5.) Manuel I of Portugal and Maria of Aragon
Manuel and Maria have a unique origin. Maternal cousins (his mother and her grandmother were Portuguese princesses), they were engaged when she was a child. However, upon ascending to the Portuguese throne, Manuel requested to break the engagement to marry her elder sister, Isabel, instead. The elder Infanta was horrified, since she refused to remarry after the death of her beloved Alfonso years earlier, but brokered a deal that she would accept the engagement if the Inquisition expanded into Portugal. Despite the promise and implementing of religious freedom upon his early reign, Manuel accepted. The two were married, and Isabel and Maria’s brother, Juan, Prince of the Asturias, died en route to the ceremony, changing Spanish and European history forever.
A year and a half later, Isabel, now Princess of the Asturias, died giving birth to Miguel de Paz, who would rule over the entire Iberian peninsula. Alas, this never came to be, as the poor infant died barely two years ago in 1500. That same year, Manuel married Maria, making her the new Queen of Portugal. During their 17 year marriage, they produced 10 children, 8 of whom surviving into adulthood, including Joao III of Portugal, Isabel of Portugal, Holy Roman Empress, and Henry the Cardinal King. What makes their union unique was it was the only marriage of Isabel and Fernando’s children to maintain true happiness. Manuel and Maria genuinely loved one another. During a time where it was customary for a king to take mistresses, Manuel always stayed faithful to his wife until her death in 1517, leaving him heartbroken. Their eldest daughter and namesake for his first wife and mother-in-law took over her mother’s queenly duties until Manuel remarried the following year to Eleanor of Austria, Maria’s niece.
4.) Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York
When Henry Tudor won the crown from Richard III at Bosworth Field, the House of Plantagenet’s over 300 rule on England was over, and the Tudor era began. Needing to fully end the Cousins War (known today as “The War of the Roses”), Henry, a Lancastrian descendant, needed a York bride, and who better than Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter and surviving child of Edward VI and Elizabeth Woodville. Having already sworn in a cathedral to marry her before invading English soil, Henry revoked the Titulus Regius, placed in effect by Richard III to make his claim legitimate by making her and her siblings bastards, and married Elizabeth after his coronation.
Its no secret that this marriage was not rooted in love, and it their early years were rough due to Elizabeth’s royal blood and the constant Yorkist rebellions. Yet Henry and Elizabeth grew to love, trust, and admire one another over time. Like Manuel I of Portugal, he was also never recorded in taking a mistress, and like Maria of Aragon, she played a passive role, and produced several children, 4 of whom made it out of childhood — Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, Queen of Scotland, Henry VIII of England, and Mary, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Both husband and wife were despaired by the deaths of their other children in infancy, and destroyed when Arthur died in 1502. Elizabeth calmed her husband down, assuring them that they still had “a fair prince, and two fair princesses,” along with them both being young enough to have children. She also assured him that he was an only son and took the throne, so even if young Henry remained the sole surviving male. After succeeding in calming the king, Elizabeth broke down herself going back to her rooms, Henry running after her, cradling her with the comforting words she first relayed to him.
The death of a child allows does one of two things; it brings their parents together or tears them apart. Henry and Elizabeth were brought closer than ever, and, despite not having much political influence over the course of their marriage, involved her in the marriage arraignments for their surviving children — Scotland for Margaret, Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon for Henry, and future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for Mary. She also became pregnant again. Things were going well when tragedy again struck. Days after giving birth to a baby girl, Katherine, the infant died. Then, on her 37th birthday, Elizabeth of York died from childbed fever. Henry VII was devastated, unable to be comforted by anyone in his grief, not even by his own mother and most trusted advisor, Margaret Beaufort.
When Elizabeth died, so did the calming effect she left on her husband. Henry VII lived his final years as the miserly king he’s remembered for to this day. Despite making a few plans, one with his former daughter-in-law in mind, Henry never remarried, and died of a broken heart in 1509.
3.) Ivan the Terrible and Anastasia Romanova
In the game of chess, the queen protects the king. In Russia, the czarina protects the czar. That’s exactly what Anastasia Romanova did for her husband, Ivan the Terrible, throughout their 13 year marriage. Shortly after making himself Russia’s 1st czar, Ivan ordered as many as 1500 young virgins be brought to the Kremlin for inspections. It was like The Bachelor or Flavor of Love, but with Ivan. One girl stood out from all the rest — Anastasia Romanova, young, beautiful, innocent, devote, and chaste. They produced six children together, although only two, Ivan and the future Feodor the First, survived into adulthood.
