The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance

Khalid Elhassan - December 16, 2021

Marie Antoinette was long rumored to have been in love with a Swedish nobleman, who might have fathered at least one of her children. When modern technology was used to examine some of the correspondence between the queen and the aristocrat, it supported what until then had been mere gossip. Below are thirty things about that and other historic love affairs, marriages, and romantic entanglements.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
A teenaged Axel von Fersen. Aventuras na Historia

30. The Young Marie Antoinette and the Handsome Swede

Count Hans Axel von Fersen (1755 – 1810) went on a grand tour of Europe in his teens, and in 1774 he arrived in France. The count, who was two months older than Marie Antoinette, met the future queen at a ball when they were both nineteen years old and she was the Dauphine, or French Crown Princess. They both liked what they saw. For the Dauphine, the contrast between the dashing young man and her schlub of a husband, the future Louis XVI, must have been stark. A few years later in 1778, von Fersen was back in France, and Marie Antoinette, who by then was queen, had not forgotten the handsome Swede.

She often inquired about von Fersen and chided him when he missed some of her parties, informal affairs held in her private chateau on the grounds of Versailles, the Petit Trianon. In his diary entry for November 19th, 1778, the count wrote: “The queen treats me with great kindness; I often pay her my court at her card games, and each time she makes to me little speeches that are full of good-will. As someone had told her of my Swedish uniform, she expressed a wish to see me in it; I am to go Thursday thus dressed, not to Court, but to the queen’s apartments. She is the most amiable princess that I know“.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Axel von Fersen. British Museum

29. The Love of Marie Antoinette’s Life?

Count Axel von Fersen kept a lot of his correspondence with Marie Antoinette. It contained no proof of a love affair, but we now know that is because he had censored and altered a lot of it before he died. Scientists recently subjected some of the letters exchanged between the count and queen to X-ray fluorescence, which revealed what had been originally written. Words such as “adore”, “madly”, and “beloved” jumped out of the pages to indicate that the relationship between the two was not platonic.

Even in worldly France and the decadent world of the eighteenth-century French court, no woman would lightly use a word like “beloved” to a man who was not her husband. Stuff like that triggered duels, and in the case of a queen, could amount to treason and result in a trial for adultery or even execution. Indeed, French history had examples in which extramarital affairs with royal women ended in the torture and execution of their lovers and the imprisonment of the royal ladies. For Marie Antoinette to refer to von Fersen as her “beloved” on paper, in her own handwriting, was not the equivalent of a modern innocent “Dear X”.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Axel von Fersen. Prado Museum

28. Marie Antoinette Could Hardly Mask Her Feelings for von Fersen

The Queen of France’s attraction to von Fersen did not go unnoticed. Sweden’s envoy to the court of King Louis XVI noted in 1779 that Marie Antoinette could hardly hide her love for the Swedish count in public, and he feared that a scandal might erupt at any moment. He was relieved when his fellow Swede left for the American Colonies in 1780, where he served as an aide de camp to the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French army that fought on the Patriots’ side. Von Fersen was in at the kill when the allied French and American armies besieged and forced the surrender of a British army at Yorktown in 1781.

He returned to France in 1783 and resumed his love affair with Marie Antoinette. Secret letters were exchanged, and his diary contains numerous entries about a woman named “Elle” – his codename for the queen – whom he madly loved but could not wed because she was already married. In the meantime, it was an open secret that whenever von Fersen was in Paris, he spent days on end at Marie Antoinette’s private chateau, the Petit Trianon. When he left for Sweden a year later, he got the queen a dog, which she cherished and named Odin.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Marie Antoinette was in love with Swedish Count Axel Hans von Fersen. Poster Lounge

27. The Lackluster Love Life of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

It seems that King Louis XVI knew of his wife’s love for Axel von Fersen, but did nothing to about it. For a French monarch, this Louis was not much of a womanizer – or any type of womanizer, at all. French kings had long been known for their insatiable lust, but not Louis XVI. He married Marie Antoinette in 1770 when he was fifteen and she was fourteen but showed little interest in her, and the marriage was not consummated until seven years later, in 1777. In a letter to his brother, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II wrote that Louis had confided to him what he did with his queen. He: “Introduces the member … stays there without moving for about two minutes“, then pulls out without having ejaculated and “bids goodnight“.

