrous overseas trip. The Commercial Appeal

1. A Fierce Backlash

Once the press on both sides of the Atlantic discovered Myra’s true age, the backlash was fierce. The British press was particularly vicious, labeling Lewis a “baby snatcher” and “cradle robber”, urging a boycott of his concerts, and calling for his deportation as a child molester. Tour dates were canceled, and Lewis and Myra were forced to flee back to the US.

When their plane landed in New York, the US press was no kinder than the British. Lewis had experienced a meteoric rise, and at the peak of his career, he rivaled Elvis. His career crashed and burned spectacularly, and his personal appearance fees dropped from the then princely sum of $10,000 a night to $250. He reinvented himself a decade later as a country singer, performing before audiences less offended by performers’ wedding child brides who also happened to be blood relatives.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Andrew Robinson Stoney May Have Been England’s Worst Husband, Ever

Biography – Jerry Lee Lewis

British Heritage Travel – Did Mary Queen of Scots Kill Her Husband Lord Darnley?

Encyclopedia Britannica – Margaret of Valois, Queen Consort of Navarre

General History – An Infamous Trio: Darnley, Bothwell, and Rizzio

History Ireland – Camila O’Gorman, a Rose Among the Thorns

History Today – The Murder of Darnley

Live About – Jerry Lee Lewis and the Myra Brown Scandal

Live Science – The 6 Most Tragic Love Stories in History

New York Times, February 13th, 2005 – Heloise & Abelard: Love Hurts

Ranker – The 10 Cruelest, Most Unfair Weddings in the History of Western Culture

Tatler, February 14th, 2017 – The 7 Worst Weddings in History and Literature

Tudor Society – Murder of David Rizzio

Unofficial Royalty – Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales

Vintage News – Betrayal Upon Betrayal: The Sordid Plot to Overthrow Mary Queen of Scots

Wikipedia – David Rizzio

Wikipedia – Camila O’Gorman

Wikipedia – Shrigley Abduction