Who doesn’t love hearing about royal romances? On May 19, 2018, around 29 million people in the United States rose early to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle marry, according to CNN. Some fans who tuned in from the eastern time zone woke up well before dawn as to not miss a minute of the big day. In the United Kingdom alone, the royal couple’s wedding garnered about 18 million viewers. With a population that is one-fifth the size of the U.S., 18 million is a whole lot of people. The Guardian reported that the wedding was "by far the biggest television event of the year" in the U.K.
It’s true — most of us love a royal wedding. Arguably more exciting than the matrimony of a royal couple, however, is the royal romance that led up to the big day. Some were scandalous, some were — and still are — romantic, and some are just positively strange. Here’s the truth behind some of your favorite royals‘ relationships.
King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Third time’s a charm
Although King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married well before our time, many may be somewhat familiar with this royal couple’s relationship from Netflix’s royal adaptation The Crown — or from Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal in the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. Although the television series and the film are based on true stories, both are set long after King George and the Queen Mother said their vows.
In 1920, King George, who was then Prince Albert, met his future wife. According to BBC, she was an outgoing young woman and the daughter of a Scottish aristocrat. Albert was immediately interested in Bowes-Lyon, but, as The Queen Mother reveals, he wasn’t the only one vying for her attention. Still, Albert persisted. In the end, the young prince ended up proposing to her a total of three times before she would accept the invitation to become his wife and join the royal family.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip: An unlikely match
In November 2017, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip marked a milestone wedding anniversary: 70 years. Their marriage has obviously stood the test of time, which makes it hard to imagine a time when their union would’ve been considered unlikely or contested. Nevertheless, that was the case for this royal pair. According to Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life (via The Telegraph), King George agreed to allow his daughter to marry Philip — on the condition that Elizabeth wait until she turned 21. According to Mabell Airlie, lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary, the king was really just dragging his feet because he was in "secret dread" of losing "his constant companion in shooting, walking, riding — in fact everything." He also knew there were people who did not approve.
Balmoral Castle guests apparently found Philip "rather unpolished," and others didn’t approve of his progressive German education. Even the King and Queen Mother thought he was "rough, ill-mannered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful" when they first met him. Over time though, their impression — and the public’s impression — of Philip softened.
Princess Anne and Captain Timothy Laurence: Secret pen pals
In 1989, People reported on a scandal that they (correctly) speculated could end in a royal divorce. According to the publication, the British newspaper The Sun reported that it had received letters that had been stolen from the royal family. The newspaper claimed that all of the letters were addressed to Princess Anne and all were "in the same black-ink handwriting." Because the letters were believed to be stolen, The Sun turned them into the police.
Surprisingly, the newspaper stayed mum about the contents of the letters. The royal family, however, divulged most of the details. "The stolen letters were addressed to the Princess Royal by Commander Timothy Laurence, the Queen’s Equerry," the statement read (via People). "We have nothing to say about the contents of personal letters sent to Her Royal Highness by a friend which were stolen and which are the subject of a police investigation."
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson: No ‘thunderbolt’ romance
When you think of Prince Andrew and Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson’s marriage, the word "scandal" probably comes to mind. That wasn’t always the case, however.
In Ferguson’s autobiography, My Story, she reveals what the early days of her relationship with Andrew were really like. The two had reportedly met as kids and had played "childish games of tag" together. As they got older, they would often spend time in the same social circles. And, after a week at Balmoral Castle, the two eventually became close.
In her book, Ferguson said that Andrew "seemed like a very charming, gentle giant who had sprung magically from the woodwork." She continued, "Now a lamp shone into my forest, and I’d been rescued by this great-looking man with a blinding smile." Although she’d become smitten with the handsome prince, Ferguson and Andrew both admitted that their relationship wasn’t a "thunderbolt." Instead, it flourished and thrived slowly before the pair decided to marry in the summer of 1986.
Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones: Still going strong
Although divorce is frowned upon within the royal family, all but one of Queen Elizabeth’s children have obtained legal dissolutions of their marriages. The exception is Her Majesty’s youngest child, Prince Edward.