In addition to inexperience and shyness, Louis might have suffered from phimosis, a foreskin condition that causes pain when the penis is erect. Reportedly, it was only after he underwent surgery that he was finally able to consummate his marriage. Louis and his queen seldom spent much time together, and he often ate and drank so much that he became nearly senseless, and had to be carried to bed. With such a husband, it is no surprise that Marie Antoinette looked for love outside the marriage, and sought somebody who had a clue what to do in bed.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Marie Antoinette with her children. Wikimedia

26. A Cuckolded King – Who Was Cool With It

Whatever the details of the French royal couple’s love life, what is known is that before von Fersen showed up, Marie Antoinette had not conceived her first child until seven years after she had been married to Louis. There was then a three-year gap – which coincided perfectly with von Fersen’s absence in America – before she got pregnant again. Within a month of the count’s return to France in 1783, Marie Antoinette went from two pregnancies in ten years, to three pregnancies in three years. The first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, the second one produced a son, and the third a daughter, who did not live long. The son who survived – the future Louis XVII who died in captivity during the French Revolution – bore a strong resemblance not to Louis XVI, but to von Fersen.

We now know that the French king was autistic, and although quite intelligent, had trouble looking people in the eye, was obsessive-compulsive and needed to do things in accordance with a rigid schedule, and cried easily. He also did not seem to need sex. He liked his wife, but not for physical reasons: she was his emotional support. She realized that, supported Louis emotionally, and did all she could to protect him. But as to love, her heart belonged to von Fersen, who was back in France as the king of Sweden’s personal envoy to the French court when the French Revolution erupted.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
The storming of the Bastille, 1789. Wikimedia

25. The Love of Marie Antoinette’s Life Tried to Spring Her from Revolutionary Paris

After a revolutionary mob stormed the Bastille in 1789, the king decided to go to Paris as a good will gesture towards the revolutionaries. Marie Antoinette went into hysterics when her husband left, and it took a lot of work by von Fersen and other close intimates to calm the queen down. The French Revolutionary Wars, and later the Napoleonic Wars into which they seamlessly segued, roiled Europe and much of the world from the 1790s until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The years after the French Revolution broke out in Paris were tough on the French king and queen.

A few months after the storming of the Bastille, the unwashed masses burst into the Palace of Versailles in October 1789, and forcibly transferred the royal family to Paris. Eventually, both were executed. However, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, helped by Count Axel von Fersen, had nearly avoided that fate. Von Fersen did not abandon the French queen after revolution swept her country. The love of the French queen’s life tried to help her – as well as her royal hubby whom he had cuckolded – escape from revolutionary Paris to a monarchist stronghold. They almost made it.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Path of the French royal family’s flight. Wikimedia

24. Von Fersen’s Arrangements for the Flight of His Love and Her Family

Ever since they had been taken to Paris by a revolutionary mob, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lived as virtual prisoners of their subjects. They felt humiliated as they were forced to adjust to the role of constitutional monarchs, so the royal couple decided to slip out of Paris. Count Axel von Fersen began to arrange plans for the king and queen’s flight in the spring of 1791, and in June of that year, he secured a type of light carriage known as a Berline to whisk them away to safety.

The plan was to take the king and the royal family to the citadel of Montmedy, roughly 200 miles from Paris. There, 10,000 men under a royalist general awaited Louis. After he regained his freedom of action, the king planned to launch a royalist counterrevolution. He mistakenly believed that only radicals in Paris supported the revolution and that the peasants and the broad French masses were on his side. With their support, he planned to restore his kingdom to the way it used to be.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries Palace. Imgur

23. Von Fersen Drove Marie Antoinette Out of Revolutionary Paris

Count Axel von Fersen had carriages placed near the Tuileries Palace, where the royal family was kept under guard. At 11:15 PM on the night of June 20th, 1791, the royal children were brought out. Half an hour later, the king and his sister, Madame Elizabeth, followed. It took Marie Antoinette a bit longer to join them. Just as she was about to leave, the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in charge of the palace guard, showed up in a torchlit carriage. Von Fersen’s love had to hide in the darkness until Lafayette went on his way before she was able to join the rest of her family.

