While it might seem like royal gossip is at a fever pitch these days, it’s nothing compared to what’s come before.
Throughout history, Europe’s royal families, in particular, have been plagued by scandals, controversy, and just plain bad press. From phone sex to affairs with the staff, the royals are one of the only groups of people who seem to become tamer with each generation.
King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s romance caused the entire UK to split from the Vatican.
At the beginning of King Henry VIII’s reign in 1509, the British crown showed no signs of wanting to leave Catholicism. But when Henry VIII fell in love with his mistress Anne Boleyn, he made the unprecedented decision to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Divorce is and was strictly forbidden in the Catholic church, so Henry casually decided to create his own religion. Thus, The Church of England was born.
Forcing an entire nation to switch religions for your marriage is controversial enough, but Henry and Anne weren’t done yet: he later beheaded his wife for allegedly cheating on him. Then, he went on to marry four more times.
Prince Andrew dated an erotic film actress in the ‘80s.
Back in 1981, Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Andrew fell for Koo Stark, an actress and model who’d done a few mildly provocative photo shoots and appeared nude on film. Also, she was American, and that wasn’t – and still isn’t – exactly common.
Echoing early media reports about Meghan Markle’s acting career in which she’s had sex scenes, the press treated Stark badly. When the papers got wind of her past in “blue films,” their relationship was treated like a major scandal. Andrew even introduced Stark to the queen, and the palace had to issue a statement, according to a 1982 article in People magazine, saying: “We do not know if the Queen was aware of the girl’s acting career before she was invited to Balmoral.”
Despite the fact that they were serious about each other, their relationship ended reportedly due to pressure from the palace for Prince Andrew to find a more royal-family-ready mate, according to The New York Post.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson faced scandal after scandal.
Shortly after he and Stark broke up, Prince Andrew decided to settle down with someone who seemed like a more appropriate royal fit in the eyes of the public: Sarah Ferguson, a girl from the English countryside who couldn’t have seemed more normal if she tried.
As it turned out, Andrew and Sarah were ill-suited to each other, and the scandals and bad press they brought upon the crown were almost too numerous to name. The most bizarre incident of all was when she was caught on vacation having her toes sucked by her “financial planner,” John Bryan, as she and Prince Andrew’s young daughters played nearby.
After all that, in 2010, decades after their 1996 divorce, Sarah was busted trying to sell information about Prince Andrew to the press, according to ABC. That move got her virtually excommunicated from the royal family – although, today, she still lives with Prince Andrew. She also posted about how handsome he is on his birthday this year. Their relationship has been called “strange,” according to Express.
Princess Sofia was a “lad-mag” model and reality TV star before meeting Prince Carl Philip of Sweden.
- Ragnar Singsaas/Getty Images
Similar to Stark, Sofia Hellqvist had posed provocatively, most notoriously as Slitz Magazine’s “Miss Slitz,” before meeting Prince Carl Philip of Sweden. She was also a budding reality star in her native country and had admitted to kissing porn star Jenna Jameson in public, according to The Daily Mail.
Reports swirled that Prince Carl’s sisters were wary of Sofia because of her past, but Prince Carl shot those rumors down. She also has several tattoos, a stylistic choice you don’t often see in European royals.
Her story has a happy ending – she and Carl Philip have been married since 2015.
Edward VIII gave up the British throne for Wallis Simpson.
Did you know Queen Elizabeth I never would’ve been crowned queen of England if it wasn’t for her uncle abdicating so he could marry an American divorcée?
King Edward VIII rocked the monarchy when, after less than a year on the throne, he signed his abdication papers so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. This put the future of the monarchy in jeopardy, and members of the royal family were said to loathe Simpson ever since, according to E! – but Edward VIII’s early letters suggest he was never too wild about the idea of being king, anyway.
Still, their relationship is notorious in British royal history – although Meghan Markle smashed the royals’ stigma against divorced Americans when she married Prince Harry in 2018.
Princess Charlene of Monaco allegedly tried to flee the night before her wedding to Prince Albert.
South African born Charlene Wittstock is 20 years younger than her husband Prince Albert of Monaco, and she allegedly got some pretty serious cold feet not one but three times before their 2011 wedding, according to The Daily Mail.
Charlene reportedly tried to hide out in Paris’ South African embassy while trying on her wedding dress. It’s also said that she tried to escape the country during the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. Finally, shortly before her wedding day, she allegedly tried to escape to Nice when Monagesque officials “confiscated her passport,” according to the Daily Mail. She was then “persuaded” to go with the wedding.
It seems like it all worked out – she and Prince Albert have been married ever since.
Queen Victoria fell in love with her a younger man.
