House of Windsor’s recent upheavals and backdoor affairs are nothing new. The British monarchy has been trading wives, housing mistresses, even killing off spouses for nearly 500 years. The FOX News Channel special “A Royal Affair” (Saturday, April 9 at 6 a.m. and Sunday, April 10 at 9 p.m. / midnight ET) will look at monarchical antics both recent and historic.
As a FOX Fan bonus learn more in an excerpt from "A Treasury of Royal Scandals" by Michael Farquhar (Penguin; May 2001) from the chapter entitled: “Six Royals Sinning”:
Envy: Elizabeth I
Spinsterhood suited Elizabeth I just fine. She loved being queen of England far too much to share her power with a man, as she would have been expected to do if she married. She much preferred to rule on her own and became one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. “I am married to England,” she was fond of proclaiming. But as much as Elizabeth gloried in the cult of the “Virgin Queen” that she encouraged to flourish around her, she bitterly resented any of the women in her service getting something she never would—namely, a fulfilling sex life. She was “angry with love,” as Sir Edward Stafford later observed.
While it was considered a major social coup to be one of the queen’s carefully selected ladies-in-waiting, these advantageous positions came at a hefty price. The women were expected to live like Elizabeth. This meant early exercise, long hours, and lonely nights. If any of them wished to marry, they had to obtain the queen’s permission first. And this blessing was rarely granted without a series of grudging obstacles put into place by the jealous monarch. One couple had to wait nearly a decade before Elizabeth finally relented and let them wed.
In another instance, young Mistress Arundel was foolish enough to remark to the queen that she favored a man and would marry him if only she could get her father’s permission. To the surprise of those present, the queen benevolently answered, “You seem honest, in faith, and I will sue for you to your father.” The girl, elated to have such a powerful advocate on her side, was convinced that her father could never deny her now. And sure enough, Sir Robert Arundel was called before the queen and eagerly gave his consent. Content, Elizabeth dismissed him, saying, “I will do the rest.”
Mistress Arundel was then summoned and told that her father’s cooperation had been obtained. “Then I shall be happy, and if it please Your Grace,” the delighted girl replied in the belief that Elizabeth was about to grant her the husband of her choice. “So thou shalt, but not to be a fool and marry,” the queen answered, a bitter edge rising in her voice. “I have his consent given to me and I vow thou shalt never get it into thy possession. I see thou art a bold one to own thy foolishness so readily.” With this withering surprise, the stunned girl was waved away from the queen’s presence.
Getting Elizabeth’s seal of approval was difficult, but woe to the woman who risked bypassing the process altogether. When Mary Shelton secretly wed James Scudamore, the queen flew into such a rage upon hearing the news that in throttling her, she broke the bride’s little finger. “No one ever bought her husband more dearly,” remarked Eleanor Bridge.
Gluttony: Eat, Drink, and Be Mocked
George IV was a man of great wit and impeccable taste—a bon vivant noted for his elegant style, keen eye for fine art and architecture, and inclination toward grand generosity and warm amiability. Nevertheless, this early nineteenth-century British monarch was the perpetual target of savage lampoons and public ridicule. He could rarely ride out of the palace in his carriage without being hooted and jeered on the streets of London.
Some of the invective had to do with his shameless extravagance and enormous debts, his obvious greed for his sick father’s throne, the undue credit he claimed for the British victory over Napoleon, and his flaunted love affairs and spectacularly disastrous marriage.1 But it was George’s status as an obese slob who drank too much—often spiking his liquor with heaping doses of laudanum—that inspired some of the most howling derision. Though he wasn’t the fattest monarch ever to strain the British throne,2 he was almost certainly the booziest—charming and dignified when sober; everything but, when drunk.
He was still a young prince when his drinking started taking its toll on his appearance, giving him a premature look of dissipation and generating snickers among his subjects. His behavior at a ball given by Lady Hopetoun in 1787 was typical of his early carousing. According to one account, he “posted himself in the doorway, to the terror of everybody that went by, flung his arms round the Duchess of Ancaster’s neck and kissed her with a great smack, threatened to pull Lord Galloway’s wig off and knock out his false teeth, and played all the pranks of a drunken man upon the stage, till some of his companions called for his carriage, and almost forced him away.”
Had he been a more popular prince, that kind of scene might have been thought delightfully eccentric or sympathetically ignored. But George was widely disliked, and his critics pounced on his all too apparent weaknesses. The Times of London condemned him as a hard-drinking, swearing, whoring man “who at all times would prefer a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon,” and whose only states of happiness were “gluttony, drunkenness, and gambling.”
One of the most scathing images of the prince was the widely distributed caricature by James Gillray, portraying him as “a voluptuary under the horrors of digestion.” George is shown picking his teeth with a fork as he recovers from an enormous meal, his guts bursting out of his trousers. Beneath his fat thighs are empty wine bottles and behind him are medicines for “the piles,” “for stinking breath,” and two contemporary cures for venereal disease, “Veno’s Vegetable Syrup” and “Leeke’s Pills.”
