Every family has their secrets, and the British royal family is no different. Well, except for the fact that their secrets always seem to end up publicized to the entire world, leaving their publicity teams to scramble. From an entire succession line swap to hushed bedtime calls with secret lovers, ahead, the most scandalous PR nightmares from the royal family.
Edward VIII took the throne in 1936, but renounced it a year later so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. The American socialite was a two-time divorcee and when Edward proposed, there was social and political uproar. The Church of England forbade him from marrying a divorced woman, and he was forced to abdicate the throne. This massive royal scandal changed the line of succession entirely, ultimately, pre-determining that 10-year-old Princess Elizabeth would become the future Queen of England.
As fans of The Crown know, Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson were known to have many encounters with Adolf Hitler. British intelligence had reason to believe that Simpson was handing over information to the Germans from documents that Edward VIII did not secure. The British government went to extensive measures to keep their companionship hidden, but a document published in 1957 confirmed it.
At the age of 14, Prince Charles ordered a cherry brandy at a pub in the village of Stornoway Harbor. Little did the prince know, there was a tabloid reporter in the pub who overheard him order. A seemingly innocent prince recalled in an interview for Vanity Fair, “I said the first drink that came into my head, because I’d drunk it before, when it was cold, out shooting.” The incident became a royal scandal, appearing in headlines on almost every tabloid.
After admitting to his father, Prince Charles, that he’d tried marijuana on numerous occasions and participated in underage drinking, the 17-year-old Prince Harry was sent to a drugs rehabilitation clinic for a one-day stay. An official at St. James’ Palace said it was a way “to learn about the possible consequences of starting to take cannabis.”
Prince Harry was spotted at a costume party wearing a Nazi armband. Clarence House quickly released a statement that read, “Prince Harry has apologised for any offence or embarrassment he has caused. He realises it was a poor choice of costume.”
Photos of Prince Harry show him completely naked, playing a game of strip billiards in Las Vegas. The 27-year-old prince was on a break before he was set to serve in Afghanistan for the British Army. He said after the incident, “At the end of the day I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down. But it was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince. It’s a simple case of that.”
The princess spent a lot of time with Royal Air Force Officer Captain Peter Townsend, and the two eventually fell in love. The catch? Townsend was already married. The scandal broke in 1953 when Townsend divorced his wife and immediately proposed to Princess Margaret. Sadly, the couple ended their royal engagement two years later, knowing they’d never get the fairytale ending of their dreams. This heartbreaking romance is portrayed in the Netflix series The Crown.
After her split from former lover Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret married a photographer named Antony Armstrong-Jones. In 1976 they made their official split and Buckingham Palace put out an announcement that said, "HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon have mutually agreed to live apart. The Princess will carry out her public duties and functions unaccompanied by Lord Snowdon. There are no plans for divorce proceedings.” Her very high-profile divorce became official in 1978, and she became the first (but, not the last) royal to get a divorce since King Henry VII in the 1500s.
Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, was married to Olympic equestrian Mark Phillips for nearly 20 years before they’re divorce in 1992. The royal couple’s marriage had been described as a “joyless sham.” But, what ultimately prompted their divorce was when The Sun, a British tabloid, claimed it had anonymously received letters written to the princess. The letters were not published because the paper feared they’d be sued for copyright. But it was later announced that the princess had fallen in love with her one of her equerries, Timothy Laurence, who was a British Naval officer. After announcing her divorce with Phillips, Anne added that she’d be marrying Laurence.
Her name is Felicity Tonkin. While still married to Princess Anne, Captain Mark Phillips had a one-night affair with an art teacher from New Zealand named Heather Tonkin. She became pregnant and had the baby, who is now the half-sister of Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips. It was reported that Phillips asked the woman to get an abortion.
Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who is Princess Diana’s eldest sister, is most famously known for having introduced her to Prince Charles. McCorquodale is said to have dated the prince briefly in the 70s. Their romance quickly ended when she expressed that she’d never marry Charles “if he were the dustman or the King of England.”
The “People’s Princess” said in an interview that she purposely threw herself down the stairs while four months pregnant with William, in an attempt to get Prince Charles’ attention. She had said he’d just rekindled his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, who we now know (and Diana knew) he was having an affair with.
In 1992, The Sun released the transcript of a recorded phone call between the Princess of Wales and her alleged lover, James Gilbey. She was still married to Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth at the time. In the conversation, Gilbey called Princess Diana by the pet name “squidgy” 53 times to be exact and told her he loved her. The affair was dubbed “Squidgygate” because of the nickname.
Soon after, an Australian magazine released a scandalous transcript of a conversation between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. The phone call confirmed the rumors that the Prince of Wales was romantically involved with his lifelong friend Bowles. The incident was rightfully called “Camillagate.” It also revealed many dirty jokes that were exchanged between the two, including one about Prince Charles wanting to turn into a tampon in order to “live inside” Bowles’ trousers.
