Oh, love. The eternal enigma… and such a drag. Mastering the art of seduction and a certain sexual open mindedness were required of royal mistresses, while virtue beyond all doubt was demanded of princesses and queens. A king without a mistress was weak, a cheating queen was a traitor. The power of their sex was solely determined by their fertility, but behind closed curtains queens had both matters of state and of the heart to deal with. Mere currencies in the hands of their families, pawns in an intricate games of power, victims of arranged marriages, these queens never stopped seeking true love desperately, recklessly, madly, sometimes throwing themselves into affairs that consumed them to the marrow.
She was 18 when she inherited the throne of England. Shortly after, she married Prince Albert. Unlike most royal marriages, theirs was happy and active to say the least. Perhaps the result of a hormonal imbalance, Queen Victoria had an unquenchable sexual appetite, comparable to nymphomania. She just couldn’t get enough of her husband. After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria never recovered and wore black for the rest of her life.
After years spent in seclusion, John Brown entered the queen’s favors, a Scotsman who accompanied her on her fishing and hunting trips. It seemed the beginning of a beautiful 20-year-long friendship, but their compromising correspondence reveals more than amity. When he died in 1883, the queen went mad with grief.
In 1887, 24-year-old Karim Abdul arrived at court to serve at the queen’s table. Victoria was 68, still mourning after Albert, the love of her life, and John Brown. Karim was tall, dark, and handsome. In less than a year, he became the queen’s closest confident, stirring the court’s wrath. Their relationship was anything but Victorian, it went against the rules, it was a taboo. Upon the queen’s death in 1901, King Edward VII had all evidence of the affair destroyed. Or at least he thought he did. Karim’s diaries recently surfaced, shedding light over Queen Victoria’s last great love.
9. Marie of Romania, the “Man-Queen”
Sex scandals, illegitimate children, a strong will, and an unconditioned love for a country that wasn’t even hers to begin with. An assertive woman of rare beauty, a brunette with piercing blue eyes, her contemporaries called her the “man-queen.” Princess Marie of Edinburgh married Ferdinand de Hohenzolern-Sigmaringen in 1892, the heir to the throne of Romania. She was 17, he was 10 years her senior, and she hated him. Marie bore six children. Not all were Ferdinand’s.
Her contemporaries couldn’t stop gossiping about her affairs with German envoys, Polish counts, and Romanian politicians. Ferdinand himself was aware of her indiscretions, but chose to turn a blind eye. Her second daughter, Marie “Mignon,” was the product of an affair with an officer, Zizi Cantacuzino. The love of her life was Prince Barbu Stirbei, a handsome man with deep brown eyes. Ileana and Mircea, her youngest children, showed a curious resemblance to Stirbei that did not go unnoticed. Her son, Charles II, exiled her lover to end the affair. In her letters to her old friend she desperately cried love, sadness, and despair. In return, Stirbei always ended his passionate letters with five letters: i l y m m (I love you, my Marie).
8. Marie Antoinette, “Madame Deficit”
We all saw the movies and we all heard the rumors. But are they true? Marie Antoinette wasn’t exactly the harlot most stories portray her to be, but there was a special someone in her life beside her husband. She was 15 when she married Louis XVI, the Dauphin of France, who was more fascinated about locks and hunting than his lovely wife. For seven whole years their marriage remained unconsummated. Louis presented his wife with a lovely little gift, the Petit Trianon, a three-story house strategically hidden in the faraway corners of the Versailles. It was a great honor to be invited at the queen’s den, and those who weren’t started rumors of debauchery, orgies, and secret love affairs.
Marie met Swedish soldier Hans Axel von Fersen at a ball in Paris when she was still the Dauphine. A chivalrous and handsome man, he was a frequent visitor at her Petit Trianon and even had his own apartment right above hers. Nobody can say for sure whether their love was consummated, but their secret correspondence written in invisible ink shows their great affection for each other. And loving a man other than your husband is still cheating, isn’t it? During the French Revolution, when Marie and her family were imprisoned at Tuileries, Fersen plotted their escape. He mortgaged his house and borrowed large sums of money, but the plan proved a failure.
7. Marguerite of Valois, the Price of Freedom
Two times queen, mediation tool, dangerous hostage, an inconvenience that needed to be removed, Marguerite was a Catholic at the helm of a Huguenot country, whose mission was to bring peace. The seventh daughter of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici, Margo was the bait in a criminal ambush that put her own life at stake, St. Bartholomew’s Day, sacrificed by her own mother on the altar of political expediency.