Behind in the Tuileries Palace, King Louis XVI left a document addressed to the National Assembly. In it, he declared his intention to roll the clock back to the royal concessions granted in 1789, before the French Revolution began. In private correspondence, Marie Antoinette took an even more reactionary line and declared an intention to return to the old order, without any concessions at all. Von Fersen personally drove the carriage that contained his love and her family to a spot a few miles from Paris. There, Marie Antoinette’s maids awaited, along with fresh horses to whisk the royals to safety.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Marie Antoinette in 1792. Lady Reading

22. An Unfortunate Change of Plans that Doomed a Well-Planned Escape

Outside of Paris, the escape party broke up, and the royals took a post route, while von Fersen continued on via a different route. They planned to meet again at Montmedy, but the reunion never took place, thanks to a change of plans. To spirit away the French royal family and their close intimates, von Fersen had arranged for two fast light carriages, that could have made it to Montmedy relatively quickly. However, to make that work, the royal family would have had to split up and travel in two separate carriages, and the king and queen adamantly refused to accept that.

Instead, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette decided on a different ride at the last minute: a bigger and more conspicuous carriage drawn by six horses, that could accommodate everybody. It turned out to be a bad choice. Louis entered the contraption disguised as the valet of a Russian noblewoman – the governess of the royal children, who pretended to be their mother. Marie Antoinette pretended to be a governess, while her sister acted like a nurse. They made it out of Paris unchallenged, but they soon came to rue their last-minute carriage change.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
The arrest of the French royal family at Varennes, by Thomas Falcon Marshall, 1854. Wikimedia

21. The End of the Royal Flight

The heavy carriage that carried the French royal family was slow, and it had to stop for repairs when its traces broke. The royal couple’s disguises were also flimsy, and they were recognized by many along the route. The French royal flight ended at the small town of Varennes, just thirty miles shy of safety. The local postmaster recognized Louis XVI from currency that bore his likeness, and the royal family were arrested and returned to Paris. It was an unmitigated disaster.

Before his flight, the revolutionaries had accepted Louis as a constitutional monarch and took his assurances that he agreed with them at face value. His flight, coupled with the documents that he and Marie Antoinette had left behind that told them what they really thought, changed their minds. Until then, abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of a republic had been a fringe position advocated only by radicals. Now, it quickly gained popularity, and on September 21st, 1792, the monarchy was abolished and the French Republic was declared.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Axel von Fersen in 1793. Ostergotland Museum, Sweden

20. Marie Antoinette’s Last Time With Her Swedish Love

It did not take long before Count Axel von Fersen’s role in the royal family’s flight came to light, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He fled France and got in touch with aristocratic French exiles led by Louis XVI’s younger brother, the Comte d’Artois, who sought to roll back the French Revolution and restore the Ancien Regime. Von Fersen assisted in their efforts to try and get other European powers to declare war on revolutionary France. In August 1791, he traveled to Vienna, where he met Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, the brother of von Fersen’s love, Marie Antoinette.

He snuck back into Paris, disguised with a big wig and fake mustache, and claimed to be an envoy from Portugal’s queen. In December of 1791, that got him into the Tuileries Palace, where Louis and Marie Antoinette were now held captive under tight guard. He pitched them another escape plan: since the roads were now closely watched, the king would flee through the woods, and then by sea. In the meantime, Marie Antoinette’s love would spirit her and the children away via another route. Louis shot the plan down because he did not believe it would work. That night, von Fersen saw Marie Antoinette for the last time.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
The execution of King Louis XVI. History Hit

19. Von Fersen’s Efforts to Help His Love Backfired and Doomed Her

After Louis XVI rejected von Fersen’s escape plan, the Swedish count departed France. His and the French emigres’ efforts to stir up war between Europe’s monarchies and revolutionary France finally bore fruit in the summer of 1792 when war broke out between France and Austria. Rather than help von Fersen’s love and her family, however, it doomed them. That September, the French National Assembly abolished the monarchy and declared French Republic. King Louis XVI was tried for treason in December of 1792, convicted, and guillotined a month later. Von Fersen tried to arrange a cavalry raid to try and snatch his love Marie Antoinette from Paris, but the generals he pitched the plan to rejected it as hopeless.

