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10 English Queens Who Suffered Greatly

by Cassandra Williams
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Queens of England, or as some of these would be, queens of Great Britain, were undoubtedly under immense pressure whether they were consorts (queens due to their husbands being kings), regents (holding the title for their child, usually a son), or regnants (holding the title for themselves, usually with a husband titled “prince”). One of the biggest pressures for any queen was producing an heir. As you will soon read, it caused a considerable amount of suffering for many. Many of the queens on this list suffered because of losing someone they loved: a child or partner.

It’s important to remember that many of the queens on this list did great things and are remembered as strong and effective rulers. Through whatever personal sorrows they suffered, they were forced into the public eye and criticized heavily. Sometimes, this meant that the public eye itself was what made them suffer. After all, some women, even today, are criticized for personal beliefs and choices that no one else should have any say in.

Related: Top 10 Royals That Were Absolutely Crazy

10 Queen Anne

The Tragic And Incredible Life Of The Last Stuart Monarch | Queen Anne of Great Britain – PART 1

Queen Anne (1665–1714) was the first monarch of the united Great Britain and a queen regnant and reigned from 1702 to 1714. While being queen certainly had its perks, Anne never enjoyed good health and spent much of her reign pregnant—17 times, that is. Unfortunately, however, of the 18 children she carried (yes, 18, one pregnancy was twins), only one survived past infancy, and a shocking 13 were miscarried or stillborn. It is thought she may have suffered from antiphospholipid syndrome, an immune disorder that causes an increased risk of blood clots, which would not lend itself well to successful pregnancies.

Apart from the horrifying number of losses Anne suffered, she also had to deal with continuous episodes of gout. To add to her already mounting difficulties, her husband died five years into her reign as queen, and she had to be persuaded by friends to leave his bedside after his death. She was described as being in “unspeakable grief.” Only a few years later, Anne succumbed to a series of strokes, and thus, the reign of the Stuarts came to an end.[1]

9 Margaret of Anjou

The French Noblewoman Who Became England’s Fiercest Queen | Margaret of Anjou | Wars of the Roses

Margaret of Anjou (1430–1482) was queen consort of England twice, from 1445 to 1461 and from 1470 to 1471. She was married at 15 to King Henry VI, who was eight years her senior, and the marriage was unpopular. In 1453, her husband possibly experienced a bout of catatonic schizophrenia, which necessitated a regent to rule in his place. Margaret attempted to gain this regency but failed and had an intense rivalry with the opposing governing style that arose with the rule of Henry’s cousin, the Duke of York.

Margaret would eventually regain power as her husband’s health improved, but soon, the War of the Roses broke out, and Margaret would find herself fighting for her son, Edward’s, rightful claim to the throne. After years of such efforts, her son was captured and murdered. Like many queens on this list, she spent many of the latter days of her life imprisoned. Eventually, she was released to Louis XI to live the remainder of her days in exile in her native France.[2]

8 Anne Boleyn

The Truth Behind Anne Boleyn Notorious Reputation | Two Sisters | Absolute History

Anne Boleyn (c. 1501–1536) is a woman whose story has been told again and again; she was the second wife of Henry VIII and the “reason” for the English break from the Catholic Church. She is often remembered as a seductress and for the tragic end to her life—beheading. It is important, however, to recognize she was an active and enthusiastic queen, prepared to help shape the new Church of England. Unfortunately, in the end, all Henry truly cared about was whether Anne could give him a son. After the birth of her daughter Elizabeth and two miscarriages, the pressure was piling on, and Anne saw unimaginable levels of stress.

In 1536, everything was falling apart… fast. Anne was accused of not only multiple accounts of adultery but also incest. To make matters worse, Anne had practically lost all the King’s interest, and Henry was quickly falling in love with his eventual next wife, Jane Seymour. After a trial that contained no real evidence besides testimony, Anne was sentenced to be burned at the stake, which was then commuted to beheading. She spent her last weeks scrambling for any chance at saving her position or even just her life, but she failed, her life ending in tragedy.[3]

7 Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

The life of the real QUEEN CHARLOTTE of Mecklenburg-Strelitz | Who was married to George III?

Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) was a beautiful German princess who, on her wedding day to King George III, knew not a word of English. She learned quickly, though, and together they produced fifteen children. The king and queen led a happy life together for 25 years until George III became increasingly unwell with his infamous madness.

George’s inappropriate and eventually violent behaviors terrified Charlotte, and she increased the distance between them until they were living completely separate lives. She lost her partner to his illness, but once she overcame the loss of her happiness in her marriage, she was eventually able to find fulfillment in the sciences and literary arts, especially botany.[4]

6 Henrietta Maria of France

Henrietta Maria Of France – WIFE of Charles I Of England

Henrietta Maria of France (1609–1669) became queen upon marrying Charles I and was heavily criticized throughout the reign for being a Catholic in a Protestant-ruled England. Charles I is the one who eventually lost his head, so as you can imagine, in the years before this disaster, Henrietta Maria experienced increasing criticism for the choices she and her husband were making when it came to running things, even down to the ornate chapel she had constructed for herself.

