Sarah, Duchess of York's Royal Family Drama Explained

Let's start with the toe-sucking, shall we?

Sarah, Duchess Of York With Prince Andrew
(Image credit: Tim Graham)

Sarah Ferguson became Sarah, Duchess of York, on July 23, 1986, when she married Queen Elizabeth's third child, Prince Andrew. Most people don't know that Princess Diana actually introduced Prince Andrew and Fergie (as she was often called), her brother-in-law and fourth cousin, respectively. (Yes, plot twist, Diana and Fergie were related.) But their bliss was short-lived. Ever since Sarah and Andrew announced their divorce plans in 1992, there has been some a lot of drama between her and other members of the royal family, including the Queen.

Naturally, the Duchess of York will be at her daughter Princess Eugenie's wedding on October 12 when she marries Jack Brooksbank—and nothing sheds a light on family dysfunction quite like a wedding. Behold: a handy beginner's guide to Sarah Ferguson's complicated relationship with the main players in the royal family.

1.Prince Andrew

sarah the duchess of york

(Image credit: PA Images)

"Let's go back, back to the beginning..." 🎶 After all, the Duchess of York wouldn't be the Duchess of York if she didn't marry Prince Andrew, the Queen's third child, in 1986. The couple have two kids together, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and a lot has happened since the couple said, "I do."

What you need to know: Andrew proposed to Sarah very shortly after they started dating, but they'd known each other since they were children. (They reconnected through Princess Diana after she invited Fergie to the Palace.) Marital problems started a year after Eugenie was born, reportedly due to Andrew's extensive time away from home while in the navy. (There was also some speculation about infidelity on Fergie's behalf, though that's unconfirmed.) What is confirmed, however, is what happened next: some public toe-sucking.

Even though they were technically on a break, Fergie was spotted with her toes in the mouth of financial advisor John Bryan while lounging in a bathing suit. Paparazzi spotted them, and, well, you can probably figure out what happened next...

Relationship status: Consciously uncoupled.

Sarah and Andrew have maintained a close friendship, and frequently vacationed together as a family throughout the years. (They reportedly even still live together.) Sarah often attends royal events, sometimes representing him, and there's no sign of awkwardness—even after a 2010 incident when she was caught on tape offering access to Prince Andrew for money. Fergie admitted in 2007 that she didn't really want to go through with the divorce, which was finalized in 1996.

2.The Queen

sarah the duchess of york

(Image credit: Tim Graham)

Considering the Queen had to put out the fire (read: toe-sucking scandal) and issue a statement to the public, it wasn't the proudest mother-in-law moment...or royal family moment, for that matter.

What you need to know: Before the affair, QE2 had encouraged Andrew and Fergie to stay together before they announced their separation in March 1992. But after the incident became public in August of that year, the Queen basically forced Andrew and Sarah to divorce. Invitations to holidays at Sandringham stopped coming for Fergie. Despite this, she only wanted the Queen's friendship at the end of the day, according to a Harper's BAZAAR interview:

"The queen and I always got on well, still do; I uphold everything Her Majesty represents, has given up her life for. When I met with Her Majesty about [the divorce], she asked, 'What do you require, Sarah?' and I said, 'Your friendship,' which I think amazed her because everyone said I would demand a big settlement," she explained. "But I wanted to be able to say, 'Her Majesty is my friend'—not fight her nor have lawyers saying, 'Look, she is greedy.' I left my marriage knowing I'd have to work. I have."

Relationship status: Forgiven, but not forgotten.

They still attend many of the same events and are always friendly towards each other, as Sarah pointed out. (The Queen even invites her to her box at the Royal Ascot.) Their relationship, however, will probably never be fully rebuilt after the public scrutiny and humiliation the royal family faced following Fergie's tabloid scandal. The Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, perhaps was the most savage of all. More on that here.

3.Prince Philip 

sarah the duchess of york

(Image credit: Tim Graham)

Don't mess with the royals.

What you need to know: Philip and Fergie do their best to hide their unfriendly relationship after he called her a "royal embarrassment" and "having no point."

Relationship status: Still feuding.

There are reports that Philip won't even be seen in the same room as Fergie (way harsh, Tai). If that's true, he won't be in Princess Eugenie's family wedding portrait. He's even reportedly going to decide "the morning of" his granddaughter's wedding if he'll make it to Windsor Castle at all. The pair had no contact at Harry and Meghan's wedding in May and Fergie sat a row behind Philip so she wouldn't be in his view.

4.Princess Diana 

sarah the duchess of york

(Image credit: Tim Graham)

Friends, not friends, friends, not friends...

What you need to know: Diana and Sarah had a sisterly bond growing up, and often fought like them. They were very competitive—both trying to prove themselves to the royal family as non-royals—and would often go periods without talking. However, they became extra close after they both split from their husbands, according to Town & Country, and even took their children on vacations together. (FYI, William didn't invite his ex-aunt to his wedding, but Harry did. Make of it what you will.) The good vibes changed about a year before Diana's death, though Sarah claims to not know why.

Relationship status: Heartbroken.

The Duchess of York "really misses" Diana. "I loved her so much," she told BAZAAR. "Diana was one of the quickest wits I knew; nobody made me laugh like her. But because we were like siblings—actually, we were fourth cousins and our mothers, who went to school together, were also best friends—we rowed. And the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn't spoken for a year, though I never knew the reason, except that once Diana got something in her head...I tried, wrote letters, thinking whatever happened didn't matter, let's sort it out. And I knew she'd come back. In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, 'Where's that Red? I want to talk to her.'"

5.Prince Charles 

sarah the duchess of york

(Image credit: Tim Graham)

It was great...until it wasn't.

What you need to know: There was once a time when Charles and Fergie got along very well (as you can see in this picture where Fergie is kissing Charles happily on the cheek). That immediately changed after the scandal. 

Relationship status: It's complicated.

Charles snubbed Fergie of an invite to Harry and Meghan's evening wedding reception. Clearly he still holds a grudge about the toe-sucking incident and reportedly "just can’t see why she is still such a big part of his brother’s life." Royals, gotta love 'em.

Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.