13 of the most controversial royal couples of all time

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently made headlines for ‘stepping back’ from royal life. Tim P. Whitby/AP Images

Although it might seem like royal gossip is at a fever pitch these days, it’s perhaps nothing new.

Throughout history, Europe’s royal families, in particular, have been plagued by scandals, controversy, and just plain-old bad press. And in many of these situations, the scandals revolve around love, relationships, and a bit of royal romance.

Read on for some of the most controversial royal couples of all time.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made headlines after they issued legal proceedings against British tabloids and later “stepped back” from royal life.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have ‘stepped back’ from royal life. Chris Jackson – WPA Pool/Getty Images

In January, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced in an Instagram post that they would take a “step back” from the royal family.

The couple wrote they would split their time between the United Kingdom and North America and that they planned to be financially independent.

This announcement was released after months of reports that the couple was actively distancing themselves from the monarchy, and these rumours seemed to get even stronger after they spent Christmas in Canada with their son, Archie, instead of with the rest of the royal family.

Following this announcement, the queen seemed to imply she didn’t approve of the couple’s decision.

A statement from the royal communications office obtained by Insider reads, “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

On the couple’s website, the pair also state that they will be changing their relationship with the media going forward.

This doesn’t come as a surprise since months earlier, in October 2019, the couple spoke out against the British tabloid the Daily Mail, which published excerpts from a private letter that Markle had written to her father that year.

At the time, Prince Harry released a statement saying that the publication “strategically omitted select paragraphs” from the letter to manipulate its readers.

The Daily Mail previously issued a statement to Insider that denied that “the Duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”

And although it’s quite rare for the royal family to pursue legal action against media outlets, both Markle and Prince Harry issued legal proceedings against British tabloid owners in October 2019, filing claims that consist of things like misuse of private information.

In addition, Markle is a divorcée and an American, which has previously been viewed as scandalous or unfavourable in royal relationships from the past.

That said, she reportedly received the royal family’s blessing to marry Prince Harry anyway – and is not the first divorcée nor the first American to marry into the royal family.

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s romance caused the entire United Kingdom to split from the Vatican.

Artwork of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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 reportedly cheating on him.

Then, he went on to marry four more times.

Prince Andrew dated an erotic film actress in the 1980s.

The relationship didn’t last. AP

Back in 1981, Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Andrew fell for Koo Stark, an American actress and model who’d done a few mildly provocative photoshoots and appeared nude on film.

Echoing early media reports about Meghan Markle’s acting career in which she’s filmed 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.

According to a 1982 article in People magazine, Andrew even introduced Stark to the queen, and the palace had to issue a statement, 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.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew on their wedding day in 1986. AP

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.

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. Their relationship has regularly been called “strange,” according to Express.

Princess Sofia was a “lad-mag” model and reality TV star before meeting Prince Carl Philip of Sweden.

It earned her some bad press. 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. She also has several tattoos, a stylistic choice you don’t often see in European royals.

Reports swirled that Prince Carl’s sisters were wary of Sofia because of her past, but Prince Carl shot those rumours down.

Alas, she and Carl have been married since 2015.

Edward VIII gave up the British throne for Wallis Simpson.

It’s part of the reason Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England. AP/Len Putnam

Did you know Queen Elizabeth I never would have 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, an American socialite and divorcée.

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 once again called into question the royals’ stigma against divorced Americans when she married Prince Harry in 2018.

Princess Charlene of Monaco reportedly tried to flee the night before her wedding to Prince Albert.

They’re still married. Associated Press

South African-born Charlene Wittstock is 20 years younger than her husband Prince Albert of Monaco, and she reportedly 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. The Daily Mail also reported that it’s said that she tried to escape the country during the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Finally, shortly before her wedding day, she reportedly tried to escape to Nice, France, when Monegasque officials “confiscated her passport,” according to the Daily Mail.

She was then “persuaded” to go with the wedding – and it seems like it all worked out – she and Prince Albert have been married ever since.

Queen Victoria fell in love with a younger man.

A portrait of Queen Victoria. Imagno/Getty Images

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 have been the scandal to end all scandals. Today, though, it’s pretty cute.

Princess Margaret was forbidden from marrying her first love.

She didn’t get permission. AP

As recounted on 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 years old, she had to ask for Queen Elizabeth’s permission to marry him. But since he was previously divorced, Queen Elizabeth refused.

The Church of England and Parliament were reportedly 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.

According to the BBC, she later issued a public statement where she called off her plans to marry him.

Princess Anne also fell for her equerry — and married him.

Princess Anne with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips. AP

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 have been together ever since.

Princess Margaret finally did get married — but it ended in the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII.

The marriage didn’t last. Wikimedia Commons

Princess Margaret tied the knot with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, despite palace officials’ protests – they would have preferred she marry a titled aristocrat instead of a working man, according to Town and Country magazine.

Reports 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.

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.

Many thought Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer seemed perfect on paper.

Their marriage scandals were widely covered by the press. AP

After dating many titled women in the UK, as well as a few commoners for good measure, Prince Charles married 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 reportedly spread a rumour 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 seemed to top her when he was caught in an illegally recorded phone conversation telling his mistress, Camilla, that he wished he could “be her tampon.”

Perhaps the final nail in their marriage’s coffin was Diana’s infamous televised interview with Martin Bashir, which was conducted behind the royal family’s backs.

In it, she said 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).

Post-divorce, Diana met a tragic end when she died after being injured in a car crash.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles had an über-scandalous start.

The public reaction to their wedding wasn’t super. 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 in 2005, decades after they first met in the 1970s.

At their wedding, they were both forced to apologise 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 Prince William and Prince Harry got married to their respective wives years later.

“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.”

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