The Most Brutal Royal Breakups

With the royals, there is hardly shortage of drama — especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Just ask Queen Elizabeth II, who lived long enough to see three of her children get separated from their spouses, all in the space of one year; a period she famously referred to as her "Annus Horribilis." The late queen, of course, shared more than 70 years with Prince Philip. While their marriage was known to involve compromise and the occasional period of estrangement, the success of this royal union cannot be denied. "He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," Elizabeth stated of her husband while celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in November 1997. "And I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know."

Sadly, not every royal couple shares the same longevity. Even as the concepts of love, relationships, and marriage continue to evolve in the world, royals around the globe still have it just as hard as anyone else when it comes to romance. Of the several messy splits that have rocked royal families, one of the most infamous remains the contentious divorce between then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana. As she famously told BBC's "Panorama" (via People), "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

With much more to be said about the King of England's first marriage, we bring you some of the most brutal royal breakups.

Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones

Unlike her monarch sister, Princess Margaret didn't quite get her fairytale love story. Forbidden by the Church of England from marrying her first love, divorcé Captain Peter Townsend (a brutal royal breakup we'll dive into more below), Margaret later seemingly found her prince charming in photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The pair first met in 1958, getting into a whirlwind romance only shortly after. Two years later, they got married in what would become the first televised royal wedding.

But despite what appeared to be a match made in royal heaven, Margaret and Armstrong-Jones' marriage was eventually anything but blissful. Throughout his relationship with Margaret, Armstrong-Jones apparently had several affairs, an act the princess reportedly paid back by having affairs of her own (allegedly including one with her husband's longtime pal, Anthony Barton), as suggested by Anne de Courcy in her 2008 book chronicling the photographer's life, "Snowdon." However, Margaret's most popular extramarital relationship was her eight-year romance with gardener Roddy Llewellyn, who was 17 years younger than her.

In 1976, a few years into the latter's romance, news of Margaret's affair with Llewellyn made national headlines, leading to the eventual end of Margaret's marriage to Armstrong-Jones. "Her royal highness, the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon have mutually agreed to live apart," Buckingham Palace said in a statement at the time (via The New York Times). Two years later, the couple announced their decision to divorce — a process that was finalized in July 1978.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles

Then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana's ill-fated romance might have started off as what dreams were made of in 1980, but it quickly proved to be a nightmare. When asked during their engagement interview the following year if they were in love, a smitten 19-year-old Diana replied, "Of course," while future King Charles III, 12 years her senior, mindlessly added, "Whatever in love means" — a comment that hinted at the first sign of trouble. 

Following their lavish July 1981 wedding, Diana and Charles settled into their new life as a royal couple. But being married to the heir to the throne, the young princess' popularity among the British people soon overshadowed her husband's, which apparently left Charles feeling threatened, as Lady Elizabeth Anso (Queen Elizabeth's cousin) explained to People in 2018. So between Charles' silent power tussle and Diana's constant pining for her seemingly absent husband, cracks soon started to show in the marriage. Then came the admitted affairs.

Charles resumed his relationship with old flame and future Queen Consort Camilla Parker Bowles, who was also married at the time, in 1986. Meanwhile, Diana reportedly also struck a five-year relationship with Major James Hewitt. Between Andrew Morton's tell-all biography "Diana: Her True Story," claims of mistreatment, and the apparent ongoing infidelity between them, it didn't take much for even the queen to see that an end was near. In December 1992, the parents of Princes William and Harry announced their separation, eventually finalizing the divorce in 1996.

Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips

Despite first meeting in 1968, it wasn't until 1973 that Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips got engaged. Around this time, the princess was asked if she thought their marriage could survive the spotlight and duty to the Crown alike, leading the young royal to simply state (via Brides), "Can? It's got to, hasn't it?" Six months later, Anne and Mark were joined in holy matrimony. In 1977, the couple welcomed their first child, son Peter Phillips, with daughter Zara Tindall arriving four years later. But like other marriages on this list, not even the vow of forever, kids, or even Anne's earlier quip could keep the Princess Royal and Captain Phillips together.

In the years that followed, the couple reportedly grew increasingly apart, leading to Mark's surprising absences from royal engagements. Soon enough, rumors of extramarital affairs between the couple started swirling, leading many to believe that the end of this royal love story was near. Finally, things came to a head for the couple in 1991, when Anne found out her husband had fathered a child with a mistress back in 1985. But Anne herself was also previously caught in a web of scandal after four love letters, written to her by future husband No. 2, Sir Timothy Laurence, were discovered.

Following their 1989 separation announcement, Buckingham Palace revealed that the estranged couple finalized their divorce in April 1992. Anne would remarry to Laurence in a small Scottish ceremony that December.

Prince Louis of Luxembourg and Tessy Antony de Nassau

In 2004, Prince Louis of Luxembourg met entrepreneur and future wife Tessy Antony. Though they initially kept their romance a secret, once Antony and Louis found out they were expecting their first child together in 2005, his family was informed of their relationship. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing.

The Luxembourg royals were reportedly upset about Louis having a child outside of wedlock — and because his partner, whom he married in 2006, was a commoner. Consequently, Louis gave up his and his children's succession rights; however, he was allowed to keep his title of Prince and style as Royal Highness. But in 2009, Antony was finally given the title of Princess Tessy, and it was conferred that their children, Princes Gabriel and Noah, would also receive royal titles. It eventually seemed like a love story written in the stars, but Antony and Louis didn't get their happy-ever-after. 

"I am very sad to confirm that Louis and I are getting divorced," Antony stated in 2017 (via the Daily Mail). "... Despite our separation, we will always remain unified by parenthood to our two precious boys." While Antony and Louis have remained on good terms, she's spoken openly about her family's struggle with navigating the royal spotlight even after the divorce, plus the difficulty of moving on. "After every relationship it takes a while to heal when the heart has been broken," she told Hello! in 2020. "It has been really, really wonderful for me to realize that I am able to trust and love again."

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson

Years before he became embroiled in scandalous activities and relationships that have since affected his public image, Prince Andrew was nothing if not a sweetheart to the charismatic Sarah Ferguson. Having first met as children, the Duke and future Duchess of York later reconnected as adults, with their relationship progressing quickly from there. On his 26th birthday in February 1986, Andrew proposed to Ferguson, only a few months into their courtship.

That July, Ferguson and Andrew said their "I dos" in a lavish royal wedding held at the Westminster Abbey, with a reception at the Claridge Hotel. The marriage between Ferguson and Andrew produced two daughters: Princess Beatrice born in 1988 and Princess Eugenie two years later. But while there was no denying that these two were initially in love, things soon began to go downhill for them.

Andrew's demanding naval career meant that the royal couple was mostly apart, spending only about 40 days together every year, as reported by Harper's Bazaar. This distance would end up being the undoing of their love story. In 1992, Ferguson found herself in the middle of a major scandal after intimate photos taken during an affair with American businessman John Bryan were released. Having separated that same year, the couple finalized their divorce in 1996. Dubbing it "the most painful time of my life," Ferguson told the outlet, "I didn't want a divorce but had to because of circumstance." Despite the controversial end to their marriage, however, she's remained cordial with her ex-husband and the royal family at large.

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend

To say the love affair between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend caused a ruckus in the British media would be putting it mildly. After all, this was an affair that almost upstaged the public's anticipation of Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation. But let's back up a bit to 1947, when a 17-year-old Margaret met and fell in love with Townsend, despite his marital status at the time and the 16-year age gap between them.

Although Townsend eventually divorced his wife in 1952, it did very little to change the resistance against their relationship. Seeing that she was still under 25 at the time, Margaret needed the approval of the Parliament to get married, but not even the couple's 1953 engagement was enough to get them on their side. Interestingly, the queen also couldn't approve of her younger sister's union because the Church of England still prohibited divorcees from remarrying. 

By 1955, Margaret turned 25 and essentially became eligible to marry whomever she pleased — though she was faced with another difficult decision. The amended 1772 Royal Marriages Act stated that the only exemption to marrying a divorcee would be for Margaret, who was third in line to the throne, to give up her succession rights. To make matters more difficult, the couple had been separated for nearly two years due to Townsend's stationing as an attaché at the British Embassy in Brussels. That October, Margaret ultimately ended her relationship with Townsend, deciding that her duties to the Commonwealth were far greater than her chance at a fairytale romance.