A Closer Look at Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana's Complicated Relationship

Her Majesty and the Princess of Wales didn't always see eye to eye.

There's no question that people around the world still greatly miss Princess Diana (opens in new tab)–including her former mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth II (opens in new tab). But just like with so many families, Diana and Her Majesty didn't always get along. Their relationship was tested many times over the years, most notably when they learned of Prince Charles's longtime affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (opens in new tab).

But despite all of that, it's clear that the Queen still deeply appreciated the work Diana did (opens in new tab) for the British throne and greater world. Here, we take a look back at Diana's bond with Her Majesty from the time Charles first introduced her to his mom, up until the Princess of Wales's tragic death in 1997.

It was a tough situation from day one.

Princess Diana — who was known as Lady Diana Spencer at the time — had gone on only about a dozen dates (opens in new tab) with Charles before their engagement was announced in 1981. The two met back in 1977 (opens in new tab) when Diana was just 16 years old and Charles was 29. As the heir to the throne approached 30, pressure was mounting on him to find someone to settle down with permanently. Lady Diana Spencer seemed like a good fit (opens in new tab).

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And so, because Diana seemed like a solid match for the future king, the Queen accepted the arrangement. A 2001 Reader's Digest  (opens in new tab)article claims that the Queen expected her future-daughter-in-law — one who came from an aristocratic background — to somewhat understand what royal life entailed. The pressures of becoming royalty, however, ended up being a burden to Diana. After the two got married, Diana penned a letter in 1991 (opens in new tab) detailing how she felt "extremely isolated" and the royal family "continuously misunderstood" her.

Seeing as it was difficult for Diana, the Queen was reportedly (opens in new tab) sympathetic to her. But all of that changed as time marched on.

Diana's brutal honesty challenged the monarchy.

By the early 1990s, the People's Princess had broken royal protocol (opens in new tab) a few times already. For instance, she had picked her engagement ring (opens in new tab) from a catalog (unlike most of the royals) instead of having it custom made and refused to say she'd "obey" Charles during their wedding vows. Everything from her style choices to her charitable work (opens in new tab) continued to prove that she was a bit of a regal rebel.

Inside Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana's Very Complicated Relationship

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But what really tested the Queen and Diana's bond was the 1992 publication of Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story (opens in new tab). In it, Diana collaborated with the royal biographer and got her friends and family to talk candidly about her troubled marriage with Charles, life inside the House of Windsor, and even touching on her relationship with the Queen.

Even though Diana's participation with the book  (opens in new tab)wasn't confirmed until after her death in 1997, the damage had already been done. The Queen was allegedly (opens in new tab) "stunned" by what was written and that her daughter-in-law would air her "dirty linen in such a way." But as Diana later admitted (opens in new tab), she felt "desperate" and as if she was "at the end of her tether."

In the documentary  (opens in new tab)Diana: In Her Own Words (opens in new tab), the Princess claimed she had sought help from the Queen in 1986 because she believed "her marriage was loveless." But, according to Diana, the Queen was less than sympathetic.

"I went to the top lady and said: ‘I don’t know what I should do.' She said: ‘I don’t know what you should do.’ And that was it. That was ‘help.'”

Of course, all of this is not to say that the Queen wasn't equally upset with Charles's cheating. In fact, Pop Sugar (opens in new tab) reports that the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, took it upon themselves to give both of them "an intervention of sorts."

Meanwhile though, Diana continued talking to the press (opens in new tab). In 1995, she gave another extremely revealing interview to the BBC (opens in new tab) detailing her relationship with the crown and dealing with Charles. She also admitted in it to "allowing her close friends" to speak to Andrew Morton for his controversial book. All of this undoubtedly created more distance between Diana and the Queen.

Charles and Diana's divorce complicated things more.

After it was clear that Diana and Charles were drifting further and further apart, the Queen wrote a letter to Princess Di specifically advising the couple to get divorced.

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According to Paul Burrell (opens in new tab), Diana's former butler, Her Majesty had consulted with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the prime minister, and Charles himself, and they had collectively "decided the best course for her [Diana] was divorce." He claimed that Diana was not happy about the memo and found it to be "rich" that they got to decide whether she divorced her husband or not.

In August 1996 though, the two did officially divorce. When all was settled, Diana was stripped of her "Royal Highness" title. The New York Times (opens in new tab) reports that the Queen was ready to allow Diana to keep the honorific, but Charles was especially keen on her giving it up.

After Diana's death and beyond.

When Diana tragically died on August 31, 1997, the entire world mourned her loss. But as many publications (opens in new tab) have pointed out, the public slammed Queen Elizabeth for the way she handled the tragedy. Specifically, Her Majesty was criticized for what some believed was a "failure to capture the mood" (opens in new tab) of the country in her address to the nation, despite offering heartfelt words about the People's Princess:

I want to pay tribute to Diana myself. She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and in bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her — for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys.

But all the backlash from her speech aside, an unearthed letter (opens in new tab) from six days after Diana's passing shows a much deeper look into the genuine emotions Elizabeth was feeling at the time. Judging by her words, she seemed to have a real sense of respect and admiration for her late daughter-in-law, even though the two went through some rather turbulent years together.

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"It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country," the Queen wrote. "But the public reaction to her death, and the service in the Abbey, seem to have united people round the world in a rather inspiring way."

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Kayla Keegan

Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. She is the go-to TV consultant for the brand when it comes to shows like The Masked SingerThis Is Us, and America's Got Talent. Prior to joining the team, she worked at House BeautifulRedbookCosmopolitan and Seventeen.