After five years of dating, Edward proposed to his girlfriend, Sophie Rhys-Jones. At that time, the prince’s fiancée was working in public relations and was from a "typical middle-class English home," per People. Rhys-Jones first met Edward at the Queen’s Tennis Club in 1993, and it wasn’t long before the two started dating. Although not a royal by blood, Rhys-Jones often vacationed with Edward and the royal family, even staying at Queen Elizabeth’s various residences.
In June 1999, the couple married in a private ceremony at St. George’s Castle — the same venue where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would wed nearly two decades later. Rhys-Jones, or the Countess of Wessex as she became known after marrying into the royal family, has even been described as the Queen’s favorite, according to Express. Quite the compliment, to be sure!
Prince Charles and Princess Diana: An unusual introduction
Prince Charles and Princess Diana‘s royal romance was, by all accounts, tragic. Rife with miscommunications, distrust, affairs, and an eventual divorce, Charles and Diana’s relationship was more or less doomed from the very beginning.
According to an archived edition of the Daily Times newspaper, Diana was just 16 years old when she first met 28-year-old Charles. At the time, he was dating Diana’s oldest sister, Sarah. Now how’s that for an introduction? Sarah, however, surprisingly seemed okay with the whole situation, even telling The Guardian, "I introduced them. I’m Cupid."
The publication also noted that the prince once recounted "what fun" Diana was upon first meeting her. "I think that Diana will keep me young, apart from anything else. I think I shall be exhausted," he joked. Diana added, "I mean, it’s only 12 years and lots of people have got married with that sort of age difference."
By the time Diana and Charles’ "infatuation developed into love" and the two became engaged, Diana was just 19. In July 1981, the two wed in a highly anticipated ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles: The eventual marriage
When Prince Charles remarried, the identity of his bride was no surprise. According to BBC, years before Charles and Diana had met, the 20-something-year-old prince met a woman by the name of Camilla Shand at a polo match in 1970. While it seemed to others that a relationship was blossoming, Charles joined the Royal Navy in 1971. Some two and a half years later, Camilla married Major Andrew Parker Bowles. Interestingly enough, her new husband was a friend of Charles’.
Despite Charles himself marrying Diana in 1981, his relationship with Camilla lingered on. By 1992, secretly recorded phone conversations between the two were released and, with it, confirmation of their affair. It wasn’t until an interview some two years later, after Diana and Charles had separated, that Charles would admit that he had been unfaithful to his wife. Still, he would not address his relationship with Camilla as anything other than her being "a great friend."
In 1995, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced, and, in 1996, Charles and Diana also officially ended their marriage. In 2001, the "great" friends shared their first public kiss. Four years later, they became engaged and, not long after, got married.
Prince William and Kate Middleton: An early meeting
Many believe that Prince William and Kate Middleton met when they were attending the same college. However, royal expert Katie Nicholl discovered the truth after speaking to some of Kate’s friends. Nicholl revealed what those friends told her when sitting down with Katie Couric, saying, "Uh-uh, she didn’t meet him at St. Andrew’s [University]. She met him before she got there while she was at school in her sixth form through some of her friends." In the U.K., "sixth form" refers to the educational institute many attend between the ages of 16 and 19.
Unlike what was previously thought, this means the royal couple actually met when they were still just teenagers. Nicholls continued on, saying that Kate’s friends "knew Prince William and Prince Harry" and that is how the introduction took place. Aww, high school sweethearts — or rather, sixth form sweethearts.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: The perfect setup
It already seems like so long ago that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married. Naturally, that means even more time has passed since the pair first met and fell in love. Thankfully, technology enables us to relive the big moment in the royal romance. In the couple’s first joint interview with BBC after announcing their engagement, Harry explained, "We were introduced by a mutual friend." Meghan added, "It was definitely a setup — it was a blind date." According to a "well-placed source," E! News has since reported the identity of the mutual friend to be Violet von Westenholz, the daughter of a baron who is close with Prince Charles.
Meghan explained that she didn’t have a firm understanding of the royal family at that time. In turn, she didn’t really know much about Harry — at all. Her concern, she revealed, was, "Well, is he nice?" After meeting, the two went for a drink and then went out for another date the next day. And, we obviously know how that worked out. We’re sure Meg has this royal family thing down pat by now.