Anastasia was Ivan’s first of eight wives and only one whom he truly loved. She possessed a calming effect on his violent personality, and also was a keen influence behind the scenes of Russia’s politics, too. In 1560, she came down with an illness, and months later was dead. Ivan was devastated, his beloved wife and companion’s death altering his already hostile personality for the worst. Her death ushered in the creation of the Oprichniki and Ivan’s further destruction of the boyars, whom he accused of poisoning her to rid of her influence. This fact was disputed for many years until recent evidence revealed ten times the “regular” (it was used as a “cure” years ago) amount of mercury in the late czarina’s hair. For once, Ivan was right.
2.) Charles V & I and Isabel de Portugal
First off, they’re first cousins — grandchildren to Isabel and Fernando via their mothers, Juana and Maria. Secondly, they were supposed to be married sooner than they did, but Charles refused the engagement. Unlike Charles, who was also engaged to Claude of France, Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, and the future Mary I of England, and had many affairs and a few illegitimate children running about Europe, Isabel had no other suitors, but was determined to be a queen from a very young age. Having taking up queenly duties at her father’s court in the year gap between her mother’s death and his remarriage — to Charles’ sister, and Isabel’s cousin, Eleanor, Isabel also served as an advisor/comforter to her stepmother/cousin and later to another one, her sister, Catherine of Austria, when both became Portuguese queens.
In the early 1520s, Charles finally realized he needed an heir, and couldn’t wait for his latest fiancée, Princess Mary of England, to finish growing up (he was 16 years her elder). Arraigning for another alliance with Portugal and revisiting the engagement, Isabel and Charles were finally married on March 10, 1526. Despite the marriage starting off for sole political purpose, it quickly turned into a love match, the Emperor, who was usually on the move between all his European territories, taking a year off to honeymoon in Granada with her, where the future Felipe II of Spain was conceived. When Charles did leave Spain for two periods lasting 3-4 years, he left Isabel in charge as regent. He noticed, and admired, her outward and inner beauty, along with her strength, passion, determination, and political boldness, reminiscent of their grandmother, Isabel, but nonetheless ahead of their time.
Due to malaria combined with a difficult labor ending in a stillbirth, Isabel of Portugal died in 1539. Despite being away at the time of her passing, Charles was devastating, locking himself up in deep mourning. As a result, he wore black for the rest of his life and never remarried. He and Isabel’s son, Felipe, would later acquire his mother’s kingdom of Portugal, thereby ruling over a united Iberian peninsula.
1.) Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon
In Europe, all know of their greatest, yet in America, this power couple hardly gets any love. Reduced to just a sentence in US history books as the monarchs who sponsored Columbus’ voyages, Isabel and Fernando accomplished much more. Originally engaged as children, they defied the odds as teenagers (including faking a papal dispensation and Isabel lying to her half-brother, Enrique IV of Castile, of her true destination) to get married and be together. Their marriage united the two kingdoms of Castile and Aragon into a united Spain as it is today.
It was not perfect; Fernando had 2-3 illegitimate children, 1-2 conceived during his marriage to Isabel and at first was angered over his wife’s sole rule on her kingdom. Yet they loved each other deeply, having attained a mutual respect and admiration that carried until one’s death. They ruled over their kingdoms separately, but would have them united into one upon both their deaths. They produced 7 children with 5 surviving, the eldest and most beloved two, Isabel and Juan, predeceasing their parents along with their children. The death of their sole male child led to chaos in the succession since the heiress was now unstable daughter Juana and her haughty husband, Philip “the Handsome” of Habsburg. Yet Fernando and Isabel faced their family tragedies with the same courage they faced war with Portugal, Granada, and France head on. Known as “the Catholic Monarchs,” they finally completed the centuries long Reconquista, recapturing Granada and making a Christian, Catholic Spain. They also paved the way for Spain’s conquests in the New World, sealing it with the Treaty of Tordesillas.
When Isabel died broken hearted of the many tragedies that’d befallen her at the end of her reign, she put in her will that her husband could be Castile’s regent for their daughter if she was unfit to rule. Thus ushered in a time of troubles for Spain, where Fernando and Philip battled it out for the crown and both, at separate times, locked poor Juana up. Despite remarrying and having a short lived son, Fernando died without a direct male heir, leaving Aragon, as Castile was, to his grandson, Carlos I of Spain, aka Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.