The French queen met the same fate as the king and was guillotined in October 1793. Von Fersen wrote about his reaction: “Though I was prepared for it and expected it since the transfer to the Conciergerie, I was devastated by the reality. I did not have the strength to feel anything … I thought about her constantly, about all the horrible circumstances of her sufferings, of the doubt she might have had about me, my attachment, my interest. That thought tortured me“. Devastated, he returned to Sweden, where he fell into disfavor at court and lost much of his political clout. From his home country, he was forced to stand by helplessly and watch as Revolutionary France, which had killed his love, expanded its reach across Europe.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Axel von Fersen in Swedish court regalia. Wikimedia

18. The Violent End of the Love of Marie Antoinette

Von Fersen eventually regained favor at court and was sent as an envoy to France, where he met Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. Napoleon recalled the count’s efforts against the Revolution and on behalf of the executed French king and queen. As von Fersen recounted, Napoleon: “remarked that the Court of Sweden seemed to take a pleasure in sending agents and ambassadors who were personally disagreeable to every French citizen“. When he returned to Sweden, von Fersen grew alarmed by a rise in popular sympathy for revolutionary France. In 1801, he became Marshal of the Realm, Sweden’s highest court official, and did all he could from that position to thwart the spread of revolution to his country. In 1809, a coup deposed Sweden’s King Gustav IV Adolf and replaced him with his uncle, Charles XIII. A dispute then erupted about who should succeed Charles.

Von Fersen backed a faction that supported the deposed king’s son, Gustav, Prince of Vasa, and opposed the popular Charles August, who was adopted by Charles XIII and became Crown Prince, or heir to the throne. However, Charles fell off his horse in 1810, had a stroke, and died. Rumors spread that he was poisoned, and von Fersen became a prime suspect. On June 10th, as Marshal of the Realm, he rode in a carriage at the head of the Crown Prince’s funeral procession, only to be attacked by a mob as soon as he reached Stockholm. The crowd dragged von Fersen out of the carriage, and the funeral’s armed military escort did not intervene. He broke free and ran into a nearby house, but the mob followed and dragged him back out into the street, where it beat him to death.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Argentine socialite Camila O’Gorman. Hyaena Gallery

17. Argentina’s Most Tragic Love

Wealthy nineteenth-century Argentine socialite Maria Camila O’Gorman Ximenez (1828 – 1848) is one of the most famous romantic – and tragic – heroines of her country. Born in Buenos Aires, Camila had cultivated manners, a ladylike education, suave beauty, and a kindly disposition. Those traits, which belonged in a land of peace and beauty, were at odds with the Argentina of her day. She lived in a brutalized country whose dictator, an army general named Juan Manuel de Rosas, often spiked town squares with the heads of political opponents.

Camila’s downfall came because she fell in love and carried on a romantic affair with a Roman Catholic priest, whom she eventually married. Their relationship scandalized the country and got both of them killed. A pillar of polite society, Camila was a friend of the dictator’s daughter, when she was introduced to a Jesuit priest named Ladislao Guiterrez. Something clicked between the socialite and the man of the cloth. They fell in love, and in 1847, the two began an affair.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
The execution of Camila O’Gorman. Revisionistas

16. The Execution of an Eight Months Pregnant Girl in the Name of Morality

Camila O’Gorman and Father Ladislao Guiterrez eventually fled Buenos Aires to a small provincial town. There, they posed as a married couple, lived as husband and wife, and launched the town’s first school. Back in the Argentine capital, their love became a scandal that soon took on political tones. Opponents of the country’s dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas used it as an example of moral decay, and that hit close to home because Rosas was a notorious womanizer. So Camila and Ladislao were tracked down, kidnapped, and returned to the Argentine capital.

