The Biggest Romance Rumors To Surround The Royal Family

The royal family never fails to capture our imagination, even in parts of the world that have nothing to do with British rule or the Commonwealth. It's obvious that the royal family has transcended the monarchy and become global celebrities. This has been the case for a long time — audiences were fascinated by the scandalous romance between American socialite Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne for love. People were also invested in the relationship between Princess Margaret and Captain Peter Townsend, a love that became forbidden. Decades later, Princess Diana's unhappy relationship with then-Prince Charles caught major media attention, as did their subsequent affairs and post-marital relationships. Looking at this history, it's easy to wonder if we're watching a soap opera or a monarchy!

Getting more current, there's the blow-up around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's relationship with the royal family, with much of the tension circulating around Meghan's acceptance by Harry's family. Did they welcome her? Did they support that relationship? Harry and Meghan, at least, have their own take on those questions. There are rumors and there is truth, and sometimes it's tough to pull those differences apart. But it seems that any era pertaining to the royal family comes with a ton of cultural fascination around their romances, and the juicy rumors are inevitable!

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson weren't as happy as we thought

Long before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped away from their duties as senior royals, Edward VIII abdicated the throne for a relationship. On December 11, 1936, he announced that he was marrying the divorced, American socialite Wallis Simpson, per People, and the Church of England would not accept a divorced person as the spouse of the king. Since the ordeal was so dramatic, it was touted as a great love story while simultaneously vilifying Simpson. As time has revealed, she may not have deserved such censure, nor did the story deserve such romanticizing.

Edward was largely obsessed with Simpson, as royal author Anna Pasternak told People, but she was frequently overwhelmed by his attention and never fully reciprocated that intense level of love. Journalist Kenneth de Courcy, who knew Edward, wrote: "Did she love the Duke of Windsor? I am afraid the sad answer is that she did not. She admires him, she likes him, but it never went further... She never learnt to love the Duke..." (according to Andrew Lownie's book "Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor").

Later accounts claimed Simpson was hard on Edward and chided him. An acquaintance, Lady Diana Cooper, observed their behavior and wrote in her journal, "The truth is she's bored stiff with him, and her picking on him and her coldness towards him far from policy are irritation and boredom" (via Air Mail). Not quite a love story after all.

Princess Margaret and the married Peter Townsend

The forbidden relationship between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend was exquisitely rendered in Netflix's "The Crown" as the great love of both of their lives. But was it, really? Their relationship was essentially forbidden by Queen Elizabeth II on account of the fact that Townsend was divorced and a relationship like this, so close to the crown, would have been a problem. No doubt the relatively recent abdication of Edward VIII also played a part in this hesitancy.

As for Townsend being the love of Margaret's life, perhaps he was, but marrying him would've forced the princess to surrender her royal status and its endless perks, per Today. Townsend himself wrote about Margaret's impossible decision in his memoir, "Time and Chance." First, the couple had to wait until Margaret was 25 to make any marital considerations, per the Royal Marriages Act. When that time finally came, the lovers endured a media frenzy as they arrived at a conclusion. "Our feelings for one another were unchanged, but they had incurred for us a burden so great that we decided, together, to lay it down," wrote Townsend.

Margaret issued a statement that said she was putting the Commonwealth first, explaining, "I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But... conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others" (via the BBC).

Secret affair: Princess Diana and James Gilbey

Princess Diana had an affair with gin fortune heir James Gilbey in the late 1980s, when her marriage to the then-Prince Charles was basically beyond repair. Charles had, by this point, picked things back up with Camilla Parker Bowles. As was the case with many members of the royal family, Diana and Gilbey's phone calls were tapped and recorded, famously becoming the "Squidgygate" scandal, per Tatler. The reason for this curious name is that Gilbey called Diana "Squidge" or "Squidgy" during the taped conversations.

The couple spoke about all sorts of things. Diana said to him, "I don't want to get pregnant," during a call, per Radar, and Gilbey replied, "Darling that's not going to happen. All right?" She explained that she had been watching "EastEnders" and became worried when a character got pregnant by a man who wasn't her husband.

During the leaked call, which took place on New Year's Eve in 1989, Gilbey also told Diana, "I had the most amazing dream about us last night. Not the physical, nothing to do with that." She replied, "That makes a change!" They embarked on even more intimate subjects and were keen on blowing kisses to one another through the phone. As Tatler pointed out, Diana also spoke to Gilbey about her unhappy marriage, so it was embarrassing for everyone when the tapes leaked in 1992, long after the affair had ended.

John Bryan and Sarah Ferguson and the toes

After Sarah Ferguson separated from Prince Andrew in 1992, she began a romance with businessman John Bryan from Texas. The two took her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, on vacation to Saint Tropez, where photographers got some very compromising shots of Bryan "sucking" on and kissing Ferguson's toes, per The Sun. The photos were released after the couple left their holiday; in fact, Ferguson was in Scotland, at Balmoral Castle, with the royal family when the compromising images came out to the public.

