How Was Jackie Kennedy Able to Marry Aristotle Onassis?
How Was Jackie Kennedy Able to Marry Aristotle Onassis?
This question should have occurred to me before, I know. I recently read a theory about this very issue. I wonder if it’s fact or just one of those conspiracy theories that seem to surround the Kennedy family?
Let me explain.
The question is, how could Catholic Jacqueline Kennedy marry a divorced man whose wife was still living?
Aristotle Onassis married Athina Livanos in 1946. The marriage, which produced two children, lasted for fourteen years until Athia divorced her husband because of his continuing affair with Maria Callas, the Greek opera singer. Maria was also married at the time.
Athina went on to marry twice more, first to the Duke of Marlborough and secondly to the widower of her late sister, Eugenie. Athina died of a drug overdose in October 1974. Her sister by strange coincidence, had also died in the same way a few years beforehand.
At the time of their deaths both women were married to Stavros Niarchos who was suspected, but acquitted, of murdering Eugenie until it was shown to be suicide.
So here we have:
- Two suicides
- Two divorces
- At least two unfaithful spouses
- A suspected murder
All of which would be completely disapproved of by the Catholic Church.
And yet when Aristotle married Jackie, it was six years before the death of his divorced wife. How could that be?
Jackie had two children to bring up in the faith of their parents. And yet it’s said that the Kennedy family approved of her marriage to Onassis. Evidently her brother-in-law Ted was responsible for arranging the financial prenuptial agreement, settling huge sums on Jackie and her children.
Matriarch Rose Kennedy
Jackie’s mother-in-law, Rose, was known to be a devout Catholic. She had objected wholeheartedly when her daughter Kathleen had a Protestant member of the British aristocracy.
She was equally outraged when Kathleen, widowed at an early age during the Second World War, embarked upon an affair with another British aristocrat who was divorced.
Yet she maintained a close relationship with Jackie even after she had married Onassis. Was she mellowing as she got older or was there another reason?
Despite having taken instruction many years ago, I am not Catholic so you’ll have to help me here if your knowledge of the faith is greater than mine. In the eyes of the Church, was Jackie Onassis actually living in sin with Aristotle?
Many people believed that this was the case.
The couple were, by all accounts, married in the Greek Orthodox Church. It is suggested that a civil marriage may have also taken place. Surely the Catholic Church would recognise neither of these?
The theory states that the marriage was one of convenience; that it was a business agreement in which love wasn't a feature.
Jackie was desperate to take her children to live out of America. This, it’s said, was her main motivation.
When her brother-in-law, Edward, was shot she was convinced that 'someone was trying to kill Kennedys' and her determination to escape the country intensified.
She considered Lord Harlech, a British aristocrat, but Onassis offered more. This wasn't just his fabulous wealth.
He had a private island, homes all over the world and lived for part of the year on his huge luxurious yacht.
Therefore he could offer more privacy, seclusion and security than any other man in the world.
His reasons, so they say, are a little more complex. As you read above, his first wife was Athina, whose father was also a shipping magnate.
And Ari’s greatest rival was Stavros Niarchos. The two men were totally competitive and always trying to go one further. When Stavros saw that his rival had married Athina, he promptly divorced his wife and married Athina’s sister. Anything you can do…
This increased the rivalry between the two men. If one built a huge super-tanker, the other would build a larger one. When one entertained Hollywood stars the other entertained minor royalty. The rivalry went on and on.
But when Athina divorced Ari (because of his long-standing affair with opera singer, Maria Callas) then it looked as though he was losing the rivalry battle in the matrimonial department.
In order to win the marital stakes and beat Stavros, he would have to marry one of the most famous women in the world. Jackie Kennedy fitted the bill perfectly.
When their engagement was announced, he reputedly told friends that Stavros would have to run off with the Queen of England to beat his marriage coup.
An unlikely couple
The engagement created a stir worldwide. There were those who wondered how on earth the elegant and attractive Mrs Kennedy could even consider marrying a man who was so much older and not exactly a Greek god in the looks department.
Another faction couldn't understand how the charming, intelligent and magnetic Onassis could marry a woman whose interest lay primarily in fashion, jewellery and extreme extravagance. They suggested that he would bore of her very quickly.
The prenuptial agreement
It’s said that the way Catholic Jackie was able to marry Onassis was because of the legal documents that had been prepared prior to the marriage.
Prior to the marriage, Jackie had spent a long time in consultation with her American priest, the Boston archbishop who had performed her wedding ceremony when she married John Kennedy.
The archbishop later appeared on television, explaining that if people knew what had been discussed and agreed upon regarding her forthcoming marriage to Onassis ‘they would understand’. However, the confidential relationship between a priest and a member of his flock was sacrosanct, so he was unable to give details.
However, an Onassis employee (isn't there always an unnamed employee in these theories?) claimed to have seen the prenuptial agreement and disclosed its details.
He claimed that it contained almost two hundred various clauses. Much of this was financial but as regards the details of the couple themselves, it stated that:
- The couple would maintain separate bedrooms in every one of their homes, including the yacht
- Jackie was not required to supply Onassis with an heir; no children were to be expected
- They would spend only the summer vacation and religious holidays together
- Both parties were free to live their own lives, go where they wished and were under no obligation to spend time together
This strongly implies that the marriage was not consummated.
If this was the case, then Jackie could remain a member of the Catholic Church.
The church didn’t recognise the marriage was legal, that’s true. But it also doesn’t recognise a marriage that isn’t consummated. The couple had a document - a marriage certificate that legally bound them together - but in effect, were living separate lives and when together they were simply ‘roommates’.
When Jackie died, she received a full Catholic burial. During her marriage to Onassis she maintained her links with the church and was not, as many people had suspected, excommunicated.
Could this theory of a non-consummated marriage be the reason why? Let me know what you think.
Other Kennedy articles
I mentioned Kathleen Kennedy above. Her story is a very sad one. She was ostracised by some members of her family for following her heart and met a tragic end.
Find out more about her short life.
Kathleen wasn't the only sibling who had an aristocratic English love. JFK’s elder brother, Joe Junior, also had a strong relationship in the UK. Like Kathleen’s his story too is a tragic one.
Find out more.
Jackie Kennedy considered marrying Lord Harlech. There mother-in-law, Rose thoroughly approved of this. Had Jackie done so she would have been a member of the British aristocracy.
Find out more about this fascinating couple
Onassis video documentary
© 2014 Jackie Jackson
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