Famous Marriages Richard Burton and Isabel Arundell Part 2

About the marriage between British explorer Richard Burton and Isabel Arundell, history of their wedding and life after marriage.


Richard Burton and Isabel Arundell

Burton hated good-byes. He left Isabel a note instead of saying farewell to her. Hysterical with grief at first, she soon recovered and energetically began studying Arabic, fencing, and cooking in order to be ready for her future.

When Burton returned three years later, he was troubled. John Hanning Speke, whom he had taken with him to Africa, was impugning his leadership of the expedition. A bitter feud broke out between them.

Burton settled down to write The Lake Regions of Africa, his version of the affair. Isabel fiercely defended his reputation. At the same time, both were trying to mollify her mother. But, like her daughter, she possessed, according to Burton, "the noble firmness of the mule."

He took off for America, again leaving a note for Isabel. When he came back, he delivered an ultimatum: either they got married or he would go to India and never return.

"Quite," said Isabel. "I marry you this day three weeks, let who will say nay."

Her mother still said nay, so the marriage was kept a secret.

Wedding: Cardinal Wiseman, a friend of the Arundell family, persuaded Burton to sign the Catholic pledge and obtained a dispensation from Rome. The wedding took place at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Warwick Street on Jan. 22, 1861.

Isabel wore a fawn dress, a black lace shawl, and a white bonnet. Richard was clad in rough tweeds. It was a quiet affair, for he regarded large weddings as "a most barbarous and indelicate exhibition."

They went back to his bachelor chambers. Isabel settled down to devote herself to Richard while he wrote his City of the Saints, a book about the Mormons. Before long Isabel's mother gave in and received the happy pair.

Happily Ever After: Burton now began a new career in the consular service. Isabel enjoyed her role, for she was sociable and an incurable dogooder. Richard was moody, restless, hard to live with. She exasperated him with her exuberance, and he took off for long periods to get away from her. But for a man of his temperament, he was patient--even when she tried to convert him to Catholicism--and came to depend on her more and more.

During his last years as consul in Trieste, Burton turned to translating and privately printing books on erotica, including his most famous work, The Thousand and One Nights. In 1886 he was made Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George.

Sir Richard Burton died in 1890. His widow had him buried as a Catholic and, to save his immortal soul, burned his unfinished translation of The Scented Garden, which she considered obscene. She wrote his biography, portraying him as a Catholic and family man. Then she burned his manuscripts, so no one will ever know what he said about their life together.

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