The Love Affairs
Extremely seductive, the pearl of the court and the pride of the Valois family, Marguerite saw no reason why she shouldn’t yield to her heart’s desires. Margo loathed her marriage to Henry, and they both took lovers. Joseph Boniface de La Mole is said to have been the first, though the queen does not speak of him in her memoirs, perhaps to protect herself from accusations of complicity in his plots against the king. Then, she met Louis de Bussy d’Amboise, whom she found simply irresistible. But they both lacked two important virtues: discretion and prudence. In 1580, when she was 27, she fell over heels in love with Jacques Harlay, Seigneur de Champvallon, her “handsome sun.”
Having earned herself a reputation for loose morals, Henry III exiled her from Paris. In 1585, in an incredible gesture for her time, she abandoned her husband and traveled from town to town, consummating lovers until finally captured and imprisoned at Usson Castle, where she spent the next 20 years of her life, first as prisoner, then as castellan.
6. Catherine Howard, the Rose Without a Thorn
In 1539, Catherine Howard arrived at court as the lady-in-waiting of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII of England’s fourth wife. As soon as the king laid eyes on her, he was mesmerized. In 1540, his marriage to Ann Cleves was annulled and Catherine immediately became his fifth wife and Queen of England. Thomas Cromwell, who arranged the previous royal union, was decapitated on their wedding day. Still in her prime, young and beautiful, Catherine found herself married to an obese old man she just couldn’t love, and her past indiscretions soon caught up with her.
The Love Affairs
In her youth, Catherine fooled around with her music teacher, Henry Mannox. She also shared the bed with Frances Dereham, the two calling each other “husband” and “wife,” which at the time was considered an unwritten premarital contract.
Back to her days as Queen of England, less than a year into her marriage, Catherine began flirting with Thomas Culpeper. The two often had clandestine meetings, but nothing nearly as outrageous as her next move: she brought her former lovers, Henry Mannox and Frances Dereham, at court. It wasn’t long before Dereham began bragging about their old affairs. Catherine was accused of unchastity and adultery and was sentenced to death. She was stripped of her title of queen, her lovers Derham and Culpeper were decapitated, their heads exhibited on London Bridge.
5. Caroline Mathilde, the Royal Menage a Trois
In 1766, 15-year-old Princess Caroline Mathilde sobbed all the way from England to Copenhagen and throughout the marriage ceremony with King Christian VII of Denmark. Two years her senior, Christian was still a child, skinny, pale, and spoiled. He didn’t even want to be king and a few days after the wedding he realized he didn’t want to be married either. He began acting like a bachelor, hitting the brothels and getting drunk on the streets of Copenhagen.
The Royal Threesome
The marriage was finally consummated and the Queen of Denmark gave birth to a son. But Christian was mentally unstable and his condition was getting worse. In 1769, Johann Struensee, a German physician, arrived at court and soon became Christian’s closest confident. Young and handsome, he was the first person to actually listen to Caroline. After earning the queen’s trust, he became her lover, turning her into a fearless woman, urging her to seize power, convincing her there was only a matter of time before Christian would lose his sanity. With the king and queen’s consent, Struensee took over the country, attempting to turn it into an absolutist state. Chaos was unleashed, violent rebellions and reforms devastated Denmark.
Caroline bore Struensee’s daughter. Happy and madly in love, she turned a blind eye to her lover’s extreme political ambitions. Enraged by their indecent behavior, their enemies plotted a coup. Accused of adultery, Caroline was tricked into confessing her affair with Struensee. Her lover was executed and she was sent away on exile. In 1775, aged 23, she died of scarlet fever.
4. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
She was six days old when she inherited the throne of Scotland. When she was five, she left her homeland and arrived at Catherine de’ Medici’s court in France, where she became engaged to the four-year old Dauphin Francis, whom she married when she turned 15. A year later, the two became king and queen of France. Less than another year passed, and Francis died. A young widow, Mary returned to Scotland, queen of a country she knew nothing about. She was a Catholic in a land of Protestants, surrounded by enemies, and hoped that by marrying Henry Darnley she’d calm the troubled waters. It was a self-suggested love. He was an unscrupulous drunkard.
While Mary was still at the court of France, she met the Earl of Bothwell, a handsome and brave man, five years her senior. The two immediately clicked. When she returned to Scotland, Bothwell became her closest confident. After her lover David Rizzio was killed by jealousy driven Darnley right before her eyes, she hated her husband with every bone of her body and returned to Bothwell, whom she desired more passionately than ever. Darnley was killed in a mysterious explosion of gunpowder. Three months later she married the Earl of Bothwell, a Protestant. Their union led to war. Mary Stuart was deposed and imprisoned by Elizabeth I until finally executed for treason.
3. Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen
She is known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married. What she may or may not have done in the intimacy of her bedchamber is a whole different story, still covered in mystery. She gave false hope to numerous marriage proposals, never stopped flirting, and yet never married or had any children. None that we know about anyway. She did mess around, but it’s hard to say whether the affairs were consummated. Still, there’s no doubt there was something between her and the young gentlemen who bowed to her feet.
Elizabeth had quite the taste in men, choosing them wisely: handsome, talented, and young gentlemen could at most hope of entering her favors. Ironically, the only man she could never marry was Robert Dudley, the love of her life. He had one awful flaw: he was already married. Elizabeth and Robert remained close until his death. She is said to have missed him terribly…
Sir Walter Raleigh entered the scene to fill the void in the queen’s heart. He had it all, good looks, charm, talent, and a sense of adventure. But he made a terrible mistake by marrying in secret, infuriating Elizabeth and falling out of her favors.
Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, was the last of the queen’s favorites. When they met in 1587, Elizabeth was 53. Devereaux was still a teenager. They were never apart and he was often seen leaving the queen’s apartments in the morning. A spoiled brat, he planned a coup. Elizabeth did not hesitate to order his execution by decapitation.
2. Cleopatra, the “Serpent of the Old Nile”
It was the last in the line of seven talented and strong-willed queens who ruled Egypt by the name of Cleopatra that earned herself a reputation as “the serpent of the old Nile,” as Shakespeare suggestively called her in his tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra. Beautiful and confident, her reputation was slandered by her Roman enemies, who accused her of arrogance, debauchery, and crime. In 51 BC, Cleopatra ascended to the throne with her brother, Ptolemy XIII, who, according to Egyptian traditions, was both her brother and her husband. She was 18, he was 10-years-old.
After Ptolemy tried to remove Cleopatra from the throne, she formed an alliance with the Roman Empire through Julius Caesar. She was 22. He was 30 years her senior. Their relationship was of political interest, both seeking power. In 47 BC, she gave birth to a son, Caesarion. Caesar never acknowledged the boy as his own, but Cleopatra did accompany the general to Rome, where she lived with him until his assassination in 44 BC.
Cleopatra saw a new opportunity to use Rome’s power to regain Egypt’s lost lands when she met Marcus Antonius in 41 BC. Little did they know that their encounter would change the fate of the empire and their love story would live on as one of the most romantic tragedies in history. Enraged after Antony divorced his sister to marry Cleopatra, Octavius Augustus declared war on Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were defeated in Greece and they both fled back home. Separated and in hiding, Antony received a false letter that his love had committed suicide and decided to stab himself with his sword. Gravely wounded, he was taken to Cleopatra’s hiding place, where he died in her arms. Heartbroken, she committed suicide by allowing a snake to bite her.
1. Catherine the Great, the 18th Century Cougar
First things first, let’s be clear on something. Catherine the Great did not die while getting it on with a horse, nor did she die on the toilet, although the latter seems much more plausible. No, she died an uneventful, boring death, suffering a stroke and passing away in her bed. Alone. Yet looking back upon her life, it’s easy to see where these rumors may have sprung from. Although Catherine wasn’t particularly interested in horses, she had quite a fancy for their groomers…
The daughter of a Prussian prince, Catherine married into the Romanov family with a clear purpose: to produce a child. Grand Duke Peter showed no interest in making love to his beautiful, slender, tall, blue-eyed wife, the perfect Russian doll, so Catherine found other means to entertain herself. She seduced the secretary to the British ambassador Stanislaw Poniatowski. The affair produced a daughter and a few years later she made him the king of Poland. In 1754, she gave birth to a son, Paul. In her memoirs, she admits it was Sergei Saltikov’s, a Russian military officer. A strong and intelligent woman, Catherine knew she was nothing more than a pawn in a mischievous game of power. She plotted a coup, removed Peter, and took over the empire in 1762.
The Love Story
Prince Grigory Potemkin was vain, overweight, and missing an eye. But love has its ways… Catherine met him in 1774. He was a breath of fresh air, and she renounced all her lovers in his favor. She made him prince, but he wanted more. Catherine knew she had to let him go. The two did remain close friends and reignited the old flame whenever they met. When he died on his way to make peace with the Turks, Catherine uttered the words “Whom shall I rely on now? Prince Potemkin has played me a cruel turn by dying! It is on me on whom the burden now falls.” She never recovered from her grief.