Weird History
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The 10 Cruelest, Most Unfair Weddings In The History of Western Culture

Updated September 24, 2020 2.3m views10 items

Secret weddings in history are proof that not all proposals end with happily ever after. Throughout history, couples have had to marry either in secret or in a rush to avoid detection from those who would wish to keep them apart. So while it’s true that not all secret or shotgun weddings in history were happy, it is true that many of them were at least interesting.

But the clandestine, spontaneous, or secret nature of these weddings does not mean that the marriages were successful or romantic. On the contrary, many secret marriages in history were dysfunctional and shocking, as they were sometimes connected to kidnapping, money, and murder.

The stakes were often high for secret weddings and elopements, since the couples married in the heat of the moment or to beat the odds. Other pairs even pretended to marry in order to gain respectability or hide a scandalous affair. With the stakes so high, it isn’t surprising that unhappy events - estrangement, divorce, abuse, abdication, or even worse - would ultimately follow these relationships. And couples weren’t the only ones at risk. Often, it was just as dangerous for accomplices and people who aided in the marriage.

These couples throughout history pursued their marriages against all odds. Some ended in happiness, others in tears. But they all had to face disaster in their quest for marital bliss.

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  • William Corder Ended Maria Marten's Life Rather Than Elope With Her

    The so-called Red Barn Murder of 1827 was one of the most publicized crimes of the 19th century. In 1826, 24-year-old Maria Marten started an affair with 22-year-old William Corder. The relationship even produced a child. Corder agreed to elope with Marten: per his proposal, they would meet at a red barn and then proceed to Ipswich to marry. Instead of eloping with her, Corder killed Marten and buried her in the barn. When he was finally caught, Corder was found guilty and hanged on August 11, 1828.

    The morbid episode has inspired a number of folk songs and pieces of art.

  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield Kidnapped An Heiress And Forced Her To Marry Him
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    Gretna Green, Scotland, was the Las Vegas of the 18th and 19th centuries. Young couples from England fled there to elope, since marriage laws were less strict in Scotland. In 1826, though, Gretna Green played host to the notorious Shrigley Abduction.

    The 30-year-old Edward Gibbon Wakefield hatched a scheme to marry Ellen Turner, a wealthy young heiress, to gain access to her funds and connections. So on March 7, 1826, he lured the 15-year-old Turner out of her boarding school and, after lying about her family's precarious situation, forced her to elope to Gretna Green with him. From there, they fled to the continent.

    Authorities finally caught up with the couple in France. Wakefield and his young bride were brought back to Britain, where he was tried and imprisoned, and their marriage was annulled.

    This seems to have been a pattern with Wakefield: he previously eloped with a young woman named Eliza Ann Pattle.

  • Walter Raleigh Was Imprisoned In The Tower Of London After His Secret Marriage

    Walter Raleigh Was Imprisoned In The Tower Of London After His Secret Marriage
    Photo: Joseph Simpson / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Sir Walter Raleigh is known to schoolchildren across America for being an early architect of English colonization in the so-called New World. He established the ill-fated colony at Roanoke and has a handful of cities and town named after him. But, he was not just a famous explorer - he was also a noted figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

    Thanks to his exploits in the Americas, Raleigh was a favorite of the aging queen. But the naval hero got into hot water in 1591: he impregnated Bess Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting, and secretly married the young woman without first asking the queen's permission. When Good Queen Bess found out about the secret marriage, she raged at the couple, banished them from court, and imprisoned Raleigh in the Tower of London for a time. It would take him years to restore the royal favor he had lost.

  • Camila O'Gorman Was Executed For Posing As The Wife Of An Argentine Priest

    Camila O'Gorman was a member of an elite family in mid-19th-century Buenos Aires. When she was 19, she fell in love with Father Ladislao Gutiérrez, a 23-year-old priest. Loving a priest in a conservative Catholic society was a terrible sin for a young socialite, so the young couple fled the city.

    The couple didn't actually marry, but they did pose as husband and wife for a period of roughly five months in Goya, Argentina, where they set up a school. During this time, O'Gorman became pregnant. Their good deeds weren't enough to save them, however. After being discovered, the lovers were arrested, tried, and executed by gunfire together in 1848.