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How well should two people know each other before they marry? Better than these unhappy couples

by on Dec.04, 2020, under Uncategorized

When I was in college, one of my favorite instructors was a grad student who had met, proposed to, and eloped with the woman he married, all in the space of three weeks. They were blissfully happy together, and I hope that hasn’t changed, because the theme of his story was the sheer madness of having married on such short acquaintance.

Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Henry VIII agreed to marry Anne after seeing this portrait by Hans Holbein.

Take the case of King Henry VIII’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Henry had never met the Lutheran princess, but his chief minister, the staunchly protestant Thomas Cromwell, urged the match. Henry agreed to marry Anne after viewing her portrait, but when the pair came face to face for the first time, Henry was less than impressed. He went through with the ceremony, but never consummated the marriage, saying after their wedding night, “I liked her not well before, but now I like her much worse.” Anne wisely chose not to contest an annulment, and Thomas Cromwell went on to lose both the king’s favor and his head.

Even when couples think they know each other, first impressions can be misleading. In 1777, Mary Bowes, the widowed Countess of Strathmore, met an army officer named Andrew Robinson Stoney. When insulting articles about the countess appeared in London’s Morning Post, Stoney leaped to her defense, not only responding in print, but even challenging the editor to a duel. Mary had no idea that Stoney had written the insults as well as the responses, and that the duel was only a ruse. Pretending to be mortally wounded, Stoney persuaded Mary to marry him. He took his vows from a stretcher, but the two were no sooner wed than Stoney recovered as if by magic. He made Mary’s life miserable—forcing her to sign over protected assets, abusing her, holding her prisoner. He consorted with prostitutes and even raped the servants. It took the help of loyal servants for Mary to escape. When she filed for divorce, Stoney abducted her. He was eventually arrested, but that didn’t stop him from publishing scandalous details of Mary’s past affairs. The resulting divorce proceedings blackened Mary’s name and dragged on until her death. Stoney was so unprincipled that, decades later, William Makepeace Thackeray used him as the model for the fortune-hunting cad in The Luck of Barry Lyndon.

The last regency I published, The Marriage Act, is about a marriage that gets off to a similarly disastrous start.

The Marriage Act

London, 1821

When John, Viscount Welford, proposed to Caroline Fleetwood, the only daughter of the Bishop of Essex, he thought he knew exactly what he was getting—a lovely, innocent bride.

Five years later, he knows better. The woman who ran to another man on their wedding night—after they’d consummated the marriage—is hardly innocent. Years spent apart while John served as a diplomatic attaché have allowed them to save face in society, but all good pretenses must come to an end. When Caroline receives word that her father is dying, she begs John to accompany her on one last journey to see him.

But there’s an added problem—Caroline never told her father that her marriage to John was a farce. As they play-act for others, Caroline is delighted to find she never really knew her husband at all. But can she be the kind of wife he needs—and does she want to be?

What’s your best (or worst) whirlwind courtship story? Do you know any couples who rushed into marriage? How did it turn out?

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