With money, titles, media scrutiny, and seemingly unlimited power comes...a lot of drama, turns out. It's hard to understate how many royal scandals have taken place since we've had monarchies (frankly, it's hard to create a list of just 32), and many have become legendary. Obviously, there's a bit of recency bias (plenty of people remember where they were when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave their bombshell Oprah interview), but there are scandals on here where people were kidnapped or literally killed. Also worth noting: There are many, many royal scandals throughout history. These are the ones that captured public interest in a way that hadn't happened before, which is why there are a lot of modern ones. The advent of online news and social media has super-charged the way we report on the royals, and (as you'll see) there are direct connections to some of our biggest scandals.
Below, the 32 biggest royal scandals ever.
Prince Rainier Of Monaco And Grace Kelly
Kelly was extremely young when she married Prince Rainier Of Monaco (quitting Hollywood in the process), and there were a number of reports that even though she was interested in acting after her marriage, Rainier (allegedly) put the kibosh on it.
Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi
There was some chatter after Princess Beatrice got engaged to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi because he had a child and was previously engaged to his ex (they share custody). But (like others who have married into the royal family) this didn't preclude the relationship.
Lady Susan Hussey
The Queen's lady in waiting and close friend, Lady Susan Hussey, resigned in 2022; To quote The Telegraph, she had been accused "of 'interrogating' a Buckingham Palace guest [Ngozi Fulani, a charity founder] about where she was 'really' from."
In the 1960s, Prince Bernhard had apparently accepted a more than $1 million bribe from Lockheed (one of a series of bribes they'd made) to ensure their fighter jet was selected for a purchase contract. He denied the claims but admitted it in interviews published after his death.
The “Annus Horribilis”
The Latin phrase for "terrible year" was popularized by Queen Elizabeth in 1992 in a public speech (three of her children were experiencing very public marital problems, and there had been an intense fire at Windsor Castle). It was an extremely rare admittance of the scrutiny and backlash the monarchy was facing.
Beloved mistress of King Leopold II of Belgium, Lacroix became an exceptionally wealthy woman during the king's life, and he gave her even more assets after his death—to the exclusion of his legitimate daughters. The two even married (in a non-legal ceremony) before he died.
Princess Michael of Kent
With a father who was reportedly a Nazi party member, and after numerous problematic statements, Princess Michael of Kent had her most intense controversy when wore a "racially tinged blackamoor brooch" (per People) on the day Meghan Markle was introduced to the royal family.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips
It was pretty obvious that Princess Anne and Mark Phillips had a rocky relationship (not appearing together often, with rumored affairs on both sides), but all of this came to a head after Phillips fathered a child out of wedlock.
Princess Delphine of Belgium
Delphine's biological father is King Albert II of Belgium (the product of a long relationship with a Belgian noblewoman), but Albert and the palace repeatedly denied this—it took a paternity test that was released in 2020 before she was officially acknowledged.
King Gustav V
In the 1930s, Stockholm restauranteur Kurt Haijby had a secret affair with Gustav (during a time in which homosexuality was illegal). Hajiby was later deported and convicted (in what would later be deemed a miscarriage of justice) for blackmailing the royal.
The Affair of the Diamond Necklace
The Affair of the Diamond Necklace is long and complex (and if you care about scandals, worth a read). But the gist is that conwoman Jeanne de Valois basically catfished a prominent bishop into buying a multi-million dollar necklace under the guise of being given to Marie Antoinette (de Valois then sold it and pocketed the money). It was a wild scandal, de Valois was convicted, and the French people began to lose faith in the monarchy.
Thomas and Samantha Markle
Meghan Markle's father and half-sister have been the subject of considerable controversy (making negative statements to the press; Thomas appeared in staged paparazzi photos; Samantha has written a book), but the most egregious may have been when Thomas publicly shared a private letter from Meghan in which she wrote, "Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces."
Sarah, Duchess of York
In 2010, Fergie apologized publicly, saying her financial situation was "under stress," after she coordinated with an undercover journalist posing as a businessman to give access to Prince Andrew to the tune of about 500,000 pounds.
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Haya bint Hussein
After a very public, very messy divorce (Princess Haya fled Dubai in 2019 saying she feared for her life, and the court case that resulted was described as a "campaign of fear, intimidation and harassment"), Sheikh Mohammed was ordered to pay £554 million in a settlement, and he lost legal responsibility for their two children, according to Tatler.
