Once, when an acquaintance voiced her weariness at being a single woman among what she perceived as “the happy packages” of married couples, I asked if she could think of anyone’s husband she truly wished were her own. After a moment of thought, she half-laughed, “No, I cannot think of even one, and that in itself is a comfort.”
Later, a friend, married to an esteemed psycho-analyst, found herself envied by numerous women who envisioned him as an altruistic, nurturing man. Only to myself did she truly confide the reality of their household. All too often he arrived home depleted, in a foul frame of mind, expecting her absolute subjugation.
What Constitutes a Horrible Husband? The Top 10 Most Terrible Husbands of All Time
In no particular order these men are my chosen top 10 worst husbands.
- King Edward VII—Married on March 10, 1863
- Tiger Woods—Married on October 5, 2004
- Henry Stuart: Lord Darnley—Married on July 29, 1565
- Herbert G. Wells: H. G. Wells—Married in 1891
- Emporer Constantine the Great—February 27, 272 AD–May 22, 337 AD
- Ernest Hemingway—First Marriage of Four: September 3, 1921
- Merril Jessop: Marriage by Mistake to a Polygamous Mormon
- Albert Einstein—First Marriage of Two: January 6, 1903
- Oscar Wilde—May 29, 1884
- Norman Mailer—First Marriage of 6: 1944
1. King Edward VII—Married on March 10, 1863
No one could have been more opposite from the moralistic Queen Victoria and Prince Albert than was their eldest son and heir, the later King Edward VII, born on November 9, 1841. It seems from an early age he felt oppressed by parental strictures. As a boy, visiting the more congenial and relaxed Emperor Napoleon III of France and Empress Eugenie, he asked them if he could stay in France as their son.
Once old enough to choose his own lifestyle, the then Prince Edward became a bon vivant and libertine. At age 21, he married the lovely 18-year-old Princess Alexandra of Denmark. During their marriage, lasting until Edwards’ death on May 6, 1910, the royal couple bore 6 children. There was little doubt as to Edward and Alexandra’s passion and tenderness towards one another.
This did not, however, prevent wayward Edward from enjoying at least fifty extra-marital frolics. Among these mistresses, three of the most long-term and well-known were Lillie Langtry, Daisy Warwick, and Alice Keppel. He was also known to frequent Parisian brothels.
Edward and Alexandra succeeded to the throne on January 22, 1901, upon the death of Queen Victoria. At age 59, corpulent to the point of being privately dubbed “Tum-Tum” by his courtiers, King Edwards’ final established mistress was Alice Keppel. His closeness to her children was such as to allow them to call him “Kingy”.
Throughout his numerous liaisons, Queen Alexandra behaved with grace and restraint. In an act of supreme magnanimity, she allowed Alice Keppel to say “goodbye” to the king on his deathbed. Alexandra herself, by then the queen mother, lived until November 20, 1925, still beloved and revered by the people of England.
2. Tiger Woods—Married on October 5, 2004
Billionaire, world’s top professional golfer, father of two children, and married to the beautiful Swedish model Elin Nordegren—what more could a man want? It seems Tiger Woods wanted lots more in order to satisfy his inexhaustible appetite for extramarital affairs. Like the sailor who has a girl at every port, did Tiger Woods have a girl at every course?
It was in November 2009 that his alleged infidelity with hostess Rachel Uchitel was published in the National Enquirer. However, aware that the publication was imminent Tiger had arranged for Rachel to speak with his wife Elin on the phone whereby Rachel denied the breaking news. Elin, while Tiger slept, read messages on his phone that left no doubt he was a philandering rogue.
During the following weeks over a dozen girls, many involved in trades related to the hospitality industry claimed to have been “Tiger” mistresses. In December 2009, he entered a therapy program for treatment of his excessive carnal desires.
It is claimed Tiger admitted to liaisons with 120 women. In April 2010, it was alleged that Raychel Coudriet the daughter of their next-door neighbours, had been a Tiger mistress. This ultimate insult drove Elin to divorce Tiger on August 23, 2010.
