The British Royal Family appears to be the epitome of class and, in many ways, that is true. However, the royals have also had their fair share of scandal — especially when it comes to choosing suitors — beginning in the 1500s with King Henry VIII and his six wives right down to current day. The last century in particular has witnessed some of the most shocking royal relationships and that’s despite being under the strict Royal Marriage Act of 1772 and now the updated Succession to the Crown Act of 2013. It seems nothing can stop true love or, at least, forbidden love.
Let’s explore some of the most scandalous relationships from the past hundred years.
King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
According to BBC News, less than one month after American socialite Wallis Simpson divorced her second husband and after less than one year on the throne, King Edward VIII informed the Prime Minister of his intentions to marry Simpson. That went about as well as you might expect. Prime Minister Baldwin told King Edward VIII that the people would not accept Simpson as Queen. In return, the King informed Prime Minister Baldwin that he was prepared to abdicate the throne, but also proposed the idea of a morganatic marriage. This would mean he could remain as King but Simpson would not become Queen.
This plan was ultimately rejected and, in December of 1936, King Edward VIII did as he said he would and resigned as King. It is perhaps easiest to think of King Edward VIII as a man who gave up so much and you could ask, “For what?” For love and happiness, it seems.
In a BBC News interview with both Simpson and the former King nearly 32 years into their marriage, Simpson admitted, “I wish it could’ve been different but, I mean, I’m extremely happy.” Later she reiterated, “We’ve been very happy,” while reaching for her husband’s hand.
Princess Margaret and Captain Peter Townsend
If you’re a fan of the Netflix series The Crown, you may know a thing or two about Princess Margaret and Captain Peter Townsend. While the show is fictional, it is based on true stories. The show’s creator Peter Morgan has ample material. Morgan even called Margaret’s life “a terrific story” when interviewed by Radio Times.
According to The Telegraph, Margaret met Townsend when she was a teenager. He was nearly twice her age, married, and working for her father, King George VI, at the time. Townsend continued working for the family after Margaret’s father passed and he and his wife eventually divorced. Margaret, much like her Uncle Edward, fell in love with a divorcee, which was obviously quite scandalous! Soon, the press caught onto their secret relationship and, in an attempt to kibosh the rumors, Townsend was sent to work in Brussels.
In a letter to the Prime Minister in 1955, Margaret wrote, “[I]t is only by seeing [Townsend] in this way that I feel I can properly decide whether I can marry him or not. At the end of October or early November I very much hope to be in a position to tell you and the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers what I intend to do.”
Ultimately, Margaret made the difficult decision not to marry Townsend. Margaret’s close friend Lady Mary Russell expounded on the decision in the article, “We still felt it wouldn’t be possible… for her in her position to marry Peter Townsend.”
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones
Some five years after deciding to let go of her love for Peter Townsend, Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, or Lord Snowdon, The New York Times details. Prior to getting married, the Cambridge-taught photographer and Princess Margaret dated for some time in secret.
Did Margaret finally get her happily-ever-after? Sadly, no. Margaret’s marriage to Armstrong-Jones dissolved just as her relationship with Townsend did. After 16 years of marriage and two children, the two separated.
With a legal separation, Margaret wouldn’t receive as much pressure to renounce her title as she would with divorce. Plus, a renouncement would mean she would no longer be entitled to her $70,000 (adjusted for inflation, that would roughly equal over $304,500 today) state allowance as well as all the other privileges that come with being fifth in line to the throne.
Two years later Margaret decided that, despite all of the possible repercussions, she did want a divorce after all. An excerpt from Ben Pimlot’s biography The Queen, reprinted by PBS, explains that times were beginning to change and The Church of England “treated her with gentleness.” What a relief that must have been for Margaret.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana
Andrew Morton, author of the biography Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words — a book now known as having been made with full cooperation from Diana herself — wrote, “Her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 was described as a ‘fairytale’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the popular imagination, the Prince and Princess… were the glamorous and sympathetic face of the House of Windsor. The very idea that their ten-year marriage was in dire trouble was unthinkable — even to the notoriously imaginative tabloid press.”
Dire trouble, indeed. Morton went on to tell what he learned about Diana, “It was like being transported into a parallel universe, the Princess talking about her unhappiness, her sense of betrayal, her suicide attempts and two things I had never previously heard of: bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder, and a woman called Camilla.”
By royal standards, the two were a perfect match. However, it seems neither love nor happiness were present in their relationship. Cheating, however, was very much a part of their union.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles
In 1994, Prince Charles spoke publicly for the very first time about the end of his marriage to Princess Diana. After hemming and hawing for nearly a minute when asked about his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and the impact that it may have had on his marriage, he called her a “great friend.” Though, when asked later in the interview if he was faithful to Diana, he admitted he wasn’t.