Henrietta Maria had a public image problem, and from that point on, there was very little she could do right. When Charles was executed in 1649, she began wearing only black and spent the rest of her life in the quiet background.[5]

5 Eleanor of Aquitaine

Behind Every Great King… | The Life & Times of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204) was queen of both France and England during her lifetime. As queen of France, she struggled with her husband in the Crusades until the stress of no success drew them apart. The marriage was annulled, but with Eleanor having inherited a large estate in her own name, she was an extremely desirable match and risked kidnapping attempts to force her into another marriage. She strongly desired to stay single but very quickly ended up married to an English prince, later Henry II of England.
The royal couple had eight children, but Eleanor was constantly frustrated at his lack of interest in them. When one of her sons attempted to overthrow the king, Eleanor happily supported him. Unfortunately, she ended up in prison for the following sixteen years when the plot failed. It was only after the death of her husband that she saw freedom once again, and amazingly, she is remembered as a strong and capable regent for her son while he fought in the far-off crusades.[6]

4 Catherine Howard

The TRAGIC life of Catherine Howard

Yes, that’s right, another one of Henry VIII’s wives has made this list. But is it really that surprising? By the time Catherine Howard (c. 1523–1542) married Henry, he was nearly 50, and she was barely 18. With the massive 30-year age gap and Henry’s declining health, it is clear Catherine wasn’t about to have a whirlwind romance with the aging king. He openly voiced his attraction for her, but despite this, Catherine had very little freedom in the marriage and eventually began seeking the attention of younger men.

Catherine’s extramarital affairs were widely discussed, and of course, this led to her downfall. Can she really be blamed for seeking more appropriate matches, or is she eternally the wicked adultress? One piece of evidence—a letter to her lover, Thomas Culpepper—is often used as evidence that she willfully committed adultery with him and truly loved him.

However, there is a suggestion that she was simply trying to stop his aggressive advances with sweet words. Henry himself initially refused to believe accusations against Catherine in large part due to his affection for her, but more allegations piled on. After confessing to multiple sexual encounters, Catherine lost her head in 1542.[7]

3 Matilda of Flanders

Matilda Of Flanders Timeline of a Conquering Queen

As the queen consort to William I, also known as William the Conqueror, Matilda of Flanders (d. 1083) was the first queen of England. But before she became queen, she was first a young woman who was to be married to William, Duke of Normandy. He proposed marriage to her from a distance, and she dared refuse him, saying she would not marry a bastard.

Upon learning of her refusal William rode day and night straight to her, and upon encountering Matilda he grabbed her by the hair, threw her to the ground, and beat her mercilessly. He immediately left to return home, and after recovering for several days, Matilda eventually announced she would marry no one but William. There’s more later, but perhaps this speaks volumes about how their marriage would go on to develop.[8]

2 Elizabeth Woodville

The Commoner Who Became A Queen | Elizabeth Woodville | The Real White Queen | Wars of the Roses

Elizabeth Woodville (1437–1492) came directly after another queen consort on this list, Margaret of Anjou. Elizabeth was not of noble rank and was thus very unpopular when she became queen, especially because of her tendency to give relatives special favors. She was the mother of the famous “Princes in the Tower,” who disappeared not long after being placed into the custody of the infamous Richard III.

It is unknown how Elizabeth felt about the disappearance; however, she definitely suffered as the heirs of her husband were slowly picked away. Later, as Henry VII came to the throne, it was believed Elizabeth was involved in a plot to overthrow the king. Without much investigation, she was sent away to a nunnery where she spent the rest of her life, out of the way. She died unceremoniously after several years of isolation.[9]

1 Queen Mary I

The Untold Story of The Most Evil Queen: Bloody Mary

Queen Mary I (1516–1558), or as she is sometimes known, “Bloody Mary,” is not who you would expect to be on the receiving end of any misery. She called for the brutal murder of a number of Protestants, but she herself suffered to remain a Catholic. She was named illegitimate by her father, Henry VIII, only a few years into her life, and near the death of her brother, for whom she was meant to be heir to the throne, she was completely removed from the line of succession.

Mary started her life as a respected princess but ended up being forgotten and neglected due to the desires of the men around her. After she ascended the throne in 1553, she knew a Catholic heir was what she needed to keep the country firmly Catholic, so she married the king of Spain. However, once again, Mary found herself almost completely neglected, as Philip II rarely visited, and she was never able to have a child.

Speaking of children, Queen Mary was so desperate for a child and heir that she suffered two false pregnancies, one of which lasted over a year. It is certain she experienced extreme stress surrounding the lack of an actual birth while she waited with a swollen abdomen, and she was ridiculed throughout court for having a “delusion” of being pregnant. She spent over three months confined to a room awaiting a birth, and eventually, she had to emerge. No child, and a mountain of disappointment not only from the public but herself as well.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen