Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 23rd August 2017 | Manchester, UK

Infidelities of Rulers

The infidelity of those in the limelight is an issue that always has, and probably always will be, one of public interest. In the modern day, famous individuals including politicians, those in show business and sportsmen are constantly in the press amidst claims of infidelity.

Powis CastleOne of the most notorious adulterers in history is the Roman emperor, Caligula whom reigned from 37AD to 41AD. Evidence suggests that Caligula was a moderate emperor for the first six months of his reign, however after this he turned into a tyrant. He carried out extra marital liaisons with women alongside a procession of four wives. He is described in records by Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger as sex obsessed, misogynistic, self-absorbed and indulgent. He often bragged of sleeping with other men’s wives and was also accused of participating in incest with a number of his sisters.

Closer to home, English kings have been renowned for keeping mistresses. Henry II, a notorious adulterer whom reigned from to 1154 to 1159 is one of the earliest kings for whom records of his mistresses have been found. Henry had several long term affairs with women including Rosamund Clifford and fathered illegitimate children; some of whom he gave titles and status in court. Henry VIII of the Tudor family is now infamous for his infidelities, taking various mistresses during his six marriages and like Henry II, fathering illegitimate children. Charles II has been hailed the “Merry Monarch” earning this title as the most prominent womanizer in English kingship. Charles is different from many other kings as he is believed to have taken mistresses from the lower classes of English society as well as noble women. Charles is believed to have had at least fifteen mistresses and was open about the fact he fathered 14 illegitimate children.

In more contemporary England, royal mistresses have still been in the public eye. Although not married, Edward VIII was in the public domain during his reign in 1936. He was carrying out an affair with divorcee Wallis Simpson whom due to her two ex-husbands being alive, was infidelity in the eyes of the church. Lastly, Prince Charles of Wales’ infidelity against Diana Princess of Wales with Camilla (now the Duchess of Cornwall) caused nationwide outrage.

Hence, infidelity has been a prominent theme throughout the history of rulers and will undoubtedly remain a strong talking point for years to come.

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