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Famous romantic fiction based on real-life royals

Screen grab/Netflix

Last week, Sarah, Duchess of York announced that she would be co-authoring a Mills and Boon romance novel about her great-great-aunt, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott. Royal romances are a popular topic both in books and on the screen. 

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in The Young Victoria, Victoria 

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s relationship is a popular subject for the small and big screen. First cousins through her mother and his father, Victoria and Albert had a passionate and tumultuous relationship that lasted 24 years until Albert’s death of typhoid fever in 1861.

The 2009 film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, examines the early years of Victoria and Albert’s relationship. The Duchess of York was a producer on the film, and Princess Beatrice was an extra in the coronation scene. 

ITV’s Victoria (2016-2019) also focused largely on Victoria and Albert’s relationship. It also begins by looking at their courtship but continues on to their young family with Princess Victoria and Prince Edward (the future King Edward VII). 

Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria in The Accidental Empress (Allison Pataki)

Allison Pataki has featured royal romances in several of her historical fiction novels. Empress Elizabeth (also known as Sisi) and Emperor Franz Joseph are the focus of her 2015 novel The Accidental Empress. Sisi is known for being famously beautiful and for her struggle with mental health issues, but her romance with the Emperor was quite the topic of discussion in the nineteenth century. Originally meant to marry her sister Helene, Franz Joseph was taken by the teenage Elisabeth and her beauty. Their relationship quickly faced difficulty in the formality and ceremony of the Austrian court. Sisi’s story continues in Pataki’s 2016 novel, Sisi

Mary, Queen of Scots and King Francis II of France/ Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley/ James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell in Reign, Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Stuart is always a popular subject in books and on the screen, and quite often, her three marriages are the focus. While a teenager, she was married to King Francis II of France, but he died two years after they married and she returned to Scotland. Mary needed to remarry to have a child and continue the Stuart dynasty and married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley’s claim to both the Scottish and the English thrones was nearly as strong as Mary’s. However, the relationship quickly turned sour as he continued to demand the Crown Matrimonial, though she was able to conceive the future James VI/I. Darnley and his valet were murdered in Kirk O’Field in February of 1566. No one was formally charged with his murder, but many historians believe James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell was responsible. He also happened to be Mary’s third and final husband. Historians debate whether or not she was coerced into marrying him, but everything went south for Mary quickly after their wedding. 

The CW’s Reign (2013-2017) introduced many people to Mary, Queen of Scots. A highly fictionalised telling of Mary’s teenage years in France and return to Scotland, the show largely focused on her romantic relationships.

The 2018 film, Mary, Queen of Scots, based on John Guy’s biography, spent considerable time on Mary and Darnley’s relationship, and also on Bothwell’s.  

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Before the Crown (Flora Harding) 

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s relationship is one of those modern fairytales. A beautiful princess marries her prince (after he served in the war) in a beautiful ceremony in Post-War London, and they have been married for over 73 years. Although the match was controversial in royal circles at the time, Philip has been a loyal and steadfast supporter to The Queen. 

Flora Harding’s 2020 novel Before the Crown explores their courtship and wedding from the POV of both Elizabeth and Philip, an interesting counterpoint to The Crown

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