3. Henry Stuart: Lord Darnley—Married on July 29, 1565
Lord Darnley had barely turned 22 when he died. Thus, some may think it unduly harsh and unjust to list him among the truly despicable husbands of history. Still, his actions and apparent motivations were such as, I believe, vile enough to warrant inclusion. Born on December 7, 1545, he was murdered on February 10, 1567, almost certainly with the connivance of his wife, Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary had spent most of her childhood in France. Following the death of her husband King Francis II of France in 1560, she returned to reign as Queen of Scotland in 1561.
The strongly Protestant Scots were suspicious of her French Catholic upbringing. For her part, Mary found Scottish rough-hewn bluntness abrasive and rude. Hence, when her English cousin, handsome and graceful Lord Darnley, came to Scotland, he must have seemed an Apollo in a horrific underworld.
Despite his youth in a liberal era, he was viewed as unusually prone to debauchery. Still, not long after his arrival in Scotland, Mary married him having appointed him King Consort, which granted him equality in government. Mary soon realized that Darnley was otiose untrustworthy pompous violent and unpopular with the court and populace. Hence she refused him the Crown Matrimonial, which would have allowed him to continue to rule after her death.
A thwarted and enraged Darnley grew determined to find some means of obtaining this crown. By then, Mary was six months pregnant with a potential heir to her throne. Fearing her growing trust in her private secretary and advisor David Rizzio, Darnley decided to eliminate both barriers to his hopes in one double murder.
Hence, one evening, he arranged to break into Mary’s rooms where she and Rizzio were having dinner. Then, with the help of cohorts, he had Rizzio stabbed to death with the utmost ferocity in the next room, while Mary sat stunned, with no choice but to witness, if not Rizzio’s stabbing, his cries for release.
It seems almost certain Darnley was striving to kill his wife’s confidant in such a horrid manner that the trauma would induce Mary to miscarry, and become stricken with deteriorating health. Her subsequent weakness in body and mind would sway her to favour Darnley with the Crown Matrimonial. However, on June 19, 1566, Mary gave birth to her son, the future King James.
On February 10, 1567, while Mary was away, Darnley was blown up with explosives placed under his bedroom. He escaped outside, where he was subsequently strangled. James Hepburn the Earl of Bothwell and accomplices are believed to have carried out the murder. Mary and the Earl of Bothwell were married on May 15, 1567.
4. Herbert George Wells: H. G. Wells—Married in 1891
Born on September 21, 1866, his first marriage in 1891 was to his cousin, Isabel Mary Wells, in what seems to have been a companionable rather than passionate union. Wells is famous as an author of science fiction, but he was also a teacher and historian. In 1894, Isabel agreed to Well’s request for a divorce, in order to allow him to marry one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins (known as Jane), with whom he had grown besotted.
Married in 1895, his love for Jane seems not to have lasted. Early in their marriage, Wells told Jane he did not wish or intend to confine his affections to one woman. Monogamy, he maintained, would blight his need to express the various aspects of his nature. According to his writings, Jane was amenable to this arrangement. Still, those friends to whom she opened her soul have said her surface grace withheld depths of anguish.
Four of Well’s most significant mistresses were birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, writer Odette Keun, novelist Amber Reeves, with whom he fathered a daughter, and journalist/novelist Rebecca West, with whom he fathered a son. Wells allowed these ties to create lengthy absences from the marital home, despite the fact that he and Jane had two growing sons.
Towards the end of her life, Wells’ respect for Jane grew. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, every morning she came downstairs in their home with her hair and clothes tasteful, for as long as she was able to do so. By contrast, his current mistress Odette Keun, struggling with a painful but treatable gum ailment, demanded incessant worry and care.
After Jane’s death in 1927, though Wells continued his amorous joys, it seems he felt a belated guilt at his treatment of Jane. Perhaps he began to understand the injustice and sadness of her isolation.
5. Emperor Constantine the Great—February 27, 272 AD–May 22, 337 AD
A domestic brute who is viewed as benign, overall, history has been kinder to “Constantine the Great” than his character deserves. His major accomplishments have been viewed as his conversion to Christianity and his founding of a new capital of the eastern Roman Empire, which he called Constantinople.