The dictator’s daughter pleaded for clemency for her friend, but Rosas 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 personally signed a decree for the execution of the lovers. Accordingly, on August 18th, 1848, Camila O’Gorman and Father Ladislao Gutierrez were shot dead by a firing squad in a prison town near Buenos Aires. She was twenty years old at the time, 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.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Princess Augusta. Wikimedia

15. A Princess of Wales Even More Unfortunate Than Diana

German noblewoman Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1719 – 1772) was the second youngest of a duke’s nineteen children and became Princess of Wales when she married the heir to the British crown. 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 the bride in an arranged royal marriage. She did not know a word of English when she arrived in England to wed Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son and designated successor of King George II.

To squelch rumors that the king’s heir was about to marry a British noblewoman, the royal family was in a rush to conduct the wedding. Almost immediately upon her arrival, 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 tie the knot with the 29-year-old Frederick. Her marriage, which lacked any semblance of love, began on a bad note with a terrible wedding ceremony and continued as poorly as it had commenced. To cap off her marital bad luck, Augusta was one of the only four Princesses of Wales who never got to become queen.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Queen Caroline. Art UK

14. The Princess Who Kicked Off Her Married Life by Throwing Up on Her Wedding Dress and on Her Mother in Law

Princess Augusta found herself in an entirely new environment, rushed into a marriage ceremony conducted in a language she did not understand. Understandably, she got nervous. As the groom’s mother, Queen Caroline, translated from English into German and whispered it into Augusta’s ear, the bride suddenly threw up 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 vomited all over the queen. Her marriage to Frederick, Prince of Wales, was just as awkward.

The new Princess of Wales continued to play with her dolls until her relatives finally forced her to stop. Her husband took advantage of his wife’s naivety. Among other things, he got Augusta to employ his mistress as her lady of the bedchamber after he convinced her that rumors of an affair were fake news. There was a lot of drama between the Prince of Wales and his parents, and Augusta was often dragged unwillingly into the middle of the mess and took fire from both sides. Despite the hassles and absence of love, she nonetheless performed her expected role and gave birth to nine royal children. However, she never got the hoped-for payout of becoming queen consort. Her husband died before his father, King George II, and upon the latter’s death, the crown went to Augusta’s son, George III.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Edward Gibbon Wakefield. National Portrait Gallery

13. New Zealand’s Founder and His Scandalous Marriage

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796 – 1862) was a British politician who played a key role in the colonization of Australasia and is considered to be a founder of New Zealand. He also played a role in drafting the 1839 Report on the Affairs of British North America, commonly known as the Durham Report, which had a significant impact on Canada’s history. Before that, however, Wakefield had earned a footnote in history as the criminal defendant in a scandalous case that involved the abduction of a fifteen-year-old girl.

He did not do so because of some sick infatuation or delusion of love, but because the kid was a wealthy heiress and he wanted access to her money. Wakefield had been a diplomatic courier at the tail end of the Napoleonic Wars before he seduced a seventeen-year-old rich heiress in 1816, convinced her that he was madly in love with her, and got her to elope with him. That netted him a marriage settlement from her father worth about U$ 8 million in 2021 dollars and established a template.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Ellen Turner. Pinterest

12. The Abduction of a Rich Heiress

Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s rich heiress wife died soon after childbirth in 1820. Although he was now financially comfortable, Wakefield wanted more money to launch a political career. In his quest for more wealth, the widower went back to what had worked for him before: find a rich heiress, and marry her. That quest eventually led him in 1827 to Ellen Turner, the only child of a wealthy textile manufacturer. However, Ellen was only fifteen, and there was zero chance that her father would consent to the marriage. Undaunted, Wakefield hatched a plot with his brother to elope with Ellen, in the expectation that her rich parents would eventually relent and respond as his first wife’s wealthy parents had.

Accordingly, Wakefield sent a carriage to Ellen’s boarding school in Liverpool, with a message to the headmistress that stated that the girl’s mother was on death’s door, and wanted to see her daughter immediately before she expired. Ellen was taken from her school to a hotel in Manchester, where Wakefield did not spin any tales of love or try to seduce her. Instead, he told her that her father’s business empire had collapsed and that Mr. Turner was now a fugitive, on the run from his creditors.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
An older Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in 1850. Canterbury Museum

11. A Marriage Scam That Worked Once, But Not Twice

Edward Gibbon Wakefield convinced the bewildered and alarmed Ellen Turner that his banker uncle had agreed to release some funds that would save her father. However, he would do so only on condition that she wed Wakefield, and her fugitive father had consented to the marriage. Ellen agreed, so Wakefield took her across the border to Scotland, where laws were less strict, and they were married by a blacksmith. When Ellen asked to see her father, 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 there.

