Royal divorces over the years

UK News | Published:

The Windsors went through a spate of marriage breakdowns in the 1990s.

Charles and Diana

Members of the royal family have often been unlucky in love, with their relationship woes hitting the headlines.

Three of the Queen’s four children went through very public divorces.

Now Peter Phillips is to become the first of the monarch’s grandchildren to end their marriage, after splitting from his wife Autumn.

The Phillips
The Prince of Wales, with Autumn and Peter Phillips during the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering (Andrew Milligan/PA)

In 1992 – the monarch’s self-described “annus horribilis” – the Prince of Wales separated from the Princess of Wales, the Duke of York split from the Duchess of York, and the Princess Royal divorced Captain Mark Phillips.

Charles’ wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was seen as a pure fairytale affair.

Amid pomp and circumstance, the heir to the throne married his 20-year-old bride in the opulent St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29 1981, watched by a worldwide TV audience of more than 750 million.

The Waleses
The newlywed Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 (PA)


But even before the wedding, Diana had become paranoid after finding a bracelet Charles had made as a present for his former lover Camilla Parker Bowles.

It featured F and G for Fred and Gladys – their pet names for one another.

On their honeymoon, Diana was furious when she noticed the prince wearing a pair of gold cufflinks engraved with interwoven Cs – a present from Camilla.

The princess found Buckingham Palace courtiers unapproachable, and was overwhelmed by her role as a royal superstar.


The Waleses
Charles and Diana during their visit to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1983 (Ron Bell/PA)

Diana developed bulimia, but Charles was at a loss as to how to comfort her.

Their relationship broke down bitterly. Behind the scenes, Charles had an affair with Camilla and Diana with Major James Hewitt.

In December 1992, prime minister John Major announced Charles and Diana – the parents of princes William and Harry – were separating.

The same year, the growing intimacy between Charles and Camilla became apparent when the so-called “Camillagate” tape of a conversation between the pair surfaced.

Charles and Diana
Charles attempts to kiss his wife after leading his team to victory at the Jaipur Polo Club in India in 1992 (Martin Keene/PA)

In June 1994, Charles admitted to Jonathan Dimbleby in a television interview that he was unfaithful to Diana after their marriage broke down.

In November 1995, Diana gave a Panorama television interview in which she said of her relationship with Charles “there were three of us in this marriage”, and cast doubts on his suitability as a king.

The Queen urged them to divorce and they did so in 1996. Diana died in a car crash just over a year later.

Diana on Panorama (PA)

Charles married Camilla in 2005.

The Duke and Duchess of York wed in 1986, but split in 1992.

Exuberant, fun loving “commoner” Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, was seen as a breath of fresh air, but later confessed: “I was hopeless from the start… They could never make me the perfect princess.”

The Yorks
The Yorks on their wedding day (PA)

Royal life with its protocols and procedures stifled boisterous Sarah and the long periods that her husband Andrew spent away on duty with the Royal Navy did not help their marriage.

Their relationship came under scrutiny when photographs were discovered of the duchess on holiday with Texan oilman Steve Wyatt in Morocco.

A separation was announced in March 1992, but in the summer of the same a year a new scandal paved the way for the duchess’s exile from the Windsors.

The Yorks
The Yorks at the Medicine Hat Stampede and Rodeo in Canada in 1987 (PA)

Paparazzi photos of a topless Fergie having her feet kissed by her financial adviser John Bryan were published in the newspapers while Sarah was staying with the royals at Balmoral.

The Duke of Edinburgh is said to have never forgiven the duchess for the scandal.

Andrew and Sarah eventually divorced in 1996, but the pair navigated their post-marriage relationship with ease, jointly raising their children Beatrice and Eugenie.

The York family
Sarah and Andrew with their children Eugenie and Beatrice at a charity tennis event in 2000 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

They have remained on good terms, with the duchess referring to Andrew as her “bestest friend” and saying she is part of “the happiest divorced couple in the world”.

The duchess has always been a staunch supporter of the duke, continuing her devotion during the Epstein saga, which has seen Andrew step down from royal duties in the wake of his car-crash Newsnight interview about his friendship with the convicted paedophile.

In April 1989, the Palace named Royal Navy Commander Timothy Laurence as the writer of a number of personal letters stolen from the Princess Royal’s briefcase and sent to The Sun newspaper.

Anne's wedding
Captain Mark Phillips and Princess Anne on the Palace balcony after their wedding (PA)

Four months later, Buckingham Palace announced that Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips, who had two children Peter and Zara, were to separate.

They divorced in 1992, but remained on good terms.

In December the same year, Anne married Timothy Laurence at a private ceremony at Crathie Church, near Balmoral Castle, in Scotland.

Anne and Tim Laurence
Tim Laurence and the Princess Royal after their wedding in 1992 (PA)

The Queen’s sister Princess Margaret put duty before desire when she called off plans to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955.

She later wed photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who became the Earl of Snowdon, in 1960.

Rumours of a rift began as early as 1967, when foreign newspapers began to carry stories of a private “battle royal”, but the reports were denied.

The Snowdons
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and Earl of Snowdon at Buckingham Palace after their marriage ceremony (PA)

They were seen together less and less, amid speculation about Lord Snowdon’s romances with society ladies, and an affair between Margaret and landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn.

As the relationship became increasingly bitter, Lord Snowdon reportedly would make lists of “things I hate about you” and leave them in books Margaret was reading.

One note placed in her glove drawer allegedly read: “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.”

With divorce viewed as unthinkable, it was assumed the couple would simply lead separate lives.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon
Princess Margaret with her former husband Lord Snowdon in 1983 (PA)

But the split came in March 1976, with the Palace announcing they had “mutually agreed to live apart”, but had “no plans for divorce”. They had been married nearly 16 years.

They finally divorced in 1978, making Margaret the first senior royal to do so since Henry VIII.

The only child of the Queen not to divorce is the Earl of Wessex who married Sophie Rhys Jones, now the Countess of Wessex, in 1999.

The Queen and Philip
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh wed in 1947, and have been together more than 70 years (Owen Humphreys/PA)

One other key relationship has remained solid throughout.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been married for 72 years, celebrating their platinum anniversary in 2017.

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