As Michael Grant points out in his brilliant biography, Roman historians did not strive for the objectivity expected of those who record the events of our day; they were unabashedly biased. In addition, due to Constantine's devotion to the Christian faith, Christian historians of his time tended to ignore or excuse his most savage atrocities. Constantine seems to have been prepared to kill anyone who became dispensable or irksome. This freedom encompassed trusted friends, wives, and children.
There is ambiguity as to whether Minervina, the mother of his eldest son Crispus, was his wife or concubine for a period of at least 15 years. She vanished from historical annals when Constantine married Fausta, by whom he fathered three further sons. As Crispus grew older, Constantine began bestowing increasing imperial titles and expectations upon him. What then impelled Constantine, in 326, to have Crispus tried and executed due to some baseless accusation.
It was widely believed that Fausta, concerned for the royal status of her three sons, convinced Constantine that Crispus was plotting to take over his empire. Constantine may have feared this as well, as a number of renowned sons had turned their zeal for conquest upon their fathers and succeeded in their undoing.
About a month later, Constantine felt overwhelming remorse at having had Crispus executed, going so far as having a golden statue of him erected. Still, a statue could not bring back a son or erase the guilt for his killing. Shame allowed him to blame Fausta for having influenced him; perhaps he hoped he could end his torment by eliminating its source. Accordingly, Fausta was placed in a tub of nearly boiling water in a suffocating overheated room, where she died.
6. Ernest Hemingway—First Marriage of Four: September 3, 1921
In 1918, during WWI, Hemingway joined the American army. Stationed in Italy as an ambulance driver, he demonstrated great courage. Badly wounded in both legs by enemy mortar, he rescued fellow soldiers from further barrages, earning him the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.
Hospitalized, Hemingway fell in love with American war nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, writing to his family that no one they had ever seen was “as pretty as Ag.” Although she returned his affection at first, Hemingway was 19, while Agnes was approaching her 26th birthday. Eventually, she married a man closer to her age.
Perhaps his passion for an older woman prepared Hemingway for his first marriage to Hadley Richardson, seven years his senior. Shortly thereafter, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway moved to Paris. The couple seemed to have been contented, until the appearance of reporter Pauline Pfeiffer.
Having gone to Paris on assignment for Vogue Magazine, Pauline soon decided to inveigle herself into the Hemingway lives and began an affair with Ernest. Consequently, Ernest and Hadley were divorced in January 1927.
In May 1927, Ernest married Pauline. Then in 1936, he began an affair with journalist Martha Gellhorn, with whom he traveled to Spain in 1937. Ernest still lived on and off with Pauline until 1939, but they were divorced on November 4, 1940. In December 1940, Ernest married Martha Gellhorn. Neither of them was faithful to the other, and they divorced in 1945.
Yet again, Ernest had his next wife in readiness before the marriage ended. In 1944, he had begun an affair with journalist Mary Welsh, and in March 1946, they were married. After some time in Cuba, in 1959, they returned to America, settling in Ketchum Idaho. Always a bacchanalian, Ernest began to experience major bouts of depression. Hospitalization proved fruitless in that he returned home with those same suicidal thoughts that had caused him to enter the clinic.
Ultimately, on July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head, thereby ending his life.
7. Merril Jessop: Marriage by Mistake to a Polygamous Mormon
While the early Mormon religion allowed a man to have several wives, in time, it conformed to the American law that decreed one man was allowed one wife. Any additional “marriages” would be perceived as bigamous and subjected to the strictures of the judicial system. Still, some extremist Mormon splinter groups continued the practice.
Carolyn Blackmore was born on January 1, 1968, into such a sect (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). In 1986, at age 18, her parents were delighted to awaken her from sleep in semi-darkness to rejoice in her good fortune in having been selected as the fourth wife of Merril Jessop, a revered member of this community. Over 30 years her senior, Carolyn felt astounded to find a man she had barely noticed before to be her prospective bridegroom.
Equally dismayed, Jessop made no attempt to conceal his disappointment. He had meant to ask for the hand of her sister, generally considered prettier and more alluring than Carolyn.