In 1995, Princess Diana did an interview with Martin Bashir to discuss the pressures of being in the public eye. While she spoke about her issues with bulimia and postpartum depression, the princess also revealed that she knew about Prince Charles and Camilla’s affair, and even talked about her own love affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. The shocking interview led to their divorce in August 1996.
Two big scandals broke from the death of the princess. It was rumored that Princess Diana's death was a "planned accident" and that Prince Charles was behind it. It was also reported that her boyfriend at the time, Dodi Al Fayed was killed alongside her in the accident. Al Fayed was the son of a billionaire, and was said to be engaged to former partner Kelly Fisher at same time he was dating the princess. Fisher was wrapped in his own scandal, dealing with a lawsuit brought on by Fisher who said Al Fayed allegedly “jilted her at the altar.” She dropped the lawsuit after Princess Diana and Al Fayed’s death in 1997. It was also rumored that members of the royal family did not approve of Al Fayed and the princess’ relationship.
Sarah Ferguson (AKA Fergie) was married to Prince Andrew, Duke of York in 1986. Fergie took a vacation with an American financial advisor named John Bryan, where paparazzi captured images of him nibbling on her toes. Fergie and Andrew were divorced in May 1996 (one month before Charles and Diana!).
In 2010, a journalist went undercover as a businessman and offered Fergie £500,00 (which is about $633,000) in exchange for information about her ex-husband Prince Andrew, Duke of York. The Guardian reported that Fergie said to the reporter, “That opens up everything you would ever wish for. I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he'll look after you...you'll get it back tenfold.” The Duchess later apologized claiming she had “a serious lapse in judgement.”
Perhaps the biggest rumor among the royals is that Prince Harry has another father. While surely untrue, it was not secret that Princess Diana was having multiple affairs during her marriage to Prince Charles. She confessed in an interview with BBC that she’d been having an affair with army officer, James Hewitt, and the internet still can’t get over the resemblance of the prince to Hewitt.
The Sun ran a topless photo of Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, just months before she was to marry Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Buckingham Palace condemned the paper, calling this act “a gross invasion of privacy.” The editor, David Yelland, apologized to Sophie saying they’d never publish another picture of her.
Kate Middleton and Prince William went vacationing in Provence, France and returned to find that a photographer had taken pictures of the Duchess sunbathing topless on private property. Buckingham Palace came to her defense and said, “Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them." Criminal charges have been brought against the publication and the photographer.
The Duchess has not caught on to the Queen’s trick of sewing weights into the hemline of her dress yet...though, she might have after this incident. Us Weekly reported that a German tabloid published photos of her after the wind sent her dress flying in the air, Marilyn Monroe-style. The palace did not comment on the decision to publish the photo.
It seems that Prince William took on the rebellious royal role—instead of Harry—this year, when he was caught dancing with a model, thought to be Australian-model Sophie Taylor, at a nightclub during what was supposed to be a boys ski trip. And there is video proof of it here. Needless to say, Duchess Kate was not thrilled.
The second-born son of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Andrew, began dating American-born Kathleen “Koo” Stark in 1982. Because Stark was a soft-core porn actress, many nude and suggestive shots of her appeared in British tabloids. People reported that the Queen did not know of Stark’s acting career prior to meeting her.
In 2014, 17-year-old Virginia Roberts claimed she “was forced to have sexual relations with this prince when she was a minor in three separate geographical locations." She accused the prince and his billionaire friend, Jeffrey Epstein of keeping her as a “sex slave.” Buckingham Palace denied these allegations, and later a judge decided that all allegations against Prince Andrew be struck from court records.
Newsweek reported that HRH “invested at least $13.1 million into offshore tax-sheltered funds located in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.” This prompted party leaders and anti-monarchists to investigate into the Queen’s finances—her private funds, The Duchy of Lancaster—which led them to discover that the queen is avoiding $15 million in taxes on her $680 million duchy.
Business Insider reported that the Queen and her husband share the same bloodline and are both directly related to Queen Victoria. “While Victoria is Elizabeth's paternal great-great-grandmother, Philip is related to the monarch on his mother's side” the article reads. The European royal families have been closely related for years, but it’s expanding more than ever now that they are allowed to wed commoners.
George V and Queen Mary had a sixth son named John. Due to epileptic seizures, Prince John spent the last four years of his life living hidden away in York Cottage at the Sandringham estate. The royal family believed his seizures could not be known to the public because it would show a sign of weakness. Prince John died in the cottage at the age of 13 after a tragic seizure. He would have been Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle.
Princess Michael of Kent recently caught the media’s attention for wearing an inappropriate brooch to the Queen’s Christmas luncheon at Buckingham Palace. The piece of blackamoor jewelry fetishizes images of slavery and is considered dated and racist. People were quick to point out the offensive accessory and wondered if it had to do with the attendance of Meghan Markle, who is newly engaged to Prince Harry. Markle, who will earn the title of “Duchess of Sussex” once wed to Prince Harry, is a biracial woman. While it is unclear whether or not the princess wore the brooch intentionally, Princess Michael has since apologized for the whole situation, adding that she’s worn the brooch “many time before, without controversy.” But, unfortunately, the princess has a history of racial indiscretions.