Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204), was divorced by the King of France after being subject of scandal during the Second Crusade. She then married Henry Count of Anjou (who became Henry II of England) when he was nineteen and she was thirty years of age. They had eight children, but theirs was a famously tempestuous relationship.
Fair Rosamond Clifford (circa 1146 – 1176), beautiful young mistress to Henry II. The affair possibly started when Queen Eleanor was pregnant with her last child, Prince John. It was rumoured that the queen poisoned Rosamond.
Queen Isabella of Angouleme (circa 1188 – 1246) was aged no more than twelve when she became the second wife of King John in 1200 by whom she had five children. Her father had already betrothed her to a powerful French noble and, because of this marriage, all John’s Norman/Angevin lands were claimed and eventually taken by the King of France. After John’s death, Isabella married the son of her first suitor, by whom she had nine more children.
Queen Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290), wife of Edward I. Their marriage was a true love match. When she died at Harby, Nottinghamshire, in 1290 her body was transported to be buried in Westminster Abbey, London. Edward caused eleven Eleanor Crosses to be built, marking each place where the body rested overnight. Three crosses still stand today.
Queen Isabella, the She Wolf of France, (1295 – 1358) daughter of the King of France and wife of Edward II. The marriage was tainted by Edward’s homosexual relationships with his favourites and Isabella, aided by her lover Roger Mortimer, deposed and murdered him. Later, her son executed Mortimer, but did not punish his mother.
Piers Gaveston (circa 1284 – 1306), favourite of Edward II originated from Gascony. His intimate and expensive relationship with the king excited the enmity of the English nobility who captured him following his return from the last of several exiles and killed him.
Hugh de Despenser, the younger, (circa 1286 – 1326) succeeded Gaveston as the king’s favourite. He and the king became deeply unpopular due to their rapacious rule. Despenser was eventually captured and executed by Queen Isabella who, in alliance with nobles led by her lover Roger Mortimer, deposed her husband.
Alice Perrers (1348-1400) became mistress to the aging King Edward III, by whom she had three children, about 1366. As well as beauty, she possessed intelligence and a powerful personality. She was active in persuading London merchants to underwrite royal expenditure on the French war, was accused of interfering in court judgements and became the richest woman in the kingdom. Parliament briefly banished her but she was soon restored thanks to the intercession of the king’s son John of Gaunt. She was exiled after the king’s death but married an influential courtier who won a pardon for his wife. She outlived him and died in retirement on her remaining estates.
Katherine Swynford (1350 -1403) was mistress and later the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III and father to Henry IV by his first marriage. Their children were eventually legitimised and named Beaufort. The Tudor royal family traced their ancestry back to this couple.
Queen Margaret of Anjou (1430 -1482) wife of Henry VI. At times, because of her husband’s feeble-mindedness, she became virtual ruler of England and leader of the Lancastrian cause. Her opposition to the regency of the Duke of York during one of Henry’s bouts of insanity provoked the opening disputes between the two houses which led to the Wars of the Roses and the violent deaths of her husband and only son.
Queen Elizabeth Woodville (1437 – 1492) was a great beauty married into a family of the minor nobility, although her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, had previously been the wife of the Lancastrian Duke of Bedford. It was rumoured that they ensnared Elizabeth's second husband, King Edward IV, with witchcraft. Her husband was succeeded on the throne by his brother, Richard III, who put her two sons by Edward in the Tower of London and seized the crown for himself. However, her daughter Elizabeth married Henry Tudor after he defeated King Richard in battle, thus joining together the houses of Lancaster and York and strengthening the Tudor claim to the throne.