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

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Catherine di Medici in 1561 with her children Francis, Charles, Margaret, and Henry. Derniers Valois

10. A Marriage Not for Love, But for Politics

French Queen Margaret of Valois (1553 – 1615) gained a reputation both for her licentiousness and 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 o or infamous – by Alexander Dumas’ portrayal of her in his historical novel, Queen Margot. She was born to King Henry II of France and his formidable wife, Catherine de Medici. As she grew up, Margaret was quite close to her brother Henry – the future King Henry III, last of the Valois monarchs. So close that rumors arose of an incestuous relationship between the siblings.

Closeness turned into lifelong hatred, however, when Margaret had an affair with an aristocrat, Henry of Guise, and her brother Henry found out. He snitched on her to the family, and Margaret’s mother and her brother, King Charles IX, beat her up and banished Guise from court. That took place against a backdrop of serious religious tensions at the time between Catholics and Protestants. To calm troubled waters, Catherine di 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 wed her Bourbon relative, the Protestant Henry of Navarre. There was no love involved, just a political alliance sealed by a marriage.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Henry of Navarre and Margaret of Valois. Tatler

9. A Marriage That Began With a Massacre

The marriage of Margaret of Valois and Henry of Navarre was solemnized 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 of Notre Dame. Things got worse for religious reconciliation five days later when the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre began on August 24th, and 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. Henry of Navarre only survived with a promise to convert to Catholicism. He was forced to live in the French court, his movements and activities closely monitored, until he managed to flee in 1576. Margaret had nothing to do with what had been done to the Protestants and had done much to save her husband’s life. However, after the massacre of his co-religionists and four years of captivity, Henry of Navarre had no love for Catholics, including his Catholic wife.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Henry of Navarre at war with his wife’s Catholic co-religionists. Musee de l’histoire de France

8. This King’s First Royal Act Was to Annul His Marriage to a Queen He Did Not Love

As soon as he regained his freedom, Henry of Navarre renounced Catholicism and joined the Protestant military forces. When Margaret of Valois’ brother Henry succeeded their sibling Charles IX to become King Henry III, her husband became next in the line for the French throne, since Henry III had no male heirs. However, the fact that Margaret’s husband was a Protestant complicated matter. 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.

In 1588, 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. Henry III was assassinated by a monk in 1589, and Margaret’s husband, Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. The Parisians barred the Protestant monarch from the city, however. The new monarch had no love for Catholics, but to secure the throne he converted to Catholicism, this time willingly, with the cynical remark that: “Paris is well worth a Mass“. One of his first royal acts was to arrange an annulment of his marriage to Margaret of Valois.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Jerry Lee Lewis. Ultimate Classic Rock

7. Love in the Family Seriously Harmed This Star’s Career

In the long history of showbiz, few marriages have ever 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 went ahead and divorced his second wife to tie the knot for a third time after he fell head over heels in love with Myra Gale Brown. There was a hiccup, however: the object of his affections happened to be his cousin, although once removed. It was not the only problem. An even bigger hiccup was that she was thirteen-years-old, and still believed in Santa Claus on her wedding night.

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Jerry Lee Lewis and his thirteen-year-old bride. Pinterest

6. The Star’s Child Bride

All jokes about Dixie and the Deep South aside, to marry one’s cousin, or tie the knot with a thirteen-year-old girl, were not exactly commonplace in Louisiana back in those days. On the other hand, they were not considered extreme, either. So in light of that background, Jerry Lee Lewis did not think Myra Gale Brown’s age, or the fact that she was related to him, were big deals. To the extent he was worried about a potential scandal, his concerns revolved more around the timing of the wedding than the age of the bride. Lewis’ third marriage had been performed before he had finalized the divorce from his second wife.

