A popular image of the kings and queens of history depicts lifestyles of lavish wealth and supreme power. For many royals throughout the ages, riches and sovereignty were a given, some even claimed that they were a divine right and sacred privilege, ordained by God by virtue of their birth in the line of succession.

Those royals who were raised surrounded by affluence and extravagance would be accustomed to levels of wealth that appeared fantastical or unimaginable to many of the common working folk. 

Being born into royalty and raised in a regal household was also likely to imbue certain personality traits such as superiority, extreme self-confidence and the assumption that subjects and subordinates ought to do their bidding. 

So for a great number of royals throughout the ages, supreme levels of power and money were the normal state of affairs. Yet history also shows us how there were occasions when royals experienced a deficit of either power or money, and sometimes both. And there were numerous cases of wealthy and powerful monarchs being dissatisfied with their plenty, who endlessly craved ever higher levels of money and power.  

Royals & Money

Riches and royalty have long been intertwined. From the earliest times, those in positions of sovereignty have been associated with wealth, affluence, extravagance and splendor. Even ancient history reveals details of the finery and fortunes of the earliest kings, queens and their families. 

Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as the royal houses evolved over the centuries, the individual fortunes of kings and queens may have varied, but there was a pattern of wealthy monarchs fulfilling the popular idiom of the rich getting richer. 

Even in modern times, some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet are the rulers and royal families of the contemporary kingdoms, such as those in the Middle East where inherited royal wealth has been amplified with modern commercial success. 

Royals & Power

Money can often buy power, and in the case of wealthy royals, the combination of financial might and royal status can be a powerful mix. Even the most impoverished of royals have still managed to wield substantial power over their subjects. Whether as a result of political strength, personal character, social esteem, or the loyalty of their subjects, royal status alone can often imbue a considerable degree of power. 

When it comes to royal marriages, regal status can be regarded as a highly-priced and valuable asset, one that can – and often did – act as a powerful leverage in choosing an advantageous marriage partner to join two families or even two nations through a strategic union.  

Royals Who Wed For Power & Money

One example of royals who wed for both power and money is the marriage between the famously ambitious King Henry VIII of England and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. 

Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), Queen consort of England (1509-1533) – Lucas Horenbout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As with many royal marriages, there were myriad factors at play in the union of the English King and the Spanish Princess. Perhaps the most uncommon factor was Catherine’s first marriage to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who had been the Prince of Wales and the heir apparent to the English throne. 

The young Prince Arthur had been betrothed to Catherine of Aragon since childhood, with the plans for their alliance beginning even earlier, perhaps even in his infancy. Catherine was the daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs of the 15th century, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, who reigned over the Spanish regions of Castile and Aragon.

Catherine’s royal heritage and influential family, along with the extensive planning of the betrothal, indicate that this marriage was a strategic alliance beneficial to both nations. The union may have been a bid to create harmony between England and the Spanish lands, or to join forces as powerful allies during the tumultuous Middle Ages. 

Along with the power brokerage, the marriage also included significant sums of money. Catherine’s dowry was estimated to be almost a quarter of a million ducat coins – a welcome addition to any royal coffers. 

Royal Marriage & Royal Money

It is perhaps the size of the marriage dowry that sealed the fate of both the young Prince Henry and Princess Catherine, as it was believed to be the deciding factor when Catherine’s first husband Arthur died just over a year into their marriage. 

Rather than return the royal dowry to the  Spanish King and Queen – as was required should the marriage fail – the solution was found in wedding the young widow to her brother-in-law, the man who would become the legendary King Henry VIII.

What began as a royal marriage to cement international relations and secure powerful allies for England and Span had become a transactional union, joining two young royals together largely for financial reasons.   

While the details of each monarchy’s finances may be lost to history, it’s clear that both of the young royals were used to a degree of opulence and refinement. It’s believed that after their wedding, the new Queen of England and her young husband, King Henry VIII, found common ground in their enjoyment of the finer things in life. 

As their stories played out in later years, the struggles would become more about a balance of power, as King Henry would strive for independence from the Roman Catholic Church, and Catherine would lose her status and ultimately her husband, reduced from a powerful queen to one of the most famous s in history. 

At the beginning of their married life, however, it seemed as though their strategic union was a triumph of the royal practice of wedding for power and money. 

The practice of marrying for money and power is likely as old as the sacrament itself, and it’s certainly a practice the royals of the ages would have been familiar with. While it may be easy to imagine that wealthy and powerful royals would be free of the need for such transactional marriages, it could well be argued that for those born into royalty, there is even more to be gained – or lost – through their choice of marriage. This would explain why so many of the royal marriages of the ages were reduced to simple calculations of power and money.