A taped intimate phone conversation between he and Parker Bowles in 1993 supported his admittance of infidelity but also brought into question his relationship with Parker Bowles. The Mirror produced the transcript and published it in full. Some of it is too cringe-worthy to even share but one excerpt reveals that Camilla “can’t start the week” without Charles, who responded in turn, “I fill up your tank!” Charles also revealed that he “[needs Camilla] several times a week.”
Eek! In 2005, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles became more than “great friends” and finally wed. According to The Times, the Queen gave her blessing on the arguably distasteful relationship. However, she chose not to attend the ceremony.
Princess Diana and other men
Prince Charles wasn’t the only unfaithful party in his marriage to Diana. Diana: In Pursuit of Love, another biography by Anthony Morton, revealed, “While she raged against her husband’s infidelity, she hid the fact that she had enjoyed a long if sporadic love affair with Captain James Hewitt from 1986 to 1990.” According to the biography, at one point “… she had talked of buying a house in the country with her former love James Hewitt.”
However, Hewitt wasn’t the only man with whom she considered running off. Per Diana, she also “fantasized about leaving England and buying a house in Italy with the art dealer [Oliver Hoare].” Her secret love affair with Hoare, much like her relationship with Hewitt, apparently lasted for four years.
In addition, Dianahad salacious phone calls of her own. In a leaked tape, a man by the name of James Gilbey can be heard calling Diana by the pet-name of “Squidgy” not once, not twice, but 53 times in one half-hour recording, according to The Telegraph.
Fidelity was apparently neither Charles nor Diana’s strong point.
Prince Andrew and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson
Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson divorced the very same year as Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Much like Princess Margaret and her ex-husband, as well as Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Andrew and Ferguson separated for a time before eventually calling it quits for good.
According to a profile of Ferguson with Harper’s Bazaar, Andrew and Ferguson split partially because of his demanding career. The newlyweds were only able to spend 40 nights a year together for the first five years of their marriage. It wouldn’t be difficult to understand if that’s why their marriage ended. However, work wasn’t the only thing tearing the two apart.
According to Diana, Ferguson had an affair with Steve Wyatt who is referred to in the biography as a “Texan playboy.” Ferguson was later photographed in a compromising situation with another Texan, this time her financial advisor John Bryan. In an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, Ferguson recalled seeing the picture for the first time and thinking “Oh, no, Sarah.”
“Oh, no, Sarah” is right.
Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence
According to BBC, Princess Anne and her husband Mark Phillips separated in the summer of 1989 and subsequently divorced in 1992. This means that all three children of Queen Elizabeth II are divorcees. As each child divorced, you can only imagine how the Queen must have reacted. Anne’s divorce was likely particularly troubling as she was involved in quite a scandalous affair.
While married to Phillips, Anne entered into a relationship with a man by the name of Timothy Laurence. He served the Queen in the same capacity as Margaret’s former love interest Captain Peter Townsend. BBC further explained that their relationship was outed when letters Laurence wrote to Anne were stolen from her briefcase and published by the press.
After officially divorcing Phillips, Anne and Laurence married in Scotland. As Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just separated, Diana did not attend the ceremony.
Prince William and Kate Middleton
Before the two wed, Middleton could be referred to as a “commoner.” Essentially that just means she’s not from a royal family. The Washington Post pointed out that even as a commoner, she was “fabulously rich.” Still, her social status was a point of contention. The article cites speculation that her standing as a commoner may have been why Prince William delayed proposing to Middleton for eight long years.
It is now known that Middleton is referred to as Catherine, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. However, the article tells how the Queen could have very well given her the name “Princess William,” in the same fashion other commoners have been named. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
You can’t talk about scandalous royal romances and not mention Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. While millions of people around the world are excited about the newly-engaged couple, not everyone is happy. Prince Harry, via his communications secretary, released a statement that lists several instances of harassment and abuse directed toward Markle. It reads, in part, “Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety.” Rightfully so, it seems.
Crazed fans and naysayers are not the only ones making waves. In fact, the marriage standards of the royal family are part of the scandal. Business Insider details how, although the Queen gave her blessing to Harry and Markle, she may not attend the wedding.
Markle is not only a “commoner” like Middleton but also a divorcee. A cover story for Vanity Fair explains that Markle was married for two years to Hollywood producer Trevor Engleson. With The Church of England continuing to discourage divorce, it is not known whether the Queen will choose to forego attending the ceremony for that reason. According to The Telegraph, the Queen infamously chose not to attend Prince Charles and Parker Bowles wedding in 2005, saying to a friend “I am not able to go. I do not feel that my position [as Supreme Governor of the Church] permits it.”