While many royal marriages stand the test of time, plenty of other royal couplings have ended badly. Additionally, The Crown – which depicts one of the most famous of the latter category — is undoubtedly one of the best English-language scripted soap operas we’ve seen on television in recent years. What’s even more impressive about it: most of it is true, and happened to the same family, in the past century or so. And while digging back into the annals of British royal history we can find plenty of marital drama, terrible and tumultuous marriages are hardly limited to the UK.
Over the past hundred years or so, many of the world’s monarchies have seen their power couples fall from grace. Sometimes it’s a Malaysian monarch falling in love with a young Russian beauty queen, then falling out of love with her shortly thereafter. Other times it’s a very-public fight when a prince gets a little too friendly with female wedding guests. And other times it’s because the prince prefers the company of the men who work in the kitchen. So read on for some royal marriages that ended badly, both on The Crown and beyond.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips got divorced because she was sending steamy letters to a royal employee
Princess Anne, if you’re not totally schooled on your British royals, is Queen Elizabeth II’s second-born child and only daughter. Initially, the royal was married to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973, and had two sons. But, according to Express, in 1989 a series of love letters to the princess from the Queen’s equerry Timothy Laurence were stolen from her briefcase. And, in true British fashion, the first place they ended up was in The Sun. Not surprisingly, her first marriage subsequently ended badly.
The letters exposed the princess’ affair with an otherwise common man living in the English countryside, but according to that same Express story, police were never able to ascertain who lifted them. The princess separated from her first husband in 1992, and promptly appeared at the Caledonian Ball with Laurence, according to the 2002 documentary The Real Princess Anne (via Express). Pictures of the new pair plastered the tabloids shortly after, the documentary recalled. And Anne married her new man that December in Scotland.
Literally all of Princess Caroline of Monaco's marriages ended badly
Not that anyone would really feel bad for a Monegasque royal, but their some of personal lives do seem to go particularly poorly. And the poster child for the Grimaldi family’s marital misfortune is Princess Caroline of Monaco. In September of 2009, the Daily Mail reported the princess was about to divorce her third husband, Prince Enrst of Hanover. Apparently, the two had not been seen together since June, and cited this third failed marriage as evidence that a 13th Century French curse on the family was back in full effect.
Prior to her 2009 divorce, Caroline had been married to Stafano Casiraghi, who died in the most royal Monegasque of ways in 1990: racing a sailboat off the coast of Monte Carlo. The Associated Press reported he hit a wave at nearly 94 miles per hour, and neither survived. This was after Caroline had divorced her first husband Philippe Junot, described by UPI as a “Parisian playboy. UPI also said Caroline had tired of their jet set lifestyle, and word on the street was Junot hadn’t slowed down since getting hitched. The marriage ended badly in 1980.
Prince Joachim and Princess Alexandra split very publicly at a high-profile wedding
You ever been at a wedding, and instead of getting all caught up in the shmoopiness, there’s that one couple who hits the open bar a little too hard and decides this is the time they’ll let out all their pent up resentment? Yeah, now imagine they’re the Prince and Princess of Denmark. In perhaps the most public Danish royal drama since Hamlet, the pair attended the wedding of Count Bendt Wedell and Pernille Korsbak Poulsen at Wedellsborg Castle on the island of Fuen, according to the South China Morning Post. In its story titled “How Princess Alexandra ran out on Prince Charmless,” the newspaper quoted Paul Madesen of the Copenhagen tabloid Ekstra Bladet saying, “The prince was drunk and, according to independent sources, he was getting close and very intimate with some of the other ladies.”
Princess Alexandra clearly was having none of it, and left. Channeling her inner Veruca Salt, she hollered to her driver, “I want my car NOW!” and left in a huff. Madesen curtly added, “After that, it is understood divorce proceedings were initiated.” Clearly, that marriage ended badly.
Malaysian Sultan Mohammad V divorced this Russian beauty queen after less than a year, and she didn't take it well
In what passes as a 21st-century fairy tale, Malaysian Sultan Mohammad V was introduced to former Miss Moscow, Oksana Voevodina, by jeweler Jacob Arabo, according to the UK’s Standard. The two quickly struck up a long-distance relationship via text and phone chats, and were married in July 2018. The royal stepped down as King of Malaysia, and according to the South China Morning Post, it may have been because the royal family was opposed to his marriage.
