12 Royal Family Members You Didn’t Know Were Divorced
Kate and William make marriage look so easy, but these members of the royal family haven't always been quite as lucky in love.
The grandfather of all royal divorces, Henry VIII
Before King Henry VIII dissolved his marriage with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, English monarchs were not allowed to divorce because the monarchy followed the tenets of the Catholic Church. When the Pope refused to make an exception so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII broke from the Catholic church and declared himself head of the newly formed Church of England, which permitted divorce under certain circumstances.
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The disastrous divorce case of a Prince of Wales
In 1795, the eldest son of King George III, Prince George of Wales, married Princess Caroline of Brunswick, a woman he detested. Although the couple consummated their marriage (they had a daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales), they always lived apart. In 1820, George, who had just become King George IV, vehemently opposed Caroline becoming Queen and so sued her for divorce based on infidelity (which was the pot calling the kettle “black”). Despite a horribly embarrassing hearing, Parliament refused to grant the divorce.
Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor
Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was the wife of the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, and before that, Prince Edward of Wales. King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry Simpson because Simpson had been divorced twice already, and while the Church of England permitted divorce, it didn’t permit remarriage/marriage to a divorcée whose spouse was still living. That changed in 2002, as we’ll get to in a bit.
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The divorce of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
On May 9, 1960, Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who became the 1st Earl of Snowdon. The marriage had never been strong and came to a public end in 1976 after photos surfaced of Margaret vacationing with another man. When the divorce was finalized in 1978, Margaret became the first senior member of the royal family to divorce in 77 years—and nowhere near the last.
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Princess Anne, the Princess Royal
In 1992, the Queen’s second child and only daughter, Princess Anne, finalized her divorce from her husband Captain Mark Phillips after a three-year separation. Later that same year, Princess Anne married her current husband Timothy Laurence, making her the first child of a British monarch to remarry after divorce. Although the 2002 law had not yet come to fruition, Anne sidestepped the Church of England’s restriction of divorcées remarrying by marrying in Scotland.
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Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
In 1997, the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, came to an official end, with Prince Charles becoming the first Prince of Wales and heir apparent to be granted a divorce. Since Diana died later that year, she would not have been seen as an obstacle in Prince Charles remarrying.
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Prince Andrew, Duke of York
By 1992, divorce was becoming almost routine in the royal family, even if the Queen was profoundly distressed about it (she referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilius”—a horrible year). That same year, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Queen Elizabeth’s third child, divorced his wife of six years, Sarah Ferguson. Neither has remarried, and the two remain close. This past October, Ferguson said in an interview that she and Andrew “have never really left each other.”
Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall
In 2002, the Church of England began permitting divorcées to remarry even while their former spouses were still alive in “exceptional circumstances,” reports the BBC. (It is up to the individual priest performing the marriage ceremony to define what qualifies as “exceptional circumstances”.) As a result, Prince Charles was finally able to marry Camilla Parker Bowles, whose former spouse, Andrew Parker Bowles, was still alive. The wedding of these two divorcées was not held in a church, but rather as a civil ceremony, which Queen Elizabeth did not attend.
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Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex
In 2018, Prince Harry married Ms. Meghan Markle in Westminster Abbey—despite that Meghan had been married to and divorced from Trevor Engelson. Yet in 2018, Meghan’s prior marriage and divorce was hardly a blip on the radar screen. The wedding officiant, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, was quoted as having said he was “excited” to officiate, with the couple having gone through all the necessary and appropriate steps.
Prince Philip’s parents
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has been married to Queen Elizabeth for more than 70 years. The happy and supportive marriage of the Queen’s parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, may have served as a role model, but not so much that of the Prince’s parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, who married in 1903 but were estranged by 1930. Although the couple never formally divorced, Andrew lived with his lady-friend, Andreé Lafayette, in Monaco.
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The Princesses of Monaco
Speaking of Monaco, both daughters of American-born Princess Grace of Monaco (formerly, Hollywood’s Grace Kelly) have been divorced:
- Caroline, Princess of Hanover (the former Princess Caroline of Monaco) has had three marriages. Her first, to Philippe Junot, ended in divorce in 1980. Her second ended with the death of her husband, Stefano Casiraghi in 1990. She married current husband, Prince Ernst August of Hanover in 1999, but they’re currently separated.
- Princess Stephanie of Monaco married Daniel Ducruet, in 1995, after having had two children with him out of wedlock. They divorced in 1996.
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The one who hasn’t been divorced
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest child of the Queen, is the only child of Queen Elizabeth who has not been divorced (perhaps the marriage of his parents has served as a role model). Prince Edward, born in 1964, married Miss Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones in 1999, who is now styled as the Countess of Wessex and is a full-time working member of the royal family. The Wessexes have two children. May their union remain happy and long!
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