Marrying for Love: The Experience of Edward IV and Henry VIII

Eric Ives looks at the cases of two English monarchs who broke with convention by selecting spouses for reasons of the heart, rather than political convenience.

Edward IVShould the monarch or heir to the throne marry for love? ‘Of course’ is the answer most people in Britain would give today, but history suggests otherwise. It is not just that the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement rule out marriage with a Roman Catholic.

Monarchs and heirs to the throne have never had the freedom of choice which their subjects enjoy. Since the Norman Conquest (setting aside the present Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles), the only two English or British monarchs to have personally chosen wives are Edward IV (r.1461-83) and his grandson, Henry VIII (r.1509-47). Heirs presumptive have succeeded when already married, but for monarchs, arranged marriage has been the rule and so too for heirs apparent, (Edward the Black Prince was the only exception). In recent centuries some attention has been paid to individual preference. Queen Victoria was allowed the pretence that Albert had freely chosen her. Yet the underlying assumption has always been that reasons of state should determine royal marriages and that monarchs would, if necessary, satisfy their emotional needs elsewhere.

Three basic principles have governed the choice of a royal consort. First, international prestige demanded that the ruler marry someone of suitable status; second, a royal marriage was a valuable diplomatic asset not to be wasted; third, a spouse should be a foreigner, since to marry within a realm was to risk disturbing the balance of internal politics. Edward and Henry, however, defied this conventional wisdom, chose Englishwomen known to them and aborted diplomatic negotiations in progress to find wives abroad.

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