In the meantime, Lewis’ career and popularity continued to soar, not just in the US, but around the world. So an international tour was arranged. He was warned not to take his child bride with him on his first tour to Europe, but he was blinded by love and unwilling to be separated from his child bride, and ignored the warnings. He should have listened. When he arrived in Britain in May of 1958, Lewis introduced Myra to reporters as his wife. However, he claimed that she was fifteen – which was still shockingly young.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Jerry Lee Lewis and his child bride upon their return from their disastrous trip to Britain. The Commercial Appeal

5. The Spectacular Crash of a Career

As reporters processed the fact that Jerry Lee Lewis had wed a girl so young, his child bride made things worse when, in an attempt to defend her love, she remarked that fifteen was not too young to marry. As she explained it, in her neck of the woods: “You can marry at 10, if you can find a husband“. Once the press on both sides of the Atlantic discovered Myra’s true age was actually thirteen, the backlash was fierce. The British press was particularly vicious. It labeled Lewis a “cradle robber” and “baby snatcher”, urged a boycott of his concerts, and called for his deportation as a child molester. Tour dates were canceled, and Lewis and Myra were forced to flee back to the US.

The scandal had crossed the Atlantic by the time the couple’s plane landed in New York, and the American press was no kinder than the British. Lewis had experienced a meteoric rise, and at the peak of his career, he rivaled Elvis Presley. It 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 and performed for audiences less offended by performers who married child brides who also happened to be blood relatives.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Kazuko Higa. Imgur

4. The Unlikely Femme Fatale

The Japan Times described Kazuko Higa as “a diminutive, lantern-jawed woman who could have been charitably called handsome“. Truth be told, she did not look like Hollywood’s image of a femme fatale. However, fate and the vagaries of war cast her into that role in real life and forced her into a series of marriages that always ended up catastrophically – especially for her husbands. It all began in June 1944, when the US Navy sank a convoy of three Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, a small Marianas island about 75 miles north of Saipan. 36 soldiers and sailors survived and swam to Anatahan, where they were taken in by the Japanese head of a coconut plantation and his wife. Soon thereafter, American forces invaded the Marianas, seized the main islands, and bypassed smaller ones like Anahatan.

The Japanese there lacked means of communications with their chain of command, and were cut off and effectively isolated from the outside world. Matters soon grew dire on the resource-poor island, as the castaways barely managed to keep body and soul together, and had to survive on coconuts, lizards, bats, insects, taro, wild sugar cane, and any edible that they could find. Things improved somewhat in January 1945, when a B-29 bomber, on its way back from a raid on Japan, crashed on Anatahan. The castaways scavenged the wreck and fashioned its metal into crude instruments and useful items such as knives, pots, and roofs for their huts. Parachutes were turned into clothes, the oxygen tanks were used to store water, springs from machine guns were fashioned into fishing hooks, nylon cords were used as fishing lines, and some pistols were recovered.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Anatahan. Atlas Obscura

3. The Love Interest of Dozens of Marooned Men

Conditions remained difficult on Anatahan, but the timely crash of the B-29 saved the castaways who had faced slow starvation until seemingly divine aid fell from the sky. In addition to the daily struggle for survival, the island’s demographics further complicated the castaways’ plight and gradually produced Lord of the Flies dynamics. Unsurprisingly, thirty men stranded for years on a small island that contained only one woman led to problematic interactions, as the men competed for her affections. Their love interest, Kazuko Higa, had arrived at the island with her husband in 1944. However, he disappeared in mysterious circumstances soon after the castaways washed ashore.

So she married a Kikuichiro Higa as protection against the other marooned men. However, one of the castaways shot and killed her new husband, only to have his own throat slit soon thereafter by yet another suitor. Over the years, Kazuko Higa became a full-blown femme fatale, as she transferred her love and affections between a series of beaus. Each of them was violently assailed, chased off, or murdered, by some of the other frustrated guys. Matters were not helped when the men discovered how to ferment an intoxicating drink known as “tuba”, or coconut wine. As a result, they often drank themselves senselessly into stupors that lasted for days, interspersed with bouts of alcohol-fueled rage and fights.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Still from a movie about the Anatahan castaways. A Pessimist is Never Disappointed

2. Promiscuous Marooned Guys Kept Stabbing Each Other for the Love and Affections of This Femme Fatale

By 1951, there had been twelve murders on Anatahan, in addition to numerous fights, as the men violently vied for the love and affections of the island’s only female. One of Kazuko Higa’s wooers was stabbed with a knife on thirteen separate occasions by jealous rivals, yet returned to his amorous pursuit as soon as he recovered from each failed attempt on his life. In the meantime, elsewhere in the Marianas, American authorities learned of the Japanese on Anatahan after natives from nearby islands informed the US Navy of their presence. However, the small island was off the beaten path, lacked military significance, and the Japanese marooned there posed no threat.

