The Godmother Book Review

18 December, 2011

Notorious Royal Marriages:
A Juicy Journey through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire


5 January, 2010 by NAL Trade


Leslie Carroll

Ms. Carroll is a contemporary and historical fiction writer who also writes under the name of Amanda Elyot.


The book profiles 32 royal marriages, from Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first marriage to Louis VII of France in 1137 through the present-day second marriage of HRH Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles.

In addition to the usual suspects, like King Henry VIII (who commandeers a portion of the index for obvious reasons), King Louis XVI/Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria/Prince Albert, Tsar Nicholas II/Alexandra, King Edward VIII/Wallis Simpson, Prince Rainier III/Grace Kelly, and Prince Charles/Lady Diana Spencer, some more obscure (but nonetheless interesting) matches also abound.

Rising from obscurity is Elizabeth Woodville, the first Englishwoman to pull a “Middleton” and of whom one can expect to hear much in the years ahead.  She was additionally profiled in our inaugural post of The Godmother Book Review at  The book is further rounded out by discussions of Joanna the Mad, Catherine de Medici, and Catherine the Great.

More important at times than the profiles of the couples themselves, the formative machinations surrounding each match are also revealed.  The full spectrum of marriage motivators can be found within the pages of this book.  Some marriages were love matches, much to the chagrin of royal handlers and those jockeying for power.  Others were mutually-agreed upon dynastic mergers, designed to avert war or produce the ultimate male heir.  Still others were characterized by outright hostility between the spouses, with separations, embarrassing liaisons, legal actions, incarcerations, and possibly murder in the offing.


One would be hard-pressed to list a notable ruler from the 12th century onward who has not had his/her marriage profiled in this entertaining book, and don’t be quick to judge or think that you know everything there is to know about these stories before you start to read.

If you had never doubted the devotion of Ferdinand and Isabella or Napoleon and Josephine; if you had never questioned the virginity of Katherine of Aragon when reading about the King’s Great Matter; if you had never suspected that there was more abduction than love behind the Earl of Bothwell’s marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots, then you will find this book to be a real page-turner!

Learn which wife was never Queen of England due to her secret marriage.  Learn which wives were queens of more than one major country.  Learn which wife reportedly never bathed to her kingly husband’s dismay.

Packed with details and quotes, the histories captivate in approximately 20 pages per marriage, without launching into dissertations or leaving the reader wondering why the author bothered.  The romantic exploits may also be enjoyed out of order, if the reader desires, despite their chronological presentation.

Although there is much to love, the work is not without its flaws.  My primary criticisms are that the sources are not footnoted, and the references appear somewhat sparse at the back of the book to support such meaty content, particularly some that is at odds with traditional accounts of the goings on in particular royal marriage beds.  It is similarly unclear where and when the author may be taking some license or interjecting her own interpretations.  Lastly, the book could have been made more delightful via the inclusion of family trees, timelines, maps, portraits, and other exhibits, but none were in evidence.

All in all, however, I cannot help but recommend this book, which is as juicy as its title claims.  For those with more studious, historical tastes, its sometimes controversial depictions will serve as an inducement for further research and form the foundation of engaging dinner party conversations…

                                 The Godmother

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