They Lived Happily Un-Ever After: A Look at the Royal Divorces That Shook the British Monarchy to Its Foundation

princess diana
Source: MEGA

Princes Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981.

Jan. 1 2024, Published 2:00 p.m. ET

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Divorce was a no-no in British royal circles for centuries. As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch was expected to be the defender of the faith, and that faith prohibited remarriage after divorce if a person's ex-spouse was still living.

But as the monarchy modernized, so did the church: In 2002, it decreed that divorcees could remarry in church — a change that allowed King Charles and Queen Camilla to wed in 2005, and later Prince Harry to marry divorcée Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel in 2018. Still, the failed unions of numerous royals throughout the Crown's long history have provided it with some of its most salacious scandals.

Here's what went wrong.

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king henry vii and anne boleyn first meeting
Source: MEGA

A portrait depicting the first meeting of King Henry VIII and Lady Anne Boleyn.

It all began when King Henry VIII decided he wanted to divorce Queen Catherine way back in 1533. The ruthless ruler was smitten with Lady Anne Boleyn, but since the monarchy was still under the spiritual authority of the Roman Catholic Church, divorcing Catherine of Aragon was out of the question.

So what did Henry do? He broke with Rome, of course, and established his very own church with himself as its Supreme Governor. After marrying Anne later that year, their union was to be short-lived as the King accused his second wife of adultery and had her executed in 1536.

The real reason he did away with the doomed consort, however, is believed to have been his dissatisfaction with Queen Anne not giving birth to a male heir to the throne. Their daughter would later become the legendary Queen Elizabeth I.

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diana
Source: MEGA

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, divorced on August 28, 1996.

She was a fairy-tale princess in her billowing white gown at their July 29, 1981, wedding at St Paul's Cathedral. A fresh-faced 20-year-old, Diana was 13 years younger than her perennial bachelor groom. Millions around the world watched the royal vows, but one guest inside the cathedral was especially noteworthy: Charles' longtime love, ex-girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles.

Soon after the nuptials, Diana realized Charles still had feelings for Camilla. "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," she later said. In the end, both were unfaithful during the 14-year marriage that brought them two sons, William and Harry — "an heir and a spare" — but they stayed together because, according to Diana, they "didn't want to disappoint the public."

They finally split in 1992, after both Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, failed to broker a reconciliation during a secret meeting at the palace. After their 1996 divorce, Diana focused on her charitable work but died just a year later in a tragic car crash in Paris. Charles, free to marry his longtime love, wed Camilla in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005. His parents did not attend.

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princess anne
Source: MEGA

The wedding of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1973.

Elizabeth's daughter, Princess Anne, wed fellow equestrian Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in 1973, five years after they met at a party for horse lovers. In an unusual move, commoner Phillips refused the earldom offered by the queen upon his marriage, and their children, Peter and Zara, were not given courtesy titles. By 1989, the couple, who had virtually disappeared from the public eye, announced their intention to separate.

Initially, the exes had no plans to divorce, but in 1992 — the same year Charles and Diana officially split — they ended the marriage. Shortly thereafter, on December 12, 1992, Anne wed Timothy Laurence, an equerry to the queen, at Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Unlike the Church of England, the Church of Scotland did not object to the remarriage of divorced people with living ex-spouses. She became the first divorced royal to remarry since 1905.

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princess margaret
Source: MEGA

Princess Margaret's wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960; the pair divorced in 1978.

Source: TRO
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