Royal Romps: A brief history of royal affairs

A brief history of royal affairs - here: 'The Royal Skeletons Closet' by Emanuele Del Rosso (Italy) 2021
A brief history of royal affairs - here: 'The Royal Skeletons Closet' by Emanuele Del Rosso (Italy) 2021 Copyright Emanuele Del Rosso
Copyright Emanuele Del Rosso
By David Mouriquand
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When fairy-tale weddings reveal badly-behaved royals. Before the coronation this weekend, Euronews Culture explores the modern history of royal romantic scandals and affairs.


Throughout British history, members of the royal family have had liaisons and been embroiled in a flurry of scandals.

Historically, royal marriages have often been political arrangements, with royal families marrying off sons and daughters to strengthen ties and influence. And weaken bloodlines.

One common denominator has emerged over the centuries: Infidelity seems to run in the family for the British royals, and the Firm has tried its best to scrub certain stories from existence.

This particular public soap opera is far from an uplifting one. However, for better or worse - considering their symbiotic relationship with the British press, who feeds off gossip but allows for the royals to get favourable coverage in return - these romantic scandals keep members of the monarchy in the public eye at all times.

In the show The Crown – a fictional take on history though it may be – there is a scene which resumes things quite neatly. The scene in question sees Prince Philip talk to Diana: “You can make whatever arrangements you need to find your own happiness. As long as you remember the one condition: you remain loyal to your husband and loyal to this family in public.”

Royal marriages are a public commitment, akin to arranged marriages which better suit the Firm. And happiness seems to have little to do with it. Philip himself was rumoured to have been linked to various women during his marriage to the late Queen Elizabeth II, including actress Patricia Kirkwood and author Daphné du Maurier.

As there are entire books to be filled with their escapades, we’ll bypass Henry VIII and his panoply of mistresses and wives, Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, the controversial royal liaison which led to a constitutional crisis (Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson) or even Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend. 

We’re cutting straight to more recent dirty linen.

Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips

Getty Images
Princess Anne and Captain Mark PhillipsGetty Images

Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, didn’t have the greatest marriage with Captain Mark Phillips.

The pair wed in 1973 and seemed to lead two separate lives. In 1985, Phillips fathered a child, Felicity, with a New Zealand art teacher named Heather Tonkin. A DNA test conducted in 1991 confirmed that Felicity was Phillips’ daughter. 

They officially divorced in 1992 and Princess Anne got remarried that same year to Timothy Laurence, her current husband.

Prince Andrew and Koo Stark

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Prince Andrew and Koo StarkGetty Images

The late Queen Elizabeth II’s second – and reported favourite – son Prince Andrew has been at the centre of many controversies over the years, most notably in recent times over his ties with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as accusations of sexually assaulting then-minor Virginia Giuffre – which lead to a car-crash interview, an out of court settlement, and the Queen stripping him of all royal duties

Then there’s the allegations that the Duke of York received "significant sums" from a London-based Turkish businessman, the city of York unanimously voting to strip him of his honorary “freedom of the city” title… The list goes on. 

Prince Andrew is what journalist Eddie Mair would call “a nasty piece of work”.

Wind the clocks back and he was dating an American actress in the ‘80s. Her name was Koo Stark, best known for her role in the 1976 erotic film Emily. The relationship was criticized because an actress was not seen as royal material. Their relationship fizzled out due to media pressures, and Prince Andrew married Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson in 1986 – a marriage plagued by rumours of infidelity on both parts, especially since Andrew’s duties as a naval officer kept him away from home for prolonged periods of time. 

According to Ferguson, the couple saw each other 40 days a year in the first five years of their marriage.

Speaking of which…

Sarah Ferguson and John Bryan

The infamous snap of John Bryan kissing / sucking on Sarah Ferguson’s toesAlpha

By 1991, the marriage between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson was in trouble.


Her friendship with Texan multimillionaire Steve Wyatt gained much publicity when photographs appeared in newspapers in January 1992. The Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation on 19 March 1992.

Fresh from the separation, Ferguson saw more photos of her leaked in the press. The pictures, published in The Daily Mirror, showed American businessman John Bryan kissing / sucking on her toes while she sunbathed topless.

The backlash was swift and the British public felt that Ferguson should be stripped of her title post-divorce. She has frequently been subject to mockery in the British tabloid press, who have never forgotten the scandal.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-BowlesShutterstock

We've come to the big one.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married on 29 July 1981 and the couple would go on to share a tumultuous 15 years together. The union was one marred by jealousy (Diana told BBC reporter Martin Bashir in the now-infamous 1995 Panorama interview) that Charles resented the attention she received from the public) and the presence of a third party in the marriage didn't help things. 


In the same interview, Diana confirmed that “there were three of us in this marriage – so it was a bit crowded” - a reference to Camilla Parker-Bowles.

In 1986, Charles began having an affair with Parker-Bowles, something which he later confirmed in his authorized biography, 'The Prince of Wales', as well as in 1994 in an interview with ITN. This affair carried on and in 1992, a private phone conversation between Charles and Parker-Bowles leaked all over British tabloids.

"Oh, God. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier,” Charles can be heard saying in the tapes. "What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?" Camilla responds. "Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck,” he said.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, royal biographer Anthony Holden noted that the intercepted phone call ''persuaded most of the nation that the heir to the throne, the would-be Defender of the Faith, was a lavatory-minded adulterer."

The controversy was dubbed “Camillagate” and led Charles to become a laughingstock. He and Diana separated in 1992. Then Prime Minister John Major announced they would be going their separate ways (as you do), also noting that their split would have "no constitutional implications." They divorced in 1996, one year before Diana’s death.


Princess Diana and James Gilbey / James Hewitt

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James Gilbey (left), Princess Diana (centre), James Hewitt (right)Getty Images

Diana was not completely free of rumours in her relationship with Charles.

The scandal the media dubbed “Squidgygate” in the early ‘90s saw British intelligence allegedly recording Diana and her secret lover, James Gilbey, in several phone calls. Gilbey affectionately referred to Diana as “Squidgy” more than 50 times during one conversation. The tapes were sold to British tabloid The Sun and later published in The National Enquirer in the US in 1992.

In the aforementioned 1995 Panorama interview, Diana also admitted to an affair with British army officer James Hewitt during her marriage to Prince Charles.

“He was a great friend of mine at a very difficult, yet another difficult time, and he was always there to support me,” Diana said. When asked if the relationship had gone beyond a close friendship, the princess responded: “Yes it did, yes.”

Hewitt claimed their romance began around 1986 and when these revelations came to light, many focused on Hewitt’s red hair, leading to incessant rumours that Hewitt was Harry’s real father.


Following the divorce from Charles, Diana seemingly started dating Egyptian film producer Dodi Al Fayed, the son of billionaire Harrods businessman Mohamed Al Fayed. Both were killed on 31 August 1997 after a high-speed car crash in Paris.

Prince William and Kate Middleton

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Prince William and Kate MiddletonChris Jackson / Getty Images

Some say they fell in love at St Andrews university, after William saw Kate during a fashion show. However, many have speculated that Kate went St Andrews to effectively campaign for the role of the royal girlfriend and future wife. She was repeatedly dubbed ‘Waity Katy’ in the tabloids because she was seen as wanting to tighten her grip on the Prince and bide her time for the romance to become official.

Several rumours have circulated about William’s infidelities over the years, most notably with Rose Hanbury – a friend of Middleton’s. He allegedly spent 2023 Valentine’s Day with his mistress, even if no hard evidence appears within the rumour mill has been fuelling tabloids in the UK. 

Many have stated that William’s extramarital affairs are a known fact, and things escalated when a Deuxmoi article that revealed that the affairs are an open secret in London and that Kate doesn’t mind her husband having affairs “as long as things don’t become emotional”.

The Deuxmoi post - 2022Deuxmoi

Coupled with the continued rumours that William has a love of pegging (ask your parents) – which lead to the hashtag #PrinceOfPegging – it seems like the marriage between the pair is far from the happiest.


There has been further speculation that the source of the rift between Princes Harry and William originates because of the younger brother’s disapproval of his sibling’s affairs, given how similar the liaisons seem when taking into consideration Charles’ indiscretions. One line in the Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan added fuel to the fire, when the alienated Harry stated: “We were happy to lie to protect my brother” – a throwaway line which many interpreted as something of a smoking gun.

In many respects, Harry and Megan seem to buck the unhappy marriage trend in the royal family, as they appear to have married for love. And if you’re looking for some giggles (even if the show on the whole isn’t all that great), the HBO Max cartoon series The Prince imagines that the William-Kate couple can’t stand each other.

Confirmed or rumoured, truth or hearsay, many don’t seem to care when it comes to royal romps.

More often than not, any kind of misinformation is embraced by royal columnists and tabloids to sell more papers and accumulate the clicks. What is certain, however, is that marriages in the British Royal Family seldom seem to rhyme with martial bliss.

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