The lecture given by David Young at Jerusalem’s AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) was entitled ‘Over One Thousand Years of Scandals in the British Royal Family,’ and it attracted a record audience.
David Young, who lives in Israel but is originally from England, has written several historical novels. He had prepared his subject-matter well, posting a time-line of all England’s kings and queens since 1066 up on the lectern and referring frequently to his several pages of notes. After all, who can remember all those dates and sort out all the ramifications of the various affairs and scandals that have beset England’s royal family, or rather families, since the blood-line has been severed several times, over the centuries?
The audience, which consisted of mainly elderly English-speaking persons, some of whom even managed to stay awake during the lecture, as evinced by the chortles which emanated from their mouths whenever Mr. Young imparted another tidbit of salacious information. There’s nothing like a juicy sex scandal to wake up the over-eighties.
Mr. Young had certainly done his homework, and it would seem that scarcely a single British monarch has been entirely blameless when it comes to extra-marital exploits. I suppose that on consideration this is only understandable, since throughout history monarchs were obliged to marry members of other royal families in order to consolidate royal power and political influence, and these need not necessarily have been based on love, or even attraction.
So it was more or less taken for granted that monarchs would have one or more mistresses, and Mr. Young had many amusing anecdotes to recount on this score. Thus, King Charles the Second was known to have two mistresses, one of whom was Catholic. When Nell Gwynn, the other mistress, was confronted by a hostile crowd, she put her head out of the carriage and declared, ‘Kindly desist, gentlemen. I am the Protestant whore.’
In addition to his six wives, Henry the Eighth had several mistresses, one of which was the sister of Anne Boleyn. Mr. Young has written a novel about one of them, Anne of Cleves, whom he describes as Henry’s luckiest wife. This is undoubtedly true, as Henry found her to be fat and ugly, and divorced her shortly after their marriage. However, she was dismissed with a considerable fortune and was able to establish herself as a society hostess, eventually becoming a good friend to the king, known as ‘the king’s sister.’
Queen Victoria’s love for her husband, Prince Albert, was exemplary, and her long and enduring mourning for him is universally recognized as unparalleled in its devotion. However, her close relationship with her Scottish ghillie, John Brown, was considered to have passed the bounds of propriety, to the extent that the satirical journal, Punch, referred to the queen as ‘Mrs. Brown.’ In addition, she was also known to have had a very close relationship with an Indian servant. When she died, she was buried alongside Prince Albert, with a photograph of John Brown in her hand.
In more modern times the Prince of Wales, who was the eldest son of King George the Fifth, was obliged to abdicate from his position as King Edward the Eighth because on becoming king he would have been unable to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. This meant that his younger brother became King George the Sixth, and he in turn was succeeded by his daughter, the current Queen Elizabeth the Second.
It’s interesting to note that the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, is currently engaged to an American divorcee, Meghan Markel, and there is no mention of his being unable to remain a prominent member of the royal family.
So it would seem that there have been some changes in the ancient traditions of the British royal family, in keeping with the shift in morals, mores and attitudes in modern British society.