Prince Harry's Halloween Costume
If you're unfamiliar, Prince Harry showed up to a costume party in 2005 dressed...as a Nazi. Photos leaked to the press, and it was a huge scandal. Later, Harry spoke more about the incident, talking about the party's theme (“natives and colonials") and calling it the "biggest mistake" of his life.
Before her marriage, Princess Sofia was a commercial model and a contestant on reality TV (including posing for what the press referred to as a "lad mag")—but the true scandal is how much the press utilized this information to be critical of her.
Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend
If you haven't watched season 1 of The Crown, a brief refresher: Princess Margaret fell in love with a divorced man (Peter Townsend), but the Church of England and parliament opposed the match because of his marital status. If she married him, she would be stripped of royal titles, so she gave up the match.
Prince Philip made numerous comments that would be deemed controversial, particularly to an indiginous Australian, saying, “Do you still throw spears at each other?” to a British exchange student in China, saying, "By the time you go back home you’ll have slitty eyes," and to a Scottish driving instructor, saying, "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”
King Juan Carlos of Spain
Popular ruler King Juan Carlos came under mounting scrutiny beginning with an elephant-hunting trip, which led to his abdication in 2014 and ultimately corruption allegations, including an almost $100 million "gift" from the King of Saudi Arabia. Juan Carlos self-exiled to the UAE but subsequently traveled to Spain regularly.
Wedding of Princess Charlene and Prince Albert II of Monaco
There were unverified reports that, prior to her wedding to Prince Albert, Princess Charlene tried to escape Monaco in three separate instances (the Palace said this was untrue). During the ceremony, Charlene was photographed weeping.
The Affair of the Poisons
If you haven't read up on this French scandal, be prepared to waste an entire afternoon on research: After a member of the French royalty was executed for poisoning family members (and allegedly testing out poisons on sick people in the hospital), investigators turned up a bunch of poison-makers—and one of the people buying these poisons was the King's mistress.
Princess Anne's Attempted Kidnapping
In 1974, Princess Anne was being taken home from an event when a mentally ill man stopped the car, shot several people, and unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap her. (A just a few years later, in 1982, a man scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace and entered the Queen's bedroom; Needless to say, royal security protocols were changed.)
The Mayerling Incident
In an event that would shock and captivate the public, Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, and baroness Mary Vetsera (his lover) were found dead. While there was initially a coverup, the official verdict was a murder-suicide pact, although it's still not entirely certain exactly what happened.
Queen Elizabeth I
Much was made about whether "the Virgin Queen" was actually a virgin, either before or after her rise to power (specifically related to questions of succession). The Queen used the moniker to state that she was "married" to the country of England—but people challenged her claim publicly.
Harry and Meghan "Stepping Back"
In a sudden, unexpected move that took everyone (including, apparently, the Queen) by surprise, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they'd be "stepping back" from senior royal duties in 2020. Immediately, it meant chaos for the royal family.
Diana and Charles Publicly Divorcing
The marriage between then-Princes Charles and Princess Diana had been crumbling for a while, but the way it played out so publicly in the press in the 1980s and 90s—on-camera interviews, a book, confessions of infidelity, a revenge dress—were stranger than fiction.
Charles' Phone Conversations
One of the wildest moments from Prince Charles and Princess Diana's ongoing divorce was the details of Charles and lover Camilla Parker-Bowles's intercepted private phone calls, in which Charles said he would like to “live inside [her] trousers” and laughingly saying he'd be reincarnated as a tampon. Oof.
The 'News of the World' Phone Hacking Scandal
From 2005 to 2007, the former publication News of the World hacked the phones of celebrities, royals, murder victims, and others—after a story was published about Prince William, it was determined that the information could only have come from his phone records.
Many, many insights were gleaned from Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah, but perhaps the most damning was Meghan's admittance that members of the Royal Family had inquired "how dark [their son Archie's] skin might be when he's born.”
Prince Andrew formally retreated from public life and was stripped of military roles and royal patronages after his name appeared in court documents related to a very public, very horrifying sex trafficking case (and lawyers demanded he testify).
King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Drama that literally led to an abdication! King Edward was not allowed to marry Wallis Simpson, who was twice divorced, so in 1936 he gave up the crown to wed "the woman I love." It led to a constitutional crisis. Separate issue: He and Simpson were rumored to be Nazi sympathizers.
This guy. Separated from the Catholic Church to marry his second wife (which led to his excommunication). Killed two of his six wives (including that second one). Also killed a whole bunch of other people, including his closest advisor. Spent money and ate wildly, and had a jousting accident that helped cause his death at 55!
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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.
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