A Brief History
On June 2, 1886, President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, aged 49, married 21 year old Frances Folsom in the White House, a wedding that today may well draw negative comments, but received no particular censure at the time. Cleveland is not alone as a world leader that married someone much older or younger than himself, and today we discuss 5 such pairings of chronologically distant people, one of which in each relationship was an important leader.
Question for Students (and others): What May-December world leader romance do you find most fascinating? Please tell us in the comments section below this article.
1. US President Grover Cleveland (49), Frances Folsom (21).
Cleveland was the second US president to married while in office, though the first to hold a wedding at the White House. We can only guess at how such a wedding would be received today! While Cleveland died in 1908 at the age of 71, his last words being, “I have tried so hard to do right,” his wife did not die until 1947 at the age of 83, having borne 5 children to Grover. In 1913, Frances remarried, the first former First Lady to do so. (Can you name the second?)
2. President of France, Emmanuel Macron (29), Brigitte Trogneux (54).
Macron met his future wife while he was a high school student and she was a teacher at his school. They claim that although the couple first met when he was only 15 years old and she was 39, they did not actually start dating until he had turned 18! (A likely story….) President Donald Trump made scandalous headlines by marveling to Brigitte that, she is in “such good physical shape” and an aside to Macron, “Beautiful.” Another famous political leader that married one of his high school teachers was Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress.
3. Religious Icon Martin Luther (41), Katharina von Bora (26).
While it is more or less assumed that Luther was unhappy with the rules and dogma of the Catholic Church, causing him to split with the Church and ultimately found his own branch of Christian religion, you may not know he also chafed against the rule that Catholic priests remain celibate and unmarried. Thus, as he fled the wrath of the Church accompanied by 11 nuns devoted to his cause, Luther married Katharina, 15 years his junior. This fact seems to be forgotten in most discussions of Luther, as both participants in the marriage broke their vows in order to marry.
4. US President Donald Trump (58), Melania Knauss (born Melanija Knavs) (35).
When Donald Trump was sworn in as President in January of 2017, he became the first US President to have been married 3 times. His third marriage to a Slovenian fashion model, Melania Knauss, came when he was well into middle age and she was still of child bearing age. Indeed, she bore him his third son, Baron, in 2006. Melania began seeing and dating Trump as early as 1998, though their marriage did not take place until 2005. Critics have pointed out that Trump was still married to Marla Maples, his second wife, when he first started seeing Melania.
5. King Henry VIII of England (49), Catherine Howard (16).
Old King Henry VIII not only lusted after comely lasses, he lusted after having one of his wives bear him a son. Catherine Howard was the 5th of Henry’s 6 wives, and the marriage lasted only 16 months before news of her infidelity reached the ears of the King, who did not hesitate to use his authority to inflict the maximum punishment upon those that crossed him. Like Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard was beheaded for her alleged infidelity, and this time the allegations were probably true. In keeping with the European tradition of keeping royal weddings in the family, Catherine Howard was not only a first cousin of Anne Boleyn, she was also a first cousin of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, the woman who would become Queen Elizabeth I of England.
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For more information, please see…
Cassagne, Fabienne. Brigitte Macron : La confidente. City Editions, 2018.
DeRusha, Michelle. Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. Baker Books, 2017.
Graff, Henry. Grover Cleveland. Times Books, 2002.
Hicks, LD. Melania Trump: Elegance in the White House. Post Hill Press, 2019.
Russell, Gareth. Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII. Simon & Schuster, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a wood engraving of the President’s wedding drawn by Thure de Thulstrup (1848-1930), is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.