Anne Boleyn circa 1501 -1536) must be mentioned here although there is no room for Henry VIII’s other loves and wives. Henry fell in love with Anne at the time when his first wife Katherine was clearly not going to bear him a son. The Pope would not grant Henry a divorce and this caused him to break with Rome and start the English Reformation. He married Anne and they had a child who became Queen Elizabeth I. However, after 2 stillbirths, Henry thought the marriage was cursed and he had Anne executed for incest, adultery and witchcraft.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532 – 1588) was son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland who was Lord Protector during the reign of Edward VI. Robert's brother Guildford was married to Lady Jane Grey and, as soon as the king died Northumberland unsuccessfully tried to install Lady Jane on the throne. He, Guildford and Lady Jane were executed after Queen Mary was proclaimed queen and Robert was also sentenced to death, but was lucky to escape with his life. After Mary's death he rose rapidly in the court and the esteem of Queen Elizabeth I; in all probability, Robert was the one true love of Elizabeth’s life and, following the suspicious death of his first wife after falling down stairs, it seemed the two might marry. It is unlikely the affair was ever completely consummated - Elizabeth was known as the virgin queen and remained single. Dudley, however, remained her closest confidant until his death.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1566- - 1601) was the son by her first marriage of Lettice Knollys, second wife of Robert Dudley (see above). He was ambitious and handsome and made the most of his connections in the aging Elizabeth’s court. His arrogance and incompetence led him to try the Queen’s patience beyond hope of repair and he then led a half-cocked rebellion, for which there was only one sentence - death by beheading.
George Villiers (1592 - 1628), favourite and likely lover of James I was born a commoner and was created Duke of Buckingham, which provoked the enmity of Parliament and the nobility. At the king’s death he was already a close friend of the new king, Charles I. His continued association with numerous foreign policy disasters led to his murder.
Nell Gwynne (1650 – 1687) is the best-known and remembered of Charles II’s many mistresses. Her early career - selling oranges in Drury Lane - and her natural wit helped her command the affection of the common people - a rare compliment for a royal mistress.
Sarah Churchill nee Jennings, Duchess of Marlborough, (1660 – 1744) was Queen Anne’s closest friend from well before her accession to the throne until their final quarrel in 1710. When Anne became queen their friendship enabled Sarah to gain vital political support for her husband, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, who gained famous victories over France ruled by Louis XIV. Even after losing the queen’s friendship, Sarah continued to be a serious political force into the early Hanoverian era.
Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal, 1667-1743, was the mistress, known as the Maypole on account of her tall, thin frame, who accompanied George I from Hanover when he became king. She retained her position for almost 40 years. In England she became a conduit through which ministers and public figures retained contact with George and was regarded as the unofficial queen. She was involved in corrupt money-making practises such as the issue of inferior copper coins in Ireland, and she was deeply involved in the South Sea Bubble scandal, but Robert Walpole retrieved her financial situation.
Mrs Maria Fitzherbert (1756 – 1837) was a twice married widow when she attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, later to become George IV. She was a Catholic and resisted the prince until he enticed her into an illegal form of marriage in 1785. She acted as his wife and hostess at Brighton Pavilion until he renounced her in 1794 in preparation for his disastrous marriage to Caroline of Brunswick. The relationship was renewed in 1800 until 1807 when the prince took another mistress. She was always respected and treated well by his royal brothers.
Lord Melbourne (1779 – 1848) was prime minister when Victoria came to the throne aged 18. He was her political mentor and confidante in the early years of the reign, which was a time of social and political change with the Whig and Tory party identities becoming outmoded.
Albert, the Prince Consort (1819 – 1861), took over from Melbourne the role of chief advisor and supporter to the queen. They became grandparents to nearly all the European ruling houses and partly due to him the moral, academic and intellectual life of the country was revitalised. His death was an almost unsupportable blow to the queen.
It is well known that Victoria and Albert’s eldest son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales later Edward VII, had many mistresses but none did anything or was of sufficient importance to national life to warrant an entry here.
Mrs Wallis Simpson (1896 -1986) was the twice divorced American woman for whom Edward VIII precipitated a national crisis by abdicating the throne in 1936, leaving his ill-prepared brother to take the crown. They lived abroad for the rest of their lives as Duke and Duchess of Windsor, subject to rumours that they had contemplated a return to Britain should Nazi Germany win the war.
Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997) was involved in an ill-matched marriage with the heir to the throne, Prince Charles. Highly popular with the media and public, she supported a wide range of charities and good causes. Their divorce, shortly followed by her tragic death, caused a major trauma in the life and popularity of the late Queen and royal family. Diana's memory is still invoked by her youngest son Harry, Duke of Sussex, who has publicised his difficult relationships with his father King Charles III, his step-mother Queen Camilla and his older brother, William Prince of Wales.