19 February 2018

Losing Her Prince

On February 20, 2018, Denmark's Queen Margrethe II will put to rest her husband of more than 50 years. She is not the first reigning queen to outlive her spouse. A few queens, like England's Elizabeth I and Sweden's Cristina, never married and others like England's two Queens named Mary and the Netherlands' Juliana predeceased their spouses, but most of the others have lived the final years of their lives without a partner. The record-holder is Mary Queen of Scots, who was widowed by all three of her husbands.

Here are the reigning ladies who lived more than a quarter-century after the deaths of their princes:

By Herman Deutmann via Wikimedia Commons
28 Years Widowed
Wilhelmina of The Netherlands (1880-1962) became the first reigning queen of The Netherlands at the tender age of just 10. Just over a decade later, at age 20, she married Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was four years older than she. She suffered two miscarriages before delivering their daughter Juliana. Two more miscarriages followed and Juliana remained an only child. The Dutch were wary of Prince Henry's German origin, but she was very popular, leading through a difficult neutrality in World War I and leading her German-occupied nation from exile in London through World War II. By WWII, however, Wilhelmina had already lost Henry, who died at age 58 in 1934. Their marriage was not necessarily a happy one, and he apparently fathered several illegitimate children. After WWII, Wilhelmina's health became increasingly fragile. She decided to abdicate in 1948, having reigned for more than 57 years. She lived another 14 years, using that time to write her autobiography.

By Ivan Adolsky via Wikimedia Commons
29 Years Widowed
Anna of Russia (1693-1740) was a niece of Peter the Great by his older half-brother and co-tsar Ivan V, who died when she was a child. Uncle Peter married her off to Frederick William Duke of Courland, but he died just two months after the wedding, before they even left Russia. She continued on to Courland and ruled there for two decades, taking some lovers (as the women in her family are known to have done frequently). When Peter the Great's grandson Peter II died, the only surviving Romanovs were Peter's daughters, who had been born out of wedlock and later legitimized, and Anna and her two sisters, all legitimate daughters of Peter the Great's older brother. As the only one with experience ruling a country, Anna was selected from among the five rulers to become the new empress. She was 37. She quickly did away with a set of conditions that the nobles had required her to sign and embarked upon rule as an autocrat known for her cruelty and quixotic behavior. She did continue many of her uncles westernized ideas, including the continuing development of St. Petersburg and support for the Academy of Science. Nearing death at age 47, she declared her older sister's grandson as her heir, but little Baby Ivan VI was soon overthrown by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth.

By Giuseppe Troni or Thomas Hickey
via Wikimedia Commons
30 Years Widowed
Maria I of Portugal and Brazil (1734-1816) The oldest of King Jose I's four daughters, Maria was recognized as his heir from early childhood. At 25, she married a man who was not only 17 years older than she was, but who was also her uncle! He was her father's younger brother Peter. Upon her accession at age 43, he was named King Pedro III although he did not have the right to rule without her and he actually took little interest in governing. By that time, the couple had already had seven children, though only three had survived infancy. Pedro died less than a decade after they ascended the throne and Maria's mental health was showing signs of instability. She was devastated by Pedro's death and then two years later by the death of their eldest son. Within a few years, she was being treated by the same doctor who took care of King George III of Great Britain, and many believe both monarchs were suffering from the metabolic disorder porphyria. Her second son, Joao, took over running the country for her. When the Napoleonic wars threatened Portugal, the entire royal family decamped to their territory in Brazil including Maria, whose wild screams could be heard by others throughout her transportation. Never having recovered, she lived eight years in Brazil, dying at age 81. (Incidentally, the same age as George III was when he died a few years later.) Her body was later returned to Portugal.

By Anna Rosina de Gasc
in the National Museum of Stockholm
via Wikimedia Commons
34 Years Widowed
Catherine II of Russia (1728-1762) Another Romanov lady makes the list, although she was actually born a minor German princess. Brought to Russia to marry the nephew-heir of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, Catherine was at first very miserable. After nearly a decade without children, Catherine at last gave birth to a son and then a daughter, although many doubt their legitimacy. When her husband ascended as Peter III, he was cruel and ineffective and obsessed with Germanizing everything. Smart and popular, Catherine enlisted the army to overthrow him and was declared empress in her own right in place of her young son. Peter died in captivity, leaving open the question of Catherine's possible complicity in his death. She immediately embarked upon a plan of expansion, reform and westernization that set her up as the true heir of Peter the Great and earned the nickname Catherine the Great. She took a succession of lovers and probably had more children. She considered herself to be an enlightened ruler and was greatly interested in the growing enlightenment ideas coming out of pre-Revolutionary France. Of course, she was horrified when those thoughts helped cause the Revolution. She became decreasingly enlightened and increasingly autocratic over time. She had a terrible relationship with her son and heir Paul (who had been raised by Elizabeth in his early years) and took his two oldest sons to raise herself. When she died in 1796 at age 67, Paul changed the succession laws so that a woman could never again lead imperial Russia.

By Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Royal Collection
via Wikimedia Commons
40 Years Widowed
Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901) Probably the most well-known royal widow of all time, Victoria was only 42 when her cousin-husband Prince Albert died, leaving her with young children at home. Theirs had been a love match, and she had grown deeply dependent on him. During her long widowhood, she often used her sad state as the reason not to do things she didn't want to do, like opening Parliament or making public appearances. She wore black for the rest of her life. However, there are rumors that she might have had inappropriate relationships with her Highland servant John Brown and perhaps with a later Indian servant Abdul Mohammed. Victoria spent much of her widowhood ruling her large and growing family, deciding who could marry whom and demanding that they dance attention upon her. Her daughter Helena was required to live nearby with her family while youngest daughter Beatrice was not permitted to marry until her husband agreed that they would live with Victoria. Nevertheless, the four decades of her widowhood were marked by rapid industrialization in Britain and the even more rapid, global expansion of the British Empire, through which she came to be recognized as Empress of India. Today, every reigning European king or queen is descended from her except the Kings of Belgium and The Netherlands.

By Juan de Flandes via Wikipedia
49 Years Widowed
Joanna of Castile (1479-1555) has perhaps one of the saddest royal stories of all, and that's even compared to her little sister, Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. Through the death of older siblings and a nephew, Joanna became heir to both her mother Isabella Queen of Castile and her father Ferdinand King of Aragon. She was deeply in love with her husband, Philip the Handsome, son of the Holy Roman Emperor. He was less enamored with her but did love the fact that their marriage would bring almost all of Spain into the greater Hapsburg empire. The couple had six children, all of whom amazingly lived into adulthood to become queens or emperors. Joanna succeeded her mother as Queen of Castile at age 25, launching a power struggle between her husband and her father, who did not wish to relinquish his authority there. When Philip died less than two years later (while Joanna was pregnant with their last child), Ferdinand took over as regent and her sent away because she was "mad." She likely did suffer from some kind of depressive disorder or other mental illness, but it is difficult to tell how ill she may have been. It was simply easier for her father to put her away. After he died a decade later, her oldest son took over the role as her regent, running Castile and Aragon -- the new Kingdom of Spain -- in both her name and his own. Joanna's stability, like that of her descendant Maria of Portugal above, steadily deteriorated so that there were reports that she refused to even eat or bathe. Nevertheless, she lived a long life passing away at the age of 75.


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