- Wikimedia Commons
Late in her life, the widowed Queen Victoria sequestered herself in the Scottish highlands and happened to fall in love with a horse equerry seven years younger than her, according to The Sunday Post. Her diaries and letters at the time are full of flowery language about his “strong, powerful arms” and his utter devotion to her.
If the relationship became public knowledge at the time, it would’ve been the scandal to end all scandals. Today, though, it’s pretty cute.
Princess Margaret was forbidden from marrying her first love.
As recounted in season one of “The Crown,” Queen Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret also fell in love with one of the men working in the Queen’s stables, Peter Townsend. Because she was under 25, she had to ask for Queen Elizabeth’s permission to marry him. But because he was previously divorced, Queen Elizabeth refused. The Church of England and Parliament were allegedly against the match.
She later tried again to marry him after she turned 25 and would no longer need the queen’s permission. But Parliament said they’d revoke her royal privileges if she married a divorcé. She was reportedly devastated.
Princess Anne also fell for her equerry — and married him.
Things had changed about 20 years later when Princess Margaret’s niece was permitted not only to marry the equerry she fell in love with but also to divorce her husband.
Called “A Royal Scandal” on a 1989 People magazine cover, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne took a page out of Queen Victoria’s book and fell for one of the palace equerries. Making things more controversial: Anne was married at the time, and the affair was discovered because a thief had stolen some of her love letters from her home.
Following this PR crisis, Anne divorced her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, and later went on to marry the equerry, Captain Timothy Laurence. They’ve been together ever since.
Princess Margaret finally did get married — but it ended in the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII.
- Wikimedia Commons
Princess Margaret tied the knot with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, despite palace officials’ protests – they would’ve preferred she marry a titled aristocrat instead of a working man, according to Town and Country magazine.
Rumors also flew that Armstrong-Jones, known after his marriage as Lord Snowdon, was bisexual. No matter which genders he preferred, though, his appetites were reportedly rapacious. He had many affairs when his and Princess Margaret’s marriage began to fall apart, but she was the one with the most scandalous dalliance, according to Express. She was caught on camera canoodling with Roddy Llewellyn “a nice, dim gardener” 17 years younger than her.
While their marriage lasted, the Snowdons had a great time spending time with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the rest of London’s bohemian high society. Still, after Margaret’s affair with Llewellyn hit the papers, her husband asked for a divorce and got it. This was the first divorce in the royal family since the 1500s. Ironic, considering Margaret wasn’t allowed to marry her first choice, Peter Townsend, because he was divorced.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer seemed perfect on paper.
After dating pretty much every single, titled woman in the UK, as well as a few commoners for good measure, Prince Charles decided to marry Lady Diana Spencer. A 19-year-old with noble blood and zero dating record, she seemed like the perfect no-drama choice for a bride.
But their marriage would end up delivering scandal after scandal, thanks mostly to Charles’ continued infidelity.
Here’s a small smattering of their marital drama: – Charles was reportedly jealous of Diana’s fame and social acumen; Diana allegedly spread a rumor that Charles got their children’s nanny pregnant and was almost sued for it, and both of them were caught in embarrassing steamy conversations with their lovers on separate occasions.
Diana’s tapped phone call fiasco was called “Squidgygate” because of her then-boyfriend’s embarrassing pet name for her. But Charles absolutely topped her when he was caught in an illegally recorded phone conversation telling his mistress, Camilla, that he wished he could “be her tampon.”
The final nail in their marriage’s coffin was Diana’s infamous televised interview with Martin Bashir, conducted behind the royal family’s backs. In it, she admitted her marriage had driven her to self-harm, bulimia, and infidelity on the part of both her and her husband (and she ushered in a new era of confessional TV interviews while she was at it). Of course, post-divorce, Diana met a tragic end when she was killed in a crash with her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles had an über-scandalous start.
- Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
Prince Charles married Diana and not Camilla Parker-Bowles because as heir to the British throne, he was expected to marry someone of noble blood with an unblemished dating record. But after his marriage to Diana didn’t work out, he continued dating Camilla until finally receiving permission to marry her, decades after they first met in the 1970s, in 2005. At their wedding, they were forced to apologize for their previous actions before they could seal the deal, according to The Guardian.
The public reaction to their wedding was nowhere near the levels it reached when Princes William and Harry got married years later. Even recently, there was a surge of ill will against Charles and Camilla due to newly released interviews with Diana.
“It is pretty clear that people are not enormously enamoured by Camilla,” royal biographer Robert Lacey said at the time. “People in the future will say that when you compare her style with Diana’s, it is very different.”
Even today, the past still leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. Two-thirds of Britons say they would not accept Camilla receiving the title of queen when her husband eventually becomes king, according to Express. And even worse for Prince Charles, 51% of his future subjects would rather see the throne skip him and go directly to his son, Prince William, according to The Daily Beat.
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