Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has had a hard time after marrying into the British royal family. Her life has been marred by several controversies on top of her divorce from Prince Andrew. Her scandals got her banned from public royal events, including the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011. However, her claims that she is “the most persecuted woman in the history of the Royal Family” seems far-fetched considering the torture some other women in the family had to suffer.
A report in Mail Online outlines the queens and princesses in Britain’s history who were “abominably treated by their parents, spouses, subjects and even their children.” It started in the 12th century, when King Henry I expressed his wishes to make his daughter Matilda the first woman to claim the throne of England, but after his death the barons broke their promise and crowned her cousin Stephen instead. She launched a civil war, which ended up in a humiliating deal when Stephen agreed to let her son, the future Henry II, succeed when he was dead.
Isabella, known as the “She-Wolf of France”, was married to King Edward II in 1308 when she was just 12. She suffered for years during the King’s intense relationship with Piers Gaveston, until he died and left her free to rule as regent for her son, Edward III. However, as soon as her son came of age, he put her under house arrest.
However, most crimes against royal women were committed by Henry VIII due to his obsession with having a son. He married six women, at a time when divorce was illegal, and two of them were beheaded on his orders.
His first wife was Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess who married his brother Arthur but became a widow and went into a depression at an early age after her husband lost his life to the plague. Henry and Catherine’s daughter Mary became Queen much later, for a short while, but was always humiliated as a “bastard” even though her parents were married when she was born.
Meanwhile, Catherine was ordered to testify about her relations with Arthur and forced to enter internal exile so Henry could marry her lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn. Henry didn’t let Catherine see her daughter even as she lay dying of cancer in 1533, and he and Anne wore garish yellow outfits after receiving the news of her death.
His relations with Anne, a modern and intellectual woman as per reports, went sour due to her repeated miscarriages and inability to bear a son. Her daughter Elizabeth also became a Queen and is known for the Elizabethan era. Queen Elizabeth I was known as the Virgin Queen as she never married and put an end to the Tudor line.
Meanwhile, Henry got Boleyn beheaded on charges of plotting to poison him and of forming relations with her own brother George, both of which were reportedly untrue. Four more wives followed, including Catherine Howard, another teenager, who was beheaded for having an extra-marital affair with one of Henry’s courtiers.
More recent persecution of a royal woman was when George IV, who was secretly and illegally married to an Irish widow called Maria Fitzherbert, pushed his wife Caroline of Brunswick to death in 1821. Prior to that, he sent her into continental exile, and went to all lengths to ensure that she wouldn’t be made Queen Consort.
His friends in the House of Lords introduced a bill to charge her with adultery and strip her of her title, while he also hired professional boxers to stop her from getting into Westminster Abbey at his coronation. After the public humiliation that very evening, she swallowed a large dose of laudanum to steady her nerves, fell ill, and died three weeks later.
Dominic Sandbrook concluded his column by saying about the Duchess of York, “By these standards, has Sarah been persecuted? Have people raised armies against her? Has she been separated from her children? Has she been accused of witchcraft? Did the Queen engage a French executioner to remove her head?….I think she’s done rather well out of her royal association, don’t you?”