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How Was Jackie Kennedy Able to Marry Aristotle Onassis?

Updated on October 19, 2014
Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis and his long-time lover, Maria Callas.
Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis and his long-time lover, Maria Callas. | Source

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.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy | Source

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

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis | Source

Jackie Kennedy

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.

Aristotle Onassis
Aristotle Onassis | Source

Aristotle Onassis

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.
Read more.

Find out more about this fascinating couple

Onassis video documentary

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @favored - there are always hidden stories! I love to seek them out :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci - it was hardly a conventional marriage, was it? Thanks!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @klidstone1970 - I think that you're right on both counts. She received the money and and he married the woman who was probably the most famous widow in the world.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @bravewarrior - when my second husband and I were married we sounded out the local village church (not Catholic) and there was no way - because I was divorced. It all seems a little trivial in the light of everything else that's happening in the world.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @DreamerMeg - I suspect that you're right.I doubt he was the most faithful of husbands!

    • norma-holt profile image


      4 years ago

      My writings on this are extensive as I have memory of my reincarnation and a link to the Spirit, the only God. Religion is not from God but from man's dreams. There is no heaven and hell and everyone alive has re-incarnated. Its something the church can't survive. They force people to pay money and worship idols while the real God needs no money, buildings,rituals, ceremonies, converts or anything else.You know the Spirit when it is within you and you can communicate directly with it. Make-believe, idols, icons and things like devils, angels and saints are window dressing, The churches use hell as a terrorist threat to create fear and get people in and that's how they have been become rich.

      Religion is not God or spirit related but it is revamped from Babylonian Islamic roots. The RCC was established by Contantine in 325AD. That's a historical fact and he built the Vatican. He is also named as 666 in Revelation 13:13-18. What these religions and their branches are doing add up to crimes against humanity and they should be made to prove what they preach.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      4 years ago from USA

      Excellent piece again Brit. I even watched the video. Full of intrigue and interesting information that one doesn't always think of when viewing a popular personality.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      There was such a lot of speculation about the two of them. I enjoyed your article showing some of the contributing reasons. Many of them would explain it. Strange way to marry--spending holidays and summer with him! There wasn't that much ordinary about their lives though! Enjoyed.

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 

      4 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      One would think it was due to financial reasons and that the security he offered was what she was looking for. But, he too, had his reasons. Jackie O would have been the ultimate trophy wife. Thanks for sharing. Kim

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Jackie, who wins in wars between the state and church?

      I have no idea how they treat marrying divorcees today, but that's the way it was in the 60s.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @bravewarrior - that's extremely interesting. That's amazing about them requiring 10% of your dad's income. That doesn't sound quite legal, does it?

    • DreamerMeg profile image


      4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Very interesting. I always remember JFK's assassination and her life with him was probably no bed of roses either!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Jackie, my mom was raised Baptist. She married a Catholic man. The church said any children had to be baptized Catholic, which my brother and I were. She divorced our father, met another man, and subsequently married him. He, too, is Catholic. The church told my dad that in order to avoid excommunication (by marrying a divorced woman with children), my brother and I would have to be sent to Catholic school (which we were), my mom would have to convert (she did so on paper only), and 10% of my dad's annual income would have to be pledged to the church. This was on top of the annual tuition that had to be paid for my and my brother's education.

      So, the church has its way around things. Unfortunately, it's all monetary and has nothing to do with religion.

      Is it any wonder none of us in my family are practicing Catholics? We all have our own beliefs and celebrate God in our own ways, but it's not via the Catholic church's dictates.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Hooks and Needles - it's almost as if the stories of 'the Kennedy curse' are true, isn't it?

    • Hooks and Needles profile image

      Hooks and Needles 

      4 years ago

      Interesting. I read that Onassis was also physically abusive at times to her. What a sad life!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Brit, this hub is very interesting. Jacqueline Kennedy was always a very interesting lady and one I always admired. I have never read all this type information on the Kennedy-Onassis marriage and enjoyed reading your hub. Thanks for writing all this.


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