The issue never really got laid to rest, largely because of "The Crown," which revived the toe photos for a new generation that wasn't as keenly aware of the scandal as the avid newspaper readers during the '90s. As such, Bryan spoke on "Lorraine" in December 2022, marking his first interview on television. "I had tried to make sure that the place that we chose was very discrete," he said. Bryan added that they were all "playing games" together, and one of the games involved reenacting "Cinderella." He joked that the roleplay of Cinderella's slipper led to the interactions with Ferguson's toe. The businessman spoke positively of their four-year relationship.

Bryan added that he got a call from an editor at The Sun 20 minutes after he got back from his trip, telling him that the outlet lost the photos to the Mirror after being outbid by $12 million. Those were some expensive photographs!

Do Charles and Camilla have a love child?

King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, have their own dramatic rumors, namely that of an alleged love child. Simon Dorante-Day, who now resides in Australia, has claimed for years that he's the unrecognized son of the king and queen. In fact, he's so adamant about his family lineage that Dorante-Day tried to require DNA tests from Charles and Camilla by enlisting the Australian High Court (according to The U.S. Sun).

While it seems implausible, Dorante-Day does have some uncanny links back to the royal family. He was born in April 1966 in Portsmouth, England, and his grandparents had ties to Queen Elizabeth II. "My grandmother, who had worked for the queen, told me outright that I was Camilla and Charles' son many times," he told 7 News. He and his wife, Dr. Elvianna Dorante-Day, are determined to get answers.

He claims that he was conceived early on in Charles and Camilla's relationship, when Camilla was 18 and the future king was only 17. Dorante-Day was adopted when he was eight months old, and his adoptive family's grandparents, Winifred and Ernest Bowlden, were employed by the royal family. Dorante-Day has alleged that there was no trace of Camilla out in public in the months leading up to his birth; he also has noted that the hospital listed on his birth certificate delivered no babies for that decade. Naturally, the royal family has made no comment on any of this, but it certainly is shrouded in mystery.

Captain Mark Phillips and Princess Anne's dramatic divorce

Princess Anne, daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, married fellow equestrian enthusiast Captain Mark Phillips in November 1973, per Hello! They had two children, Peter Phillips and Zara (Phillips) Tindall. Anne and Mark separated in 1989 and divorced officially in 1992. While the demise of their marriage didn't shock people too much — they had spent a great deal of time apart prior to their split — the rumors and subsequent relationships caused considerable drama.

Anne fell in love with Sir Timothy Laurence, and they married the same year that her divorce from Captain Mark Phillips was finalized. However, she and Laurence had to marry in Scotland because of remarriage strictures regarding Anne's proximity to the crown. As a later publication by Hello! specified, she and Laurence weren't allowed to wed in England.

Earlier, Mark had been the subject of rumors about a woman named Kathy Birks, who worked on many of his equestrian endeavors beginning in 1986, particularly in Canada. As People noted, there was extensive gossip that he and Birks were having an affair, fueled by the fact that they were spotted having intimate meals in Toronto. The rumors were so rampant that Birks ended up winning her lawsuit against Today, who published an article claiming, "Mark's falling under the spell of seductive Kathy," per the Los Angeles Times. She alleged that it made her look like the reason for Mark and Anne's divorce.

The gossip about Princess Diana and James Hewitt

Princess Diana had a five-year long relationship with James Hewitt, a cavalry officer in the British army. They met at a party given by Diana's lady-in-waiting, according to People, and hit it off over Diana's fear of horses. Hewitt claimed that he could teach her how to ride, and things galloped forward from there. Their affair lasted from 1986 to 1992, according to Tatler, and came to an end because of Hewitt's military commitments. He went overseas in the Gulf War and the distance led to the couple's eventual demise.

Not only that, but Hewitt went public about his relationship with Diana in a book called "Princess in Love," written by Anna Pasternak. Hewitt met the journalist Pasternak at a party, and she told the Daily Mail years later that she had written a note to Hewitt asking to speak with him about another affair he was involved in. "I was flabbergasted when he asked me if he could do a paid interview about his friendship with Diana..." said Pasternak.

The real rumor around their affair had to do with Prince Harry's paternity. Granted, both Harry and Hewitt took to military life and both have red hair. But Hewitt put the rumors to rest in 2002 when he said, "I have been aware for a while that the issue of Harry's paternity has been a major talking point. There really is no possibility whatsoever that I am Harry's father. I can understand the interest, but Harry was already walking by the time my relationship with Diana began," according to People. Harry was born in 1984.

