- Royal families are no strangers to scandal, with queens themselves sometimes causing the stir.
- Irene of Athens, empress of the Byzantine empire, gouged out her son’s eyes to take over the throne.
- Mary, Queen of Scots, is believed to have orchestrated the death of her second husband Lord Darnley.
Throughout history, royalty around the world has dealt with its own scandals, controversies, and drama-filled stories. But these queens took the cake, whether they were indulging in numerous affairs, like Queen of England Catherine Howard, or conspiring to kill their kings to take the thrown themselves, like Irene of Athens.
Keep scrolling to take a walk through history, and learn about the most scandalous queens of all time.
Marie Antoinette was hated by the people for her love of opulence and glamour.
Marie Antoinette was the queen of France from 1774 through 1792. In fact, she was the last queen before the French Revolution.
The queen’s penchant for expensive things turned many of the commoners against her, and probably contributed to her eventual beheading. But her most famous instance of excessive spending was the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.
A young woman called the Countess de La Mott entered the French court in 1785, and pretended to be a close friend of Antoinette’s. She was able to con a member of high society into believing the royal was in love with him, hired a prostitute to pretend to be Antoinette, and convinced the man that Antoinette was interested in purchasing a giant diamond necklace for $US1,600,000 livres (approximately $US12,000,000 today). Of course, this money was never paid, because the queen had no knowledge of the conspiracy, but the jewellers were almost bankrupt.
Even though she was eventually proven innocent in court, public opinion still was swayed against Marie Antoinette. The queen was all but despised when she was executed at the end of her reign.
Irene of Athens, empress of the Byzantine empire, gouged out her own son’s eyes to take over the throne.
Irene ruled Byzantine in some capacity from 780 to 802 AD. But her biggest power grab came after her son, Constantine VI, had overthrown her and attempted to gain power for himself. Eventually, the two reconciled and co-ruled together, but that wasn’t enough for Irene.
In 786, Constantine turned public opinion against him when he divorced his wife to marry his mistress, and Irene took advantage of the situation by conspiring against her son. She had her supporters arrest and blind Constantine by gouging his eyes out. By most accounts, he died soon after, though some speculate he and his wife Theodote lived a private life in exile.
Marguerite of Valois was exiled from court and later publicly opposed her husband, which was unheard of at the time.
Marguerite was the queen of France and Navarre (parts of present day Spain and France) from 1572 to 1599. She had a difficult relationship with her husband, brother, and mother, forcing her to think outside the box in order to survive.
When the queen was unable to provide her husband (the king) with an heir, she was sent to live with her brother, Henry III. A scandal followed her – it was rumoured that during her time away from her husband, she became pregnant with her lover’s son. This infuriated her brother, and led to her exile from both his castle and her husband’s.
Marguerite eventually was able to convince her husband to let her come home long enough to realise their marriage would never be a happy one. This led her to do something unheard of – she abandoned her husband and her family, fled to an entirely new area, and appealed to the Holy Catholic League as a leader in her own right. Even more scandalous? Her husband was a Protestant, and the two factions of Christianity had been warring.
Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was executed for adultery.
Howard was the queen of England for 18 months, from July 1540 to November 1541. She became the fifth wife of King Henry VIII when she was still a teenager, while the king was nearing 50.
Their marriage was happy, by all accounts, until it was revealed that Howard had had premarital relationships with three men: Thomas Culpeper, Henry Mannock, and Francis Dereham. To make matters worse, she made Dereham her secretary, and it was believed by many that she cheated on the king with both Dereham and Culpeper.
She denied everything, but both men admitted to affairs after being tortured. They eventually were tried and found guilty. Dereham was hanged, drawn and quartered (that is tied to a horse, dragged to the hangman, hanged, then tied to four horses spurred to run in different directions), while Culpeper was beheaded. Howard, on the other hand, was never put on trial and was directly sentenced to death. She was beheaded in 1542.
Caroline Matilda and her lover essentially controlled the entire Danish government by themselves, until they were overthrown.
The affair of Danish queen Caroline Matilda and Johann Friedrich Struensee is one of the biggest scandals in Danish history, because it is widely believed that the princess, Louise Augusta, was their illegitimate daughter.
