The 18 biggest scandals of the British royal family

The British royal family is always making headlines – sometimes for rather unsavory reasons.

The past few generations of the House of Windsor have been dogged by scandals of nearly every variety, from tactless costume choices to explosive divorces and even an unprecedented abdication of the throne.

Thanks to gossip-hungry media outlets, much of their dirtiest laundry has been broadcast and published all across the world.

Here are the stories behind 18 major scandals that captured the world’s attention.


King Edward VIII rejected the crown so he could marry a divorced American woman.

Directly after his father died in 1936, Edward VIII took the throne. Less than a year later, he renounced it.

That’s because he had fallen hard for Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who’d already been divorced once and was working through her second. His proposal of marriage caused social and political uproar, since the Church of England technically forbade Edward from marrying someone who’d been divorced. Eventually, Edward was forced to abdicate.

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King […] without the help and support of the woman I love,” he said in a radio address to the nation in December 1936. Edward and Simpson married in 1937 and stayed together until Edward’s death in 1972. (And she wasn’t the only commoner who married into royalty.)

Source: BBC


Princess Margaret fell in love with a married man.

Captain Peter Townsend was a Royal Air Force officer who served as an equerry – essentially an attendant to the royal family. He spent a great deal of time with Margaret, and before long, the two fell in love. The only problem was that he was married.

Things got even more scandalous in 1953 when Townsend divorced his wife and proposed to Margaret. But the rules of the Church of England forbade such a marriage. (After all, Margaret’s uncle Edward VIII had to relinquish the throne in order to marry a divorcee.)

The relationship came to a heartbreaking close in 1955 when they called off the engagement. There was simply no way for Captain Townsend and Princess Margaret to have a happy ending.

Source: Vanity Fair


Her eventual marriage to different man ended in a high-profile divorce.

Not long after calling things off with Townsend, Margaret married photographer Anthony Armstrong Jones. (It was the first royal wedding to ever be televised!)

A few years later, their union became a source of “growing public ridicule,” according to the New York Times. They fought in public, Margaret took long vacations without her husband, and rumors swirled around her close friendship with a man 17 years her junior.

In 1976, the couple announced their separation, and two years later, they were officially divorced. Margaret became the first royal to divorce since Henry VIII, who reigned way back in the 1500s.

Source: New York Times, BBC


Princess Diana and an alleged lover were secretly recorded on the phone.

In 1992 – while Prince Charles and Princess Diana were still married – media outlets published the transcript of an conversation between Diana and an alleged lover named James Gilbey. In the conversation, Gilbey told Diana that he loved her and called her by the pet name “Squidgy” 53 times. That’s how the scandal earned the memorable moniker “Squidgygate.”

Later, in an interview, Diana confirmed that the conversation was real, but denied that it was adulterous in nature.

Source: The Telegraph


The same thing happened to Diana’s husband, Prince Charles.

Not long after Diana’s leaked phone call, Prince Charles (Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son) had one of his own.

An Australian magazine published the transcript of a call between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles – a longtime married friend. The transcript all but confirmed what many rumors had postulated: That Charles and Camilla were romantically involved.

In one of the more confounding parts of the conversation, the couple jokes about Charles turning into a tampon in order to “live inside” Camilla’s trousers.

Later that year, Charles and Diana announced their separation.

Source: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian


Then Diana gave a bombshell TV interview — and the marriage finally collapsed for good.

In 1995, Diana sat down for a tell-all solo interview with journalist Martin Bashir to talk about the immense pressures of public life and her struggles with self-harm, postpartum depression, and bulimia. She also revealed that she knew about Charles’ affair with Camilla. (“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she famously quipped.) And Diana even admitted that she’d been unfaithful to Charles, saying that she had been “in love” with James Hewitt, her riding instructor.

A few weeks later, the Queen herself urged her son and daughter-in-law to divorce, and the following year, they made it official. Charles and Camilla, on the other hand, wed in 2005 and are still together.

Source: BBC, New York Times, TIME


Princess Anne divorced her husband and married a member of the royal staff.

Princess Anne, the only daughter of current Queen Elizabeth II, married Olympic equestrian Mark Phillips in 1973. But the couple spent large swaths of time apart and didn’t appear to be happy – People magazine described the marriage as a “joyless sham.”

Then, in spring 1989, a British newspaper obtained stolen copies of letters written to Anne by one of her equerries – a British naval officer named Timothy Laurence. Though the content of the letters wasn’t made public, tabloids described them as “extremely intimate” and “too hot to handle.”

In 1992, Anne announced that she was divorcing Phillips – and that she planned to marry Laurence. The two have been together ever since.