The rumors surrounding Diana's death

When Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997 in Paris, she was with her then-boyfriend, Dodi Al-Fayed, who also died because of the car accident. In 2003, a French police source who had been close to the details of the crash, told the Independent that Diana had been pregnant when she died and that this was kept a secret. The optics of Diana's pregnancy with Al-Fayed, while being the mother of the future king, were more than Buckingham Palace was willing to deal with, according to the outlet.

The rumors that Diana was pregnant were encouraged by Al-Fayed's father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, the famed businessman who purchased the Ritz Hotel in Paris and later, Harrods department store in London, per The New York Times. As it played out in "The Crown," Mohamed aimed to be recognized by the royal family, and some speculate that his confirmation of Diana's pregnancy by his son was one more effort to solidify a connection to the crown.

There have been efforts to debunk the idea that Diana was pregnant when she died. A forensic scientist, Professor Angela Gallop, wrote in her book "When the Dogs Don't Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth" (as excerpted by The Times) that Diana's blood, taken from the car, shows she wasn't pregnant. Because she received blood transfusions in the hospital before she died, the blood in the car was considered more reliable. Other tests reportedly revealed that the princess was not using contraceptives, either.

Prince Andrew's mysterious girlfriend, actor Koo Stark

Prince Andrew dated American actor Koo Stark around 1981, when Andrew was 21. Andrew and Stark were introduced by a mutual friend and hit it off, enough that Stark actually met the late Queen Elizabeth II on many occasions, according to the New York Post. But issues soon arose with some of Stark's films. She had starred in "Emily" in 1976 and "Cruel Passion" in 1977. The films featured erotic scenes, and this issue was compromising for the royal family.

"Compared to Lady Diana, Koo was the scarlet lady," royal biographer Katie Nicholl told the New York Post. "She was an actress who had taken part in some pretty risqué films and she wasn't deemed at all suitable for a prince." The British media had a heyday over Stark — a pattern that has emerged with royal love interests — and they eventually broke up.

But Stark's relationship with Andrew, and the content of some of her films, have plagued her over the years. In November 2022, The Guardian reported that Stark won a lawsuit against the Daily Mail after a 2019 publication where they called her a "porn star" and "soft porn actress" in relation to her previous film work. "The true position is that Ms Stark has never appeared in a pornographic film or posed for pornographic photographs. None of her work could properly be described as pornographic..." Francis Leonard, her lawyer, explained. The Daily Mail apologized and made things right by eventually removing mentions of her.

Did Prince William have an affair?

In 2019, rumors broke that Prince William had an affair with former model Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley. Hanbury and her husband, David Rocksavage, reportedly lived near the Prince of Wales' home at Anmer Hall in Norfolk. The story goes that the couples were friendly, but then there was a falling out between Hanbury and Catherine, Princess of Wales, which prompted curiosity about the dispute.

The Daily Mail's Richard Kay indicated that there was no substance to any of it. "Both sides have considered legal action, but because none of the reports have been able to offer any evidence about what the so-called dispute is about, they have chosen to ignore it," he said. Despite this, the gossip account @deuxmoi got an anonymous tip about a "British royal's extramarital affair," which centered around "pegging." "The wife doesn't mind her," the tip went on, "and in fact prefers her husband getting his sexual needs fulfilled elsewhere..." (via Cosmopolitan). Thus, #princeofpegging became a Twitter hit.

In June 2019, an insider told Us Weekly that the discussions were still nothing more than rumors, but the gossip had a negative effect. "Kate finds the rumors hurtful, obviously, and hates the thought that one day her children will be able to read about them online," they said. It all certainly seems hurtful but has never really transcended the thin world of rumors.

What was going on between Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull?

Prince Philip had a long-running friendship with Penny Knatchbull, a woman 32 years younger than him. Penny married Philip's godson Norton Knatchbull, Lord Romsey, who "is the grandson of Philip's uncle, Louis Mountbatten," according to Today. The couple went on to have three children, but their daughter Leonora died of liver cancer as a child. Penny's grief was the beginning of her bond with Philip. Philip shared his interest in carriage-driving with Penny as a distraction from her daughter's death, according to Tatler, and the two loved going to the Royal Windsor Horse Show together.

But Penny was close with the whole royal family, not just Philip. Then-Prince Charles served as the best man at her wedding and she was also closely connected to Queen Elizabeth II. Despite this, Penny and Philip's close bond sparked some rumors of an affair. As Ingrid Seward wrote in her book, "Prince Philip Revealed," Penny was the "second-most important woman in the Duke of Edinburgh's life — a constant confidante, loyal companion and 'keeper of secrets'" (via People). And the two sometimes lived out their friendship in a way that could look compromising. "When I saw Philip and Penny gilding [sic] around the dance floor at the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball during Cowes Week, neither of them gave a damn who saw them or what anyone might say," Seward wrote. There's a good chance it was simply a dear friendship.

When he died, Penny was present for Philip's small funeral; she went to the queen's, as well.