Love Lost: These Royal Couples Went Against The Grain By Filing For Divorce

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Sep. 10 2022, Published 1:00 a.m. ET

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Queen Elizabeth's marriage to Prince Philip weathered 70-plus years, but the rest of her family hasn’t been so lucky in love. Divorce was a no-no in royal circles for centuries. As the supreme ruler of the Church of England, the monarch was expected to be the defender of the faith — and that faith prohibited remarriage after divorce if a person's ex-spouse was still living.

But as the monarchy modernized, so did the church: in 2002, it decreed that divorcees could remarry in church — a change that allowed Prince Harry to marry divorcée Meghan Markle at St. George's Chapel in 2018. Still, the failed unions of Charles, two of her other children and even her sister, Margaret, rocked the scandal-averse Elizabeth. Here’s what went wrong.

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Princess Diana & Prince Charles

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She was a fairytale princess in her billowing white gown at their July 29, 1981, wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral. A fresh-faced 20-year-old, Princess Diana was 13 years younger than her perennial-bachelor groom. Millions around the world watched the royal vows, but one guest inside the cathedral was especially noteworthy: Charles’ longtime love, ex-girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles.

Soon after the nuptials, Diana realized Charles still had feelings for Camilla. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she later said. In the end, both were unfaithful during the 14-year marriage that brought them two sons, William and Harry — “an heir and a spare” — but they stayed together because, according to Diana, they “didn’t want to disappoint the public.”

They finally split in 1992, after both Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, failed to broker a reconciliation during a secret meeting at the palace. After their 1996 divorce, Diana focused on her charitable work, but died just a year later in a tragic car crash in Paris. Charles, free to marry his longtime love, wed Camilla in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005. His parents did not attend.

Princess Anne & Mark Phillips

The Royal Family
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Elizabeth’s daughter, Princess Anne, wed fellow equestrian Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in 1973, five years after they met at a party for horse lovers. In an unusual move, commoner Phillips refused the earldom offered by the Queen upon his marriage, and their children, Peter and Zara, were not given courtesy titles. By 1989, the couple, who had virtually disappeared from the public eye, announced their intention to separate.

Initially the exes had no plans to divorce, but in 1992 — the same year Charles and Diana officially split — they ended the marriage. Shortly thereafter, on Dec. 12, 1992, Anne wed Timothy Laurence, an equerry to the Queen, at Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral Castle in Scotland — unlike the Church of England, the Church of Scotland did not object to the remarriage of divorced people with living ex-spouses. She became the first divorced royal to remarry since 1905.

Prince Andrew & Sarah Ferguson

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Prince Andrew, the queen’s third child, had known Sarah Ferguson, a daughter of Prince Philip’s polo manager, since they were kids, but their romance began when they reconnected at the Royal Ascot race in 1985. Both fun-loving, they brought a breath of fresh air to the stodgy royal family. Together the newly minted Duke and Duchess of York had two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. But Andrew’s extensive time away from home because of his military career and the media’s often unkind take on “Fergie” put strain on their union.

In March 1992, they announced their plans to separate; the divorce was finalized in 1996. Scandal followed the exes, who remained amicable — often even living in the same house. Just a few months after announcing the divorce, the Duchess of York was photographed sunbathing topless with her financial adviser; and in 2010, she was filmed by an undercover News of the World reporter accepting a $40,000 bribe to give access to the duke’s business contacts. Never a royal favorite, she’s rarely invited to private gatherings.


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