So the castaways were allowed to languish in isolation as the war passed them by and went on to its climactic conclusion elsewhere. After Japan surrendered, authorities remembered the castaways, so printed leaflets were airdropped on Anatahan to inform its denizens that the war was over and direct them to surrender. However, the recipients dismissed the leaflets as propaganda and refused to believe that their government had thrown in the towel. The island was even less important after the war than it had been while the conflict raged, and its inhabitants were just as isolated and harmless to the outside world. So American authorities did not think it was worth the trouble to send in US forces to root them out.

The Secret Love Life of Marie Antoinette and More Historic Romance
Kazuko Higa, after she turned herself in to the US Navy. Paleric

1. The Sad Fate of “The Queen Bee of Anatahan”

For years, the Anahatan castaways were left to their own devices. From time to time, an airplane would drop leaflets over the island, to tell the marooned Japanese that the war was over and that they should surrender. However, the shipwrecked soldiers and sailors continued to disbelieve the leaflets’ veracity, and thus matters continued for years. Finally, in 1950 Kazuku Higa spotted a US vessel as it passed nearby, raced to the beach, flagged it down, and asked to be taken off the island. It was only then that the authorities learned that the Japanese on Anahatan did not believe that the war was over.

Their families were contacted, and they wrote letters to their kin to assure them that it was no enemy trick and that the war had, indeed, ended years earlier. The letters, along with an official message from the Japanese government, finally did the trick. They surrendered in 1951 and were shipped back to Japan, where their story became a sensation and resulted in numerous books, plays, and movies. The most well-known of the Anatahan castaways, Kazuku Higa, was nicknamed “The Queen Bee of Anahatan Island” by the Japanese press. She found temporary fame as a tropical temptress, sold her story to newspapers, and recounted it to packed theaters. However, after the public lost interest, she fell into prostitution and abject poverty, and eventually died at age of 51 while employed as a garbage collector.


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

Ashby, Abby, and Jones, Audrey – The Shrigley Abduction (2005)

Atkinson, Kate M. – Abduction: The Story of Ellen Turner (2002)

Barton, Hildor Arnold – Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era: 1760 – 1815 (1986)

Beyond the Palette – The Barfing Bride

Daily Beast – Marie Antoinette’s Adultery Unmasked by Modern Science

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hans Axel von Fersen

Encyclopedia Britannica – Margaret of Valois, Queen Consort of Navarre

Fersen, Hans Axel – Diary and Correspondence of Count Axel Fersen, Grand Marshal of Sweden, Relating to the Court of France (1902)

Fraser, Antonia – Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001)

Goldstone, Nancy – In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters (2021)

Greengrass, Mark – France in the Age of Henri IV: The Struggle for Stability (1984)

History Collection – Little Known Facts About Diana, Princess of Wales

History Ireland – Camila O’Gorman: A Rose Among the Thorns

History Collection – 10 of History’s Worst Marriages

Irish Centre for Migration Studies – The Scarlet Trinity: The Doomed Struggle of Camila O’Gorman Against Family, Church and State in XIX Century Buenos Aires

Lamballe, Marie Therese Louise de Savoie Carignan – Secret Memoirs of Princess Lamballe (1901)

Loomis, Stanley – The Fatal Friendship: Marie Antoinette, Count Fersen, and the Flight to Varennes (1972)

New Yorker, The, March 17th, 1962 – The Stragglers: Even If it Takes a Hundred Years

Tackett, Timothy – When the King Took Flight (2003)

Ultimate Classic Rock – When Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin

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

Wikipedia – Flight to Varennes