If this ridicule wasn’t enough, friends and family added to it with their own indictments. After one memorable binge, George’s only (legitimate) child, Princess Charlotte, cracked that “too much oil was put into the lamp.” And his tenuous friendship with the famous dandy of the period, Beau Brummell, crashed to a mortifying public end at a ball when George—harboring a lingering resentment over Brummell’s persistent failure to show proper deference to his royal person—spoke to their mutual friend, Lord Alvanely, but pointedly ignored Brummell. “Alvanely,” the rebuffed Brummell shouted across the room, “who is your fat friend?”
In an earlier era, heads would have rolled for such audacious disrespect, but George presided over a monarchy—first as Prince Regent during his father, George III’s, mental incapacity, then as king—that had been slowly losing its power over the years. As much as he surely would have loved to order the executions of his tormentors, there was little George could do to counter their relentless assault, particularly since they were often right…
Covetousness: Hail Mary, Full of Greed
The kings of Spain once plundered the New World in their quest for gold. Britain’s Queen Mary plundered living rooms. This early twentieth-century consort of King George V was quite a collector. Though she favored valuable little knickknacks and objects d’art, she didn’t like paying for them. Mary had other ways of getting what she wanted and no home she visited was safe from her acquisitive glare.
“I am caressing it with my eyes,” she would coyly whisper upon spotting a particular item she wanted, while lingering before it for added effect. This little routine was often enough for the owner in awe of royalty to insist immediately that she have it. But for those who didn’t quite get the message, the marauding queen went a step further. Just before leaving the targeted home, Mary would make a dramatic pause at the doorstep and ask, “May I go back and say goodbye to that dear little [fill in the blank of whatever it was she wanted that day]?” With this less than subtle hint, the predatory queen usually got her prize. There were occasions, however, when actually paying became the only option left. If she happened to leave a home empty-handed, her thank-you note often included a request to purchase the coveted piece. Few could resist this final assault.
As Queen Mary’s collection grew ever larger, those who regularly hosted her began to take precautions whenever she came for a visit. Anything they thought the queen might like was stashed away until the royal assault was over. Not everyone fell for the queen’s charms, however. When she was collecting miniature items for her elaborate dollhouse, she persuaded famous authors of the time to donate tiny volumes of their works. A whole library was assembled, with one holdout. George Bernard Shaw rebuffed the queen’s request, noted her daughter, “in a very rude manner.” Basically he told her where she could stick her little book.
Sloth: An Idle Mind Is the Duchess’s Playground
If Edward VIII really was in cahoots with the Nazis, as has been alleged, it would prove that at least he was doing something after his abdication of the British throne in 1936. As it stands, however, the rumors of collaboration are almost certainly untrue, making the ex-king’s life every bit as idle and vacuous as it appeared.
Led by his gasping, domineering duchess1—the woman for whom he set aside his crown to marry—the Duke of Windsor, as he was titled after the abdication, adopted a lifestyle almost totally devoid of purpose. His main preoccupation was social flitting with his wife between New York, Paris, and Palm Beach, always courting the rich and absorbing their hospitality. The only real responsibility the duke seemed willing to shoulder was the care and feeding of the couple’s pet pugs.
He had given up the only job he was born to do, but he had nothing to replace it. Still, Edward insisted on retaining all of his royal dignity and prerequisites, and those he expected for his wife. The servants wore liveried uniforms, while portraits of the duke and duchess hung amidst those of his royal ancestors in their meticulously decorated homes and apartments. Without a kingdom to rule, Edward and Wallis presided over a small fiefdom of servants, chauffeurs, and cooks.
If Edward ever did expend any real energy—aside from his perpetual efforts to wring money out of the British government—it was in his almost obsessive desire to have Wallis granted a royal title. This had been refused her when she married Edward—sensibilities at the time utterly opposed to the brash, twice-divorced American from Baltimore being styled “Her Royal Highness.” It was a snub bitterly resented by Edward and one that he never ceased trying to remedy.
His persistence on the issue drove deeper the wedge between the duke and his family—a relationship that was already strained because of the abdication crisis and the royal family’s refusal to receive Wallis. “I cannot tell you how grieved I am at your brother being so tiresome about the HRH [Her Royal Highness],” Edward’s mother Queen Mary wrote his brother George VI, who had ascended the throne in his place. “Giving her this title would be fatal, and after all these years I fear lest people think that we condone this dreadful marriage which was such a blow to us in every way.”
Even as Britain was bravely facing Hitler’s devastating onslaught during World War II and Buckingham Palace was being bombed, the former king was badgering the government and the royal family about the title he coveted for his wife. Taking time out from leading the nation’s war effort, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered the Duke a bit of advice on the issue. “Having voluntarily resigned the finest Throne in the world,” Churchill wrote, “it would be natural to treat all minor questions of ceremony and precedence as entirely beneath your interest and your dignity.”
Alas, it was not…
The foregoing is excerpted from "A Treasury of Royal Scandals" by Michael Farquhar. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from Penguin Group USA.