Weddings can be the happiest day of your life, but they can also be incredibly anxiety-inducing or even disastrous. You may be silently praying your Aunt Gladys doesn't make a toast, or heck, that everything goes smoothly when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot this coming May. But creepy things can happen at weddings too — like, will make you not want to sleep creepy, or otherwise bizarre. You think being swooped by an owl in the middle of a ceremony is odd? Try kidnapping a nun for a bride, or getting into a fistfight because the local church wants you to play-act your wedding.
As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will no doubt love to hear, nobody did scandalous, incredibly odd, or simply creepy weddings like royal families. But the history of wedding oddities actually includes quite a lot of non-royals, too. Rich or poor, people throughout the centuries have shown they're fully capable of turning their nuptials into something dramatic or just out-and-out bizarre. Don't ever let anybody tell you that being weird and frankly dangerous at a wedding is the exclusive province of the nobility.
1. The Elopement That Was Actually A Murder
In 1828, in the village of Polstead in England, a young woman named Maria Marten was persuaded to elope by her lover, a ne'er-do-well named William Corder, according to The Art Of The English Murder, by Lucy Worsley. Marten had already had Corder's child outside of wedlock, and Corder, who was the sole heir of a wealthy farming family, apparently convinced her that they should run away together, and possibly that she should dress in men's clothes so that nobody would recognize her.
She turned up at the Red Barn in Polstead at the appointed hour to start on her elopement journey, and was never seen alive again. The "Red Barn Murder," as it became known, came to light when Marten's body was discovered and Corder was tracked down to London, where he'd written letters to Marten's family claiming that she was fine. Corder was found guilty and hanged and the story of Maria Marten became one of the most famous "murder ballads" of the 19th century.
2. The President Who Was Nearly Hoaxed Out Of His Wedding
President Woodrow Wilson had what was, in the pre-Trump age, considered a pretty turbulent marital history. While he was married to the first Mrs. Wilson, he carried on an affair with Mary Hulbert Peck, according to American Heritage, which resulted in hundreds of effusive, emotional letters over years. The affair continued when he was elected to the White House, and after his first wife had died in 1914. But then he fell in love with the widow Edith Boiling Galt, and proposed marriage in 1915.
Political allies and family members didn't like the idea of Wilson marrying Galt; they thought it would damage his reputation and his re-election chances to marry again so soon. So they got Wilson's son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo, to tell him that if he went through with announcing the engagement, Hulbert Peck would publish his letters and confirm their affair, according to Oh Say Can You See by John Whitcomb and Claire Whitcomb. Mary had no idea of this, but Wilson believed his son-in-law and confessed everything to Edith Galt immediately. Fortunately, Edith forgave and married him. He won a second term, and it wasn't until years later that anybody confirmed to Wilson that the entire thing was a hoax.
3. The Secret Royal Wedding With The Jailed Priest
When George, Prince of Wales, fell in love with the Catholic Irishwoman Maria Fitzherbert in the 1780s, there were quite a lot of obstacles in their way. For one, George, as heir to the British throne, wasn't allowed to marry Catholics. For another, he was under 25 and had to ask permission from his father, King George III, who would deny it, because of the aforementioned Catholicism.
But the couple were determined to marry, so in 1785 they had one of the oddest royal weddings in history; it was held at Fitzherbert's house, it wasn't legally binding, and the only person they could find to do the religious honors was a priest who was in debtor's prison and had to be bailed out for the occasion. The marriage was declared illegal and void by the King and George was married to his first cousin, Caroline, in 1794.
4. The Wedding Where Everybody Got Involved With The Consummation
In Renaissance Italy, having a wedding legally consummated was a big deal. When Isabella of Aragorn arrived to marry Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1489, there was a lot riding on their nuptials, because Gian's uncle Ludovico was one of the most powerful men in Italy. When Gian refused to consummate the marriage on the wedding night, Isabella apparently decided that Ludovico had cursed them. Unfortunately for Gian, everybody in the Italian court heard about the failure, and for an entire year the couple were given advice, harangued and insulted by everybody from courtiers to ambassadors (and, yes, Ludovico, who apparently thought it was funny). When they finally managed to consummate the marriage a year later, the Pope himself celebrated and everybody threw parties.
5. The Bridegroom Who Walked Out To Become A Monk
When you're the son of the king, you can get ideas. In the case of James of Aragon, son of the famous King James The Conqueror, it was the decision to get out of the royal business altogether and become a monk. His father wasn't pleased, and insisted that James go ahead with his planned marriage to Eleanor of Castile, who was only thirteen at the time. In 1318 the wedding took place, but James walked out as soon as the formalities were over, refused to consummate it, and essentially sulked until his father gave in and let him be a monk a few weeks later. The marriage was annulled, and Eleanor would go on to be Queen of England, so she likely didn't mind too much.
6. The Re-enacted Wedding Under Duress
In 1587, Elisabeth Pallier, a widow, began a relationship with Pierre Houlbronne in France. Houlbronne fathered her children, and they lived as man and wife — but France at the time was trying to stamp out "clandestine" marriages, or weddings that might have taken place without the church being present to make them legal. So a church judge decided in 1595 to do the logical thing: make Elisabeth and Pierre "re-enact" their potential wedding to make it legal.
Unfortunately Pierre wasn't at all keen to get legally married, and had to be arrested, and then dragged from the prison to the wedding ceremony. His reluctance was explained several years later, when his parents filed to annul the marriage because they'd found a better candidate. Despite Elisabeth's rage, the court decided they were actually wed against their will and let Pierre out of the marriage.
7. The Bride Kidnapped From A Convent
There's a reason that the word "Byzantine" now means needlessly complicated and over-elaborate; the Byzantine Empire was one of intrigues and incredibly complex drama. Case in point: the marriage of Byzantium's Emperor Michael II in the 9th century. Michael II, after his first wife's death, decided he wanted the daughter of a previous king as his consort to bolster his claim to the throne. The issue? The only eligible one, Euphrosyne, had been sent to a convent on an island when the previous emperor divorced her mother. No problem: she was taken out of the convent and married to Michael II.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that Euphrosyne was a nun, they had no kids together. When Michael II, died Euphrosyne helped raise his son with his first wife, and then promptly went off to her convent again, where she was hopefully happy.