The Instant Expert on royal divorce through the ages

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. Just ahead of this week's regal nuptials Elizabeth Pearson examines the long history of going royally asunder.

Powered by automated translation

THE BASICS So why does the princess always marry the prince at the end of the fairy tale? Perhaps because if the cameras kept rolling we would see that the royals are as susceptible to calling it quits as mere commoners.

WHO GOT THE BALL ROLLING? In 1152, Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine decided to go their separate ways. After producing two daughters the French king needed a male heir, and Eleanor wanted to move to England to be closer to her friend Henry, Duke of Normandy. It was all fairly smooth and set an amicable standard that was hard to follow.

DOWNHILL FROM THERE Three hundred years later Louis XII decided to leave the pious Joan of France in a bid to remarry and gain the Duchy of Brittany. But because of terrible record- keeping the French king was unable to prove he had been legally underage and too closely related to his wife (both grounds for annulment), so he had to resort to aggressive tactics. He flung wild insults about in one of the seamiest lawsuits of the age, but the Pope was sympathetic to his cause and freed him from his devastated wife.

SURE, DIVORCE IS STRESSFUL, BUT It's not as bad as being beheaded. England's Henry VIII married six times, and as each wife after the first stood at the altar, she must have done so only after feeling confident that he was a changed man. Of the six wives, one died of natural causes, one outlived him, two were divorced and two executed.

IT'S NO ONE'S FAULT, YOU KNOW Royal marriages face more than the usual pressures. Monaco's royal family were cursed in 1297 when the wonderfully named Francesco the Spiteful slayed his enemies after pretending to be a monk to gain access to the Grimaldis' principality. According to legend, the family was then cursed never to achieve long and successful marriages. With Prince Albert just now marrying at the age of 53, Princess Stéphanie divorced twice and Princess Caroline rumoured to be divorcing her third husband, it would appear that the hex still holds sway over today's generation.

KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY The current British bunch of royals seems to have come a cropper after voicing their vows. Poor Queen Elizabeth is surrounded by divorce; first her sister, then three of her four children failed to honour the "till death do us part" bit. Organising the Christmas holidays could be a touch awkward when, only a decade ago, protocol dictated that the Queen couldn't sleep under the same roof as a divorced man.

MAKING BOOK ON IT Cheeky lot that they can be, some Britons are betting that Prince William and Kate Middleton will end up getting divorced. Most bookmakers have posted the splitsville question in one form or another, with almost certain odds that the couple will make it to their 10th anniversary. British journalist Tom Bradby is one who isn't betting. "I'll eat my hat if they ever get divorced," the ITN TV political editor was quoted as saying. "I think they'd rather be miserable than get divorced."

COME ON, GIVE US A HAPPY ENDING! Oh, well, if you insist. Princess Marianne of the Netherlands and Prince Albrecht of Prussia were divorced after raising five children, only three of whom survived. Albrecht was a philanderer, and after 15 faithless years of marriage, Princess Marianne finally left him in 1845. To the delicious scandal of the court, she set up with her dashing former coach driver, Johannes Von Rossum, with whom she lived - yes - happily ever after until his death nearly 30 years later.

Not tonight, Josephine

Napoleon and Josephine were one of the great love affairs in history, right?

Apparently not.

Josephine had a big spending habit and a small purse, so when she was introduced to the ambitious French General Bonaparte she decided to play her cards right. Napoleon was entranced and married the older widow to earn himself some gravitas among his mature army buddies.

The shine came off the marriage quickly because of Josephine's licentious behaviour. Napoleon was also disappointed when no heir was forthcoming, which hardly enhanced his plans for succession. So he divorced Josephine after 14 years and remarried, producing a son.

Sadly, this was shortly before the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, leaving Napoleon II able only to dream of his father's conquests.

The British film A Royal Divorce, first made in 1926 and remade as a "talkie" in 1938, chronicled the story. (The title is misleading as Napoleon and Josephine weren't royal, but rather the self-proclaimed emperor and his empress.) The marvellous drama starred the Academy Award nominee Ruth Chatterton and Pierre Blanchar and meticulously adhered to period detail, but was a little loose with the facts.