Inside Princess Anne's Marriage

While watching Queen Elizabeth's funeral events unfold in September 2022, keen-eyed royal watchers were fortunate enough to catch glimpses of many of the lesser-known Windsor family members. Alongside well-known faces like King Charles, Queen Consort Camilla, Princes William and Harry, and their wives Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle were folks like David Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowdon, Lady Sarah Chatto, and Prince Michael of Kent. Another unfamiliar but important face was that of Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, Princess Anne's husband.

Sir Laurence often accompanies his wife to official appearances, but few people know much about him, even though the pair have been married for more than 30 years. The retired naval officer did not receive royal peerage following his wedding to the princess. He isn't a working royal, which means he isn't obligated to have the same level of visibility and openness as his wife. Those distinctions, combined with the fact that the Windsor family rarely gives interviews, means that even the most obsessive royal watchers likely know very little about Sir Timothy Laurence and Princess Anne's marriage.

So today, we're pulling back the curtain, giving you an inside look at one of the longest-lasting royal marriages of all time. From how the couple first met to their shared hobbies, we're spilling all the dirt on this scandal-packed union.

How Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence met

Princess Anne first met Sir Timothy Laurence in 1986. The naval officer had joined Queen Elizabeth's entourage as an equerry, or a personal assistant. He was frequently seen at the queen's side and was often given choice assignments, like escorting Princess Diana to official events when Prince Charles was unavailable or accompanying the queen to diplomatic meetings.

Laurence and Princess Anne seem to have hit it off immediately. According to People, one of Laurence's friends said in 1989, "Tim never stopped thinking about Princess Anne from soon after their first meeting." And their relationship developed fairly quickly. The same source said, "Obviously, Tim and the princess were physically attracted to each other, but their friendship goes deeper than that. Tim has filled a loneliness in her life and given her a shoulder to cry on when she needed someone to tell her troubles to. He understands her tantrums and the bad publicity she attracts. But most of all, he cares for her in the way her husband does not."

That's right... her husband. See, Princess Anne was already married. It was common knowledge that things between the royal and her first husband, Mark Phillips, hadn't been going well for quite some time, but becoming involved with another man without first obtaining a divorce was entirely out of the question, given her status. At first, the new lovebirds kept their budding romance completely under wraps.

A rocky start

In April 1989, British tabloid paper The Sun claimed they had in their possession a series of stolen love letters written by a mysterious author and addressed to Princess Anne (via AP News). While the outlet didn't expose the details of the letters (probably because they feared a lawsuit), the simple claim that they had them was enough to start the rumor mill churning.

The public's curiosity about who wrote the letters, and what exactly they said, grew to such heights that Buckingham Palace itself was finally forced to go on the record about the situation. Their statement, as reported by People, read, "The stolen letters were addressed to the Princess Royal by Commander Timothy Laurence, the Queen's Equerry. We have nothing to say about the contents of personal letters sent to Her Royal Highness by a friend which were stolen and which are the subject of a police investigation."

Anonymous "sources," on the other hand, had no qualms about discussing the missives. According to one individual who spoke to People, "The contents are not raunchy and do not suggest any intimacy, but they are written in affectionate terms." Another insider reported essentially the same thing, saying, "It's quite clear that he is potty about her. But [the letters] are very boring and ramble on." This, undoubtedly, was not the public announcement of their love the couple had imagined. But once the existence of their affair was made public, they were more or less free to pursue it — behind closed doors, of course — while Anne worked on ending her marriage to Mark Phillips.

A quiet courtship

Months after Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence's love letters made headlines, the royal announced that she was separating from her first husband in September 1989 (via People). While the pair wouldn't officially file for divorce for over two more years (in order to avoid having to plead their case publicly in front of a judge), Anne and Sir Laurence wasted no time, diving into a full-blown relationship almost immediately.

People reported that it was Laurence, and not Mark Phillips, who was by Anne's side at Balmoral Castle as she celebrated her 39th birthday. A few years later, per People, she and Laurence were again spotted in public when they made their official debut at the Royal Caledonian Ball, supposedly the world's oldest charity ball. To onlookers, it appeared that the relationship was thriving and that Anne and Laurence were getting more and more serious about one another. That being said, the couple didn't give outsiders much to work with.

Given the drama and scandal that surrounded the start of their relationship, it's not all that surprising that Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence chose to keep the bulk of their courtship quiet. While insiders often spilled to the press that the royal and her beau remained in close contact, the pair rarely stepped out together. It wasn't until the princess was legally free, and things with Laurence progressed to the next level, that the two appeared to be more comfortable sharing their love with the public.

A unique engagement

Six years after they met and three years after their affair made headlines, Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence announced their engagement. A spokesman for the palace shared the news with the press in December 1992, saying, "Due to the level of speculation about the matter, we decided to confirm that the princess royal and Commander Laurence are planning to marry. But I cannot say where and when" (via UPI). The impending marriage marked the first time anyone in the direct line of succession — a monarch's son, daughter, or sibling — would remarry following a divorce.

Despite the wedding being a break in tradition, folks were quick to speak out in support of the happy couple. According to insiders, the queen was happy for her daughter, as was Prime Minister John Major, who gave the couple his "warmest congratulations." Even John Smith, Leader of the Opposition and of the Labor Party, offered kind sentiments. "I wish the princess royal and Commander Laurence every happiness in their marriage. Their engagement will be greeted with warmth and good wishes from the whole nation," he said (per UPI).

While the couple didn't pose for formal engagement portraits or allow the palace to release the details of their ceremony ahead of time, Anne could be seen flaunting her engagement ring at official events in the days leading up to the wedding. An oval cabochon sapphire flanked by clusters of smaller diamonds, the ring was just as unique as its wearer. According to an engagement ring specialist (via Hello!), it is likely valued at 25,000 pounds.

The family wedding

On December 12, 1992, just days after the palace confirmed they were engaged, Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence tied the knot. As a divorcee, Anne was not allowed to be remarried within the Anglican Church, so the couple exchanged vows in Scotland, where remarriage after divorce is allowed (per People). With 30 of their closest friends and family members in tow, the pair headed to Crathie Kirk near Balmoral Castle and promised to spend the rest of their lives together, for better or for worse.

In lieu of a traditional wedding dress, the bride wore a white suit and a smattering of white blossoms in her hair, while the groom donned his naval uniform. They posed for a handful of portraits after the ceremony and were seen off by about 500 well-wishers as two bagpipers played traditional tunes. According to the BBC, Anne's daughter, Zara Tindall, acted as her bridesmaid and Anne's father, Prince Philip, accompanied her. Anne's son, Peter Phillips, watched the ceremony unfold alongside his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, the Queen Mum, and all three of Anne's brothers.

While those close to the couple were overjoyed that they'd finally made things official, there were some folks outside the inner circle who wondered whether the marriage would last. One of the princess' biographers, Brian Hoey, was quick to speak out in the couple's defense, telling People, "I think they have an excellent chance. She is a fairly cynical person, and she doesn't have a hearts-and-flowers view of marriage. But she is extremely fond of him."

Royal acceptance

Sometimes, joining an already established family unit can be difficult for the newcomer. They may find that outside of their spouse, very few people are welcoming or open to them entering the mix in a new role. Thankfully, that wasn't the case for Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence.

As far as we can tell, the royal family was happy to have Laurence join the fold. People reported, "He often ate with the family, accompanied them on outings, cruised with them on the royal yacht and made the formal introductions when important guests came to visit." Queen Elizabeth, in particular, seemed to be fond of her new son-in-law, as evidenced by the multiple promotions and medals she's awarded him over the years. Additionally, he was the only non-working royal she allowed on the palace balcony for the trooping of the color during her platinum jubilee.

As for Princess Anne's children, they seem to be just as fond of their stepfather as their mother is. He attended both of their weddings and was on hand to support Zara Tindall when she competed at the 2012 Olympic games, per CBS News.

A shared sense of duty

As a general rule, the royal family gives very few interviews, so we don't know that much about Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence's relationship from their own perspective. But one thing we have been able to glean from the handful of interviews they have given is that they both have a strong sense of duty, at least as it relates to them being a part of the monarchy.

Princess Anne is often referred to as the hardest-working royal, and, according to The New York Times, frequently logs over 400 public events each year. Laurence is often spotted by Anne's side at these events, greeting the crowds and shaking hands with the same fervor as his wife. In the documentary "Anne: The Princess Royal at 70," Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's son, said of the couple, "They both have the understanding of what being a part of the wider family means and what is required, and for the last 25 years plus that they've been together now, he's been a very strong support for her." 

A body language expert compared Laurence to Prince Philip, in an interview with Express. Like Queen Elizabeth's late husband, Laurence is always seen beside or next to his wife but never tries to steal her spotlight. He has a unique ever-present poker face. Surely he realizes just how important Princess Anne's work is, and he has no intention of letting his own opinions impact her ability to do it well.

Mutual (and not so mutual) interests

These spouses have other shared passions. In the "Anne: The Princess Royal at 70" documentary, Sir Timothy Laurence explains of himself and Princess Anne, "We are both map and chart people, we like to know where we are and see where we're going." These interests reportedly bleed into a love of history, both military and general. Can't you just see them curling up with a thick non-fiction tome on the Napoleonic Wars or the founding of Rome in their cozy Gatcombe Park living room?

Another thing the couple has bonded over is their mutual love of the Scottish rugby team. Anne has been the patron of the Scottish Rugby Union since the mid-'80s, and she has made it a point to attend as many games as she can reasonably pack into her schedule. The princess and her husband even showed their support during the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals and consoled the team after their devastating loss.

One hobby they don't have in common is equestrianism. While Princess Anne is famously horse-crazy and even competed in the 1976 Olympics, Laurence said in his wife's documentary special: "[A love of horses] is not something I share with her, and sadly, I've never been bitten by the horse bug." But just because he doesn't care for riding himself, that doesn't mean he isn't supportive of her fondness for the sport — he has shown up at many equestrian events that Princess Anne and Zara Tindall have been involved with or competed in over the years.

In sickness and in health

When Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Laurence tied the knot over three decades ago, some skeptics might've thought the marriage wouldn't last. After all, Anne had already had one failed union, and this new relationship hardly started in what many would deem an appropriate manner. But the couple managed to prove all of their doubters wrong, and they appear just as in love and committed to one another as ever. When Laurence tested positive for COVID just before Christmas 2021, Princess Anne needed to stay home and isolate with him rather than join her extended family at Windsor Castle, even though the holiday was the first Christmas since her father, Prince Philip, died in early 2021. It would also end up being Queen Elizabeth's last Christmas before her death in September 2022.

Christmas 2021 wasn't the first time Anne had demonstrated that her love for her husband really was in sickness and in health. Early in the couple's relationship, the princess royal nursed him back to health while he was suffering from shingles. A source told People, "The princess was extremely worried about his health and went around to his home to cheer him up. This happened several times, and Tim was grateful for her interest and caring attitude."

Per Vanity Fair, Laurence and the princess like to go sailing together. "It's just my husband and I," Princess Anne told the outlet in 2020. Their dedication to one another, in good times and in bad, sounds to us like the stuff fairytales are made of.