However, by July of 2019, the South China Morning Post reported the Sultan’s lawyer as saying he had divorced his wife via triple talaq – saying the Arabic word for divorce three times. Far simpler than American divorces which involve court proceedings and crippling legal fees, this form of dissolution is irrevocable in several Muslim counties.
Voevodina didn’t take kindly her marriage ending badly, as the Daily Mail reported her posting a video of the couple’s child destroying a picture of his “father.” The story went on to detail the nasty specifics of their divorce settlement disputes, and questioning the child’s paternity.
Princess Stephanie of Monaco divorced her former bodyguard after he was caught with Miss Nude Belgium
If you’re going to get caught frolicking poolside with a woman who’s not your wife, it may as well be Miss Nude Belgium. This, at least, was the logic of Daniel Ducruet, who while married to Princess Stephanie of Monaco was photographed kissing a Belgian stripper named Fili Houteman in an Italian tabloid, according to the Associated Press. The pair had met at an auto race before meeting at a villa belonging to Ducruet’s friend in the Cote d’Azur. There, an enterprising paparazzo caught their tryst on camera, and the Associated Press subsequently reported Princess Stephanie filing for divorce in October of 1996. Indeed, their royal marriage ended badly.
Or maybe the paparazzo was a little too enterprising. After getting busted with Houteman, Ducruet insisted that he’d been set up; according to the Independent, he sued the paparazzi for going too far. They were ultimately found guilty and given suspended sentences for their roles in framing the former royal, along with fines of about 5,000 pounds.
The King of Thailand fired his royal consort for "disloyalty" after she tried to promote herself to queen
When King Maha Vajiralongkorn anointed 34-year-old Sineenatra Wongvajirabhakdi his royal consort, it was the first time the title had been bestowed on anyone in almost 100 years, according to Rolling Stone. Still, her reign as consort didn’t last long, as a mere three months later she was stripped of the title. Why the quick dismissal? According to a royal statement reported by the Associated Press, the consort had allegedly tried to block Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya from being named queen, which she ultimately was in May 2019. When Sineenatra failed, the king named her consort, to help smooth things over.
Not happy with her consolation prize, the statement claimed Sineenatra “did everything to be equal to the queen,” including “making people misunderstand her position to gain profit and popularity.” The harshly public title-stripping seemed to be the end of Sineenatra, but later the king reinstated her titles. “Henceforth, it will be as if she had never been stripped of her military ranks or royal decorations,” a royal statement announced, according to CTV News.
Princess Ducky had to wait years to divorce Ernest Louis after she found him in bed with a male member of the kitchen staff
Princess Victoria Melita — or Ducky, for short — was the granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II, according to History Extra. And her marriage to Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse is one of the most bizarre and scandalous in recent royal history. The two were both grandchildren of Queen Victoria, but aside from being cousins, the marriage faced other problems. Namely, Ducky was in love with the Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, a first cousin on her other side. Also hampering the marriage was Ernest’s widely known preference for the company of men, according to Vanity Fair.
According to historian Leslie Carroll, when Ducky discovered her husband in bed with a male kitchen staffer, she knew “no boy was safe, from the stable hands to the kitchen help.” To that end, Ducky begged her grandmother to be released from the marriage. The queen told her no, and poor Ducky had to wait until 1901 when Queen Victoria finally died to get her divorce. Talk about a marriage ending badly!
Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones were both having numerous affairs
If you watched season 2 of The Crown, you’re likely familiar with the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret, and her marriage to society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. Jones seemed to have not even a fleeting interest in monogamy, as Newsweek reported he began an affair with his best friend’s wife, Camilla Fry, while he was still engaged. Fry gave birth to their daughter three weeks into the royal honeymoon. It set a difficult tone for the marriage, as Armstrong-Jones — who then had the title Lord Snowdon — had extramarital affairs as far back as 1969, according to the Evening Standard.
Princess Margaret wasn’t exactly sitting around waiting for her husband to come home the whole time either; Good Housekeeping reported her having affairs with both a nightclub pianist and a friend of Lord Snowden’s. Her most famous boyfriend, however, was Roddey Llewellyn. The 25 year old was photographed with Princess Margaret on a Caribbean vacation, according to Harper’s Bazaar. The scandalous pictures would ultimately lead to Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden’s marriage ending badly.
Why did Queen Elizabeth's oldest grandchild get divorced?