During their dismal wedding, Jessop held Carolyn’s hand only as long as required by the ceremony, before dropping it without voicing the slightest word of affection. Aside from an occasional tender moment, their marriage continued as it had begun; she had no choice but to be available to Jessop’s every whim. Meanwhile, though a polygamous man was meant to treat each wife equally, Carolyn’s “sister wife” Barbara, Jessop’s third wife, was blatantly in control of household affairs.
Pleasing this brand of husband was of eternal importance, as he had the right to decide whether a wife would enter into the after-life of the celestial kingdom, viewed as “heaven” by followers of other Christian faiths.
As more wives and children were added to this already toxic mélange (Jessop is reputed to have had thirteen wives and fathered 50 children); after 17 years of marriage and the bearing of eight children, Carolyn felt the need to flee in order to protect herself and her children from psychological suffocation.
Her memoir, Escape, chronicles her quest for freedom, alleging both wife and child abuse. Fortunately, she eventually found a second husband who re-generated her faith in the potential of a marriage between adults with a shared sense of equality.
8. Albert Einstein—First Marriage of Two: January 6, 1903
As often happens, the same connections which draw a couple together can later result in dividing them. This seems to have been the case with Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric. Einstein and Maric met as students at Zurich Polytechnic in 1896; Mileva was the sole woman in Einstein’s class. Both his family and close friends viewed their growing attachment as problematic. Perceived as plain-looking, Mileva had suffered from tuberculosis and was three years his elder.
Still, Einstein would not be deterred, insisting he loved her intellect, her speaking voice, and freedom of ideas. Hence, they married in 1903, after a courtship in which, according to their letters, their mutual passion was intense on a physical as well as intellectual plane.
Sadly, while Einstein’s reputation as a mathematician and physicist grew, Mileva felt increasing despair at what came to feel like the waste of her studies and intellect. She wrote to a friend that when two minds joined in a marriage, one partner inevitably got the pearl, while the other was left with its box. In time, this metaphorical box seemed to have expanded into a coffin, not only for Mileva’s dreams but any ability to feel joy or the slightest trace of contentment.
Various people remarked on her cocoon of gloominess, from which it seemed no diversion could stir her. Naturally, this exacerbated the growing strife and periods of separation in the Einstein marriage.
In 1912 Einstein became reacquainted with his cousin Elsa Lowenthal, with whom he seems to have shared, in the past, a rapport and attraction. Elsa, age 36 and divorced, was the absolute opposite of Mileva. Fond of food and pleasures, Elsa tended to be plump and was glad to devote herself to domesticity. Her one quasi-demand of Einstein was that, if their relationship were to continue, he divorce Mileva in order to marry her.
In response, Einstein wrote to Mileva in a seeming attempt at reconciliation, though its terms were such as to impel nearly any woman to seek a divorce. In order to regain the privilege of sharing a household with him, she must agree to serve him three meals a day in his room, keep his study in perfect order, expect no intimacy or companionship, and be silent and/or leave a room at his bidding. Only the final instruction was fair, in that she was not to disparage or demean him in front of their children, either by words or conduct.
When initially she agreed, he wrote again adding that their relationship would be completely businesslike; he would treat her with only the courtesy he would offer any female stranger. This last humiliation, as Einstein undoubtedly hoped, convinced Mileva to file for divorce, which was granted in February 1919.
Einstein married Elsa in June 1919. Four years later, he had a two-year affair with his 21-year-younger secretary, Betty Neumann. He continued to have several affairs throughout the marriage and made no secret that his interpretation of marriage was that it should be an agreement of convenience.
9. Oscar Wilde—Married on May 29, 1884
It has been said the only cruel act of writer Oscar Wilde’s life was to marry. This is true in that, given the intensity of his male gender preference, a marriage, he must have known, could only end in the wounding of a wife and detriment to potential children.
Given our current mores, it is difficult to imagine the horror with which homosexuality was viewed in Victorian England. Indeed, in 1885, Parliament recriminalized male gender preference as an addition to the Criminal Law Act.
Having met three years before, Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd were married on May 29, 1884. During the early years of their marriage, Oscar and Constance clearly shared conjugal relations.