It was clear to everyone in Danish high society and the court that King Christian VII was mentally unstable. He was said to have been “psychologically unstable and suffered from anxiety attacks, outbursts of anger, paranoia, self-mutilation and hallucinations,” according to the Copenhagen Post. Enter Struensee, a doctor who became a close confidante of the king.
Quickly, Struensee and the queen, who shared similar political views, began an affair and convinced the king to give absolute power to Struensee. For 10 months, Denmark was ruled by the queen and the German doctor – and the two significantly changed it.
The king was ultimately convinced by their enemies that the two lovers were conspiring to kill him, and had Struensee murdered and exiled Caroline Matilda.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is believed to have orchestrated the death of her second husband, Henry Stewart, aka Lord Darnley.
Mary, the queen of Scotland from 1542 to 1567, had a lifelong feud with Queen Elizabeth I, her cousin, but history has since regarded her as a tragic figure in that conflict. Potentially murdering her husband, however, remains a bona-fide scandal.
Mary married her cousin, the Lord Darnley, after her first husband died of an ear infection. “As soon as he gets married to her, he started to try to undermine her,” “Mary, Queen of Scots,” director Josie Rourke told People. Darnley is believed to have orchestrated a plot to kill David Rizzio, a close friend of the queen’s, right in front her while she was pregnant.
Soon after, Darnley was murdered. Historians don’t totally agree on how he died – some say he died in an explosion, others say he was strangled– but they all confirm that the Scottish people were suspicious of Mary, especially since she quickly married the prime suspect in his murder, the Earl of Bothwell.
The growing discontent and suspicions about Mary forced her to abdicate the throne and flee to England, where she was eventually executed for plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.
Catherine the Great organised a coup to overthrow her husband.
Russian queen Catherine the Great who was neither Russian nor really named Catherine, is remembered as one of Russia’s greatest leaders. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Catherine came into power when her mother-in-law died in 1762, and her husband Peter became emperor. However, he quickly became unpopular with the people when he ended the war with Prussia and made no secret for his distaste of Russia. Catherine, seeing the growing discontent, quickly made plans to overthrow her husband.
Peter abdicated but was assassinated eight days later. While there’s no evidence directly tying Catherine to his death, “it was committed by her supporters, and public opinion held her responsible.”
Isabella of France was known by some as the She-Wolf of France.
Isabella ruled England from 1308 to 1327, first alongside her husband King Edward II, and then with her new lover.
Isabella was increasingly neglected by her husband, who was infatuated with numerous men over the course of their relationship – especially Hugh Despenser, whom Isabella hated. So, when she was sent to France to broker peace, she issued an ultimatum: get rid of Despenser, or I’m staying in France. Her husband refused to exile him. She remained in France, where she took up a relationship with Roger Mortimer.
Mortimer and Isabella successfully concocted a plot to overthrow Edward, and he was forced to abdicate. Isabella and her lover essentially ruled England until her son came of age.
King Henry VII’s love for Anne Boleyn caused the English to break away from the Roman Catholic Church and create their own.
Henry’s love for Boleyn is the reason that the Church of England exists – in Catholicism, divorce is strictly prohibited. But when Henry fell out of love with his wife Catherine, and in love with Boleyn, their marriage had to end …
The two were married in 1533, and ruled together until 1536, when the king ordered her execution on charges of infidelity and incest. In actuality, the king grew bored of her, and agitated by her inability to provide him with a male heir.
The latest scandal as a result of a queen was in April 2018, and involves a botched photo opportunity with Queen Sofia of Spain and her grandchildren.
A more recent queenly “scandal” doesn’t seem like a scandal at all, certainly not in comparison to murder, affairs, and coups…
In April 2018, the Spanish royal family appeared to let the mask of royal civility slip a little bit at Easter mass. A viral video appears to show Queen Letizia intentionally blocking her two daughters from taking a picture with their paternal grandmother Queen Sofia. Princess Leonor also looks like she’s throwing her grandmother’s hand off her shoulder.
Needless to say, this rocked the internet.
- Read more:
- 14 of the biggest royal weddings in history
- You can become a lady or a lord in Scotland for less than $US50 – here’s how
- 15 fascinating child monarchs who changed history
- The 12 biggest scandals of the British royal family
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.