In February, Queen Elizabeth’s oldest grandchild, Peter Phillips, and his wife, Autumn Phillips, announced they were separating; the news was broadcast loudly by, who else, The Sun. The story quoted several close friends as saying Peter was “devastated” and thought that “he was in a happy marriage,” though none of those “friends” were named.
The Sun did, however, speculate that the couple’s two daughters might have dual Canadian citizenship, and since their mother is Canadian, they might return to the great white north after their parents split. “Maybe she has been influenced by Harry and Meghan’s departure,” The Sun quoted a friend as saying. “Perhaps she thought if that can happen then I can leave as well? That might be unfair on her but you have to consider it.”
However, the couple was quick to quash the rumors of impending canuck-dom, announcing in a statement that they would both continue to live in Gloucestershire and co-parent their daughters (via CTV News).
China's last emperor left the bedroom on his wedding night, and it was all downhill from there
Back when wedding nights were also the “first time,” it’s understandable a 17-year old might have some jitters. But it wasn’t that simple when Emperor Puyi ran out of his royal wedding bedroom after marrying Emrpess Wanrong, according to China Daily. As Shine later reported, it was indicative that Puyi did not love Wanrong at all.
A 1924 coup forced the imperial couple to move to Tianjin, where Wanrong became addicted to opium. She also had affairs with two of the emperor’s aides, even having a child with one of them. Shine says two legends exist about the fate of the child: either Puyi threw it into a boiler in a fit of rage, or that it was stillborn.
Either way, Wanrong slowly succumbed to mental illness as a result and died in prison in 1946. Puyi went on to marry again, but according to the 2001 book Decoding the Secrets of The Last Marriage of the Last Emperor, he may have been gay as he was unable to give his next wife a child (via South China Morning Post).
Prince Charles and Princess Diana were divorced after it came to light both were having affairs
Insofar as royal marriages ending badly, none was as publicly spectacular as that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It began as the ultimate fairytale marriage, as Lady Diana married Prince Charles at St. Paul’s Cathedral in front of an estimated 750 million viewers in 74 countries, according to the BBC, with over half a million people clogging the streets to try and watch the procession. But the fairytale didn’t last long.
By 1986, People reported that Prince Charles had begun an extra-marital affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, and by 1989, CBS News reported Princess Diana confronted Camilla about it at a party. But Princess Diana was not without her dalliances either; as The Guardian reported in 1992, her friend James Gilbey was recorded calling her “Squidgy” by alleged spies.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced in 1992. Princess Diana famously told the BBC in 1995, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Additionally, The New York Times reported Prince Charles describing the marriage, which ended badly, as “irretrievably broken down.” The divorce was finalized in 1996.
Fergie and Andrew got divorced because she was always alone…but they still remain friends
The fire-haired Sarah Ferguson became re-acquainted with Prince Andrew in 1985, when according to WomenWorking, she was invited to an event at Windsor Palace. A year later, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew married at Westminster Abbey, and much like Prince Charles and Princess Diana, it appeared to be a fairytale.
Or not. Andrew was still serving in the Royal Navy at the time, and according to a 2011 interview in Harper’s Bazaar, he was shipped out almost immediately after the marriage. “I spent my entire first pregnancy alone,” Fergie revealed. Additionally, the couple ended up spending only about 40 days together a year, and by 1992 the separation took the same toll it does on many military families.
Still, the couple has remained amicable, despite the marriage ending badly. And when Andrew was implicated in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, Fergie took up for him on social media, posting on Instagram, “Andrew is a true and real gentleman and is stoically steadfast to not only his duty but also his kindness and goodness of always seeing the best in people.”
Princess Margaret's son and his wife divorced after 26 years of marriage
February of 2020 was a rough month for the royals, as just after Peter and Autumn Phillips announced they were divorcing, the Earl and Countess of Snowdon shared that they too would be parting ways. David Armstrong-Jones — the son of Princess Margaret and nephew of Queen Elizabeth II — and his wife Serena Armstrong-Jones opted to separate amicably, according to Insider. Though he’s part of the royal family, David didn’t have much to do with royal duties; instead, he operates a furniture company called Linley.
David and Serena were married for 26 years, and didn’t offer any official reason for their marriage ending badly. “The Earl and Countess of Snowdon have amicably agreed that their marriage has come to an end and that they shall be divorced,” a spokesperson told Insider in one of the most British announcements we’ve ever read. They have two children together, according to the BBC, but similarly omitted mentioning them in the statement.
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