Their son, Cyril, was born on June 5, 1885, and Vyvyan on November 3, 1886. After the second birth, however, intimacy ended, with Wilde living largely in hotels. So rare were his visits to his wife and sons that, having reprimanded one of them for making his mamma cry, the child retorted that he himself made her cry often.
The major romantic passion of Oscar Wilde’s life was Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquis of Queensberry, whose rules for boxing form the basis of boxing today.
While having enjoyed previous male paramours, in 1891, Wilde met the 21-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas, the ultimate romantic passion of his life. When Queensberry began to suspect a liaison between Wilde and his son, he campaigned to harass Wilde by leaving a card at his men’s club calling him a sodomite and appearing at his home making further slanderous accusations. Wilde had blockades erected outside a theater to prevent Queensberry from disrupting performances of his plays.
Eventually, Wilde sued Queensberry for libel. This revenge proved a major mistake, in that it resulted in the arrest and trial of Wilde and a sentence of two years’ imprisonment with hard labor for gross indecency with men. The hugely publicized trial caused intimate letters exchanged between Wilde and Douglas to be revealed.
Meanwhile, Constance was left to bear the humiliation of this national scandal, while doing all she could to shield their sons from derision and ridicule. As a kindness, she visited Wilde in prison to tell him of his mother’s death. Still, she felt herself to have no choice but to change her own and their sons’ surname to “Holland” and to leave England.
Constance died at age 39; it is believed from the effects of multiple sclerosis. While there are no indications of physical or emotional harm, when Wilde proposed to and married Constance, he must have known of his proclivities. In addition, his letters to Douglas and overall conduct exposed her and their children to ostracism.
10. Norman Mailer—First Marriage of Six: 1944
The first of his six marriages took place in 1944 to Beatrice Silverman prior to the beginning of WWII. Although tender letters were exchanged during Mailer’s army service, the marriage could not withstand the day-to-day domestic pressures of peacetime. Many young women, grown used to assertiveness during the war, found it difficult to return to the subordinate status of 1950s wives. At any rate, the couple were divorced in 1952.
Mailer’s second marriage in 1954 to Adele Morales would become his most well-known and lurid. He had begun to state his belief that violence sparked and fueled his creative drive. This manifested itself at one gathering where he coerced Adele into engaging in fisticuffs with a woman toward whom she bore no animosity; Adele would later apologize.
On Saturday evening of November 19, 1960, he and Adele hosted a promotional party. Always a heavy drinker, as the evening progressed, so did the pugnacity, never far beneath Mailer’s convivial surface. Eventually, he followed one guest into the street, where they engaged in a fracas.
Later still drunk and bruised from this battle, Adele made a derisive remark. Her words resulted in Mailer stabbing her in the abdomen with a penknife, and then again in her back. Emergency surgery was required. Though initially Adele sought to shield Mailer by claiming to have fallen on broken glass, the depth of her lacerations was such as to alert doctors as to a far more deliberate and menacing cause.
Having survived the surgery, Adele told a detective Mailer had found some means of invading her hospital room at 3–30 a.m. Monday morning, and warned her not to report his action to the police.
Perhaps due to fear or residual love, although he was tried in a criminal court receiving a suspended sentence, she refused to press charges. Though appearing to reconcile with him for the press, they divorced in 1962. In 1997, she wrote a memoir titled The Last Party.
Mailer married four more times: 1962 journalist, Lady Jeanne Campbell: 1963 actress, Beverly Bentley: 1980 jazz singer, Carol Stevens: 1980 art teacher, Barbara Davis until his death. During his marriages, Mailer had numerous liaisons with other women including actress and model Carole Mallory who wrote a memoir, Loving Mailer.
Goddess vs. Mortal Wife
Commissioned to write a book on deceased actress Marilyn Monroe, Mailer wrote two books and a biographical film. In fact, he seemed to have developed a worshipful passion, transcending all others. Arguably, this idolatry links all of the men featured in this article. As no mortal wife can hope to compete with a goddess shaped by imagination, ultimately she is doomed to disappoint, fail, and in all likelihood, be abandoned in order for him to pursue his most recent dream of endless enchantment.
© 2015 Colleen Swan