As many of you know, I have a strange interest in the British monarchy and British royal history. Mostly, I enjoy the political intrigue that went along with the ebb and flow of the royal rule throughout history. And of course, built in to any lengthy history are the epic romances.
Most famous perhaps is Henry VIII and the Lady Anne Boleyn, a romance that helped usher the Protestant Reformation into England. Henry's love and perhaps obsession with the Lady Anne altered the course of English politics, society and religion, much to the chagrin of Rome. There are many biographical versions of the tumultuous but passionate relationship between Henry and Anne, but the most logical and compelling was that Henry was madly in love. He was no longer in love with his wife, Queen Katherine - he resented her for what he perceived to be an inability to produce a male heir - and worked to find a way out of his marriage to be with Anne, who he saw as the solution to everything from birthing an heir to maintaining his youth, which he longed for. Some might say that Harry had a bit of a mid-life crisis.
But Anne and Henry's desire for one another was the catalyst for tremendous social and political change in Britain. This love affair did not end well for Anne, of course. The same forces that helped her rise, turned against her and her family, initiated her downfall, and replaced her with the demure and Catholic Jane Seymour. As with Anne, this was all family ambition and politics at play. Anne's family offered her more or less as a mistress to the King, like her sister before her, but Anne played her own game.
Many if not most versions of this story portray Anne as someone who manipulated her way into the arms of the most powerful man in the world. But closer examination of the political climate and Henry's personality tell a slightly different story. Likely, they were passionately in love but the allure of the forbidden fruit wore off once Henry divorced Katherine and married Anne. His whole purpose for papal reform was now irrelevant since he received what he wanted and so the political forces and noble families who desired a return to the church helped push that along by convincing Henry (who was still without a male heir) that the Boleyns needed to go.
He couldn't divorce Anne; he had no grounds. So those around the King miraculously found him some grounds (adultry and incest - neither of which were true, but it was easy to bully courtiers into providing circumstantial evidence) and Anne stood trial, was found guilty and executed for treason against her love, the King of England. Thomas Boleyn, whose ambition led Anne to the chopping block, sacrificed his own daughter (and son) for power and property. In the end, Anne sacrificed her life for the love of a King. Henry went on to four more wives.
Then there is the story of Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson. 400 hundred years after Anne's head was lopped off into a basket, David Windsor, King Edward VIII abdicated his throne when it was clear that neither his family nor Parliament nor the Cabinet would allow his marriage to the "woman he loved." It was rumored that Mrs. Simpson began her relationship with David, who after abdicating became known as the Duke of Windsor, while still married to her second husband. After David Windsor succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father, and took the name King Edward, Wallis was divorced from her husband. It was clear the new King intended to marry Wallis. But a union with a twice married and twice divorced Amercian socialite from Pennsylvania nearly caused a British Constitutional crisis.
While not the ultimate sacrifice, King Edward VIII sacrificed the crown, his birthright and much of his livelihood (relatively speaking, of course - he lived in a palace for goodness sake) to marry the "woman he loved" in 1936. (Or as his mother Queen Mary referred to Wallis Simpson, "that woman.")
His brother, Albert, who became King George VI then succeeded to the throne followed by HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Although formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis was not titled Her Royal Highness, but rather "Her Grace," a term reserved for non royal dukes and duchesses. The royal family was sure to keep "that woman" in her place and they did for many years as the couple traveled between homes in the US and Europe.
While the story of Anne and Henry has always been compelling to me, now that I am binge watching The Crown on Netflix, the story of King Edward in particular, strikes a chord. I hear refrains of "What I Did for Love" playing in my head from the Broadway musical, A Chorus Line. There are those of thus who act with our hearts and those of us who do not. In the end, I wonder who is happier?
We all know what happened in the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. What appears to be good on paper, isn't always so good. When we enter into a relationship because it seems to "make sense" or "is the right thing to do" aren't we just setting ourselves up (those of us who live by our hearts instead of our heads) to be unfulfilled and resentful down the road? Or is it the other way, that the relationships we enter with fire and passion end up fizzling when life gets in the way? Or is the best approach to find the fire and keep it lit with all the things that make sense - similar life passions, activities, respect, emotional support?
I don't know the answers. That's why I'm asking. If you haven't taken note of my track record, I'm super bad at this.
Henry fought for his love of Anne for at least 6-7 years. He changed the law, he changed religion. And when she gave birth to Elizabeth and not a boy and then lost 2 pregnancies, Henry began to regret all he gave up for love.
It is difficult to tell if the Duke of Windsor regretted walking away from the royal life and the throne of England. Certainly, it seems that he did not. He loved his wife deeply and they made a very good life together.
I've given up a lot for love. If you read my posts, then you are probably someone who has as well. Perhaps to most people, my great sacrifice isn't as great as my head or the crown. I gave all of me, gambled and lost the life I knew. In the long run, maybe that's all all right. I don't know yet; I haven't hit the long run. I'm still sprinting and trying to catch my breath.
And despite my "great sacrifice," I'm willing to try it again. Maybe I'm a hopeless or hopeful romantic or just a glutton for punishment. I'll try to keep my head and I am more than willing to give up the crown to live a life filled with real love.
"There is no remedy for love but to love more."
-Henry David Thoreau.