Source: People, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, BBC


Paparazzi caught Sarah Ferguson in a compromising “toe-licking” incident.

Sarah Ferguson (popularly known as “Fergie”) married Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Andrew in 1986.

Six years later, scandal erupted: Paparazzi photographers captured Fergie vacationing with an American financial advisor named John Bryan. In one photo – an image quickly plastered on the front page of The Sun – Bryan appeared to be licking Fergie’s foot.

Things didn’t go very well after that. Fergie and Andrew separated in 1992 (the same year as Charles and Diana!) and divorced in 1996.

Source: The Telegraph, BBC


Later, Fergie was accused of taking a $633,000 bribe.

Fergie’s marital drama didn’t end after the divorce. In 2010, a News of the World journalist posed as a businessman and said he got Fergie to accept a £500,00 (about $633,000) bribe in exchange for access to her ex-husband.

A video recording of their meeting was released to the media, and Fergie later apologized, saying she’d made a “serious lapse in judgment.”

Source: The Guardian, Reuters


Prince Andrew had his own dirty laundry: He resigned from his job because of seedy friendships.

Prince Andrew served as the UK’s trade envoy from 2001 through 2011, when he stepped down due to mounting criticism over some of his personal relationships.

Namely, he was close friends with American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.


Prince Andrew stepped back from his royal duties altogether in 2019 after new allegations surfaced regarding his relationship with Epstein, culminating in a disastrous BBC interview.

caption
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre, then known as Virginia Roberts.
source
Florida Southern District Court

Virginia Roberts, pictured with Andrew above, accused Epstein of forcing her to have sex with the prince when she was just 17 years old, back in 2001.

The allegations from a 2015 defamation case recently resurfaced in the media as the case became unsealed.

Four days after a car-crash interview with “BBC Newsnight” where he spoke about his friendship with Epstein, Prince Andrew announced he would step down from his royal duties.


Prince Harry spent a day (yes, a single day) in rehab.

caption
The clinic Prince Harry attended in 2002.
source
Getty/Sion Touhig

After admitting to his father that he’d tried marijuana, a 17-year-old Prince Harry spent a day at the Featherstone Lodge rehabilitation center in London.

A statement from the royal family said the Harry had agreed to visit the clinic “to learn about the possible consequences of starting to take cannabis.”

Source: The Telegraph


He was also photographed wearing a Nazi costume.

In January 2005, British paper The Sun published a front-page photo of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi armband, apparently at a costume party.

The prince, who was 20 at the time, quickly released a statement of apology that read: “Prince Harry has apologised for any offence or embarrassment he has caused. He realises it was a poor choice of costume.”

Source: BBC


In 2012, Prince Harry got naked at a private party in Las Vegas, and someone leaked the photos to The Sun.

The British tabloid published the naked photos of the prince in 2012, which were taken by another party-goer during a game of strip billiards in his hotel suite.

According to an anonymous source who was in attendance, the prince’s security team appeared to be aware that people were taking photos.

“No one asked for our phones or anything about us when we arrived at the party,” the source told The Sun. “It was obvious people were taking pictures.”


That same year, Closer Magazine published a photo of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless on its cover.

At the time the pictures were taken, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were staying in a private holiday home owned by the Queen’s nephew, Viscount Linley.

After the couple won a lawsuit against the company, Closer was ordered to pay $118,000 in damages to Will and Kate in 2017.


Meghan Markle walked herself down the aisle after her father was caught staging paparazzi photos in the lead up to her wedding to Prince Harry.

Thomas Markle’s no-show at the royal wedding was thought to be due to his poor health, as he suffered a heart attack just days before Harry and Markle tied the knot in Windsor back in May 2018.

However, in the year that followed, Thomas and the duchess appeared to have a strained relationship, with Thomas even speaking out against his daughter in several interviews with British tabloids.


Meghan launched a lawsuit against British tabloid the Mail on Sunday after it published a private letter she wrote to her father.

The Duchess of Sussex is currently suing the publication over the misuse of private information, infringement of copyright, and breach of the Data Protection Act 2008 after it published excerpts from the letter earlier this year.

However, the royal is facing claims that she “invaded her own privacy” after her friends spoke about the letter in an interview with People long before her father leaked it to the press.


After months of rumors, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they’re taking a “step back” from royal life. The royal family was reportedly not made aware that the announcement was being made ahead of time.

The announcement said they “intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.” They also wrote that they will split their time between North America and the UK.

It appears the Queen may not have been aware of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision based on a statement from the royal communications office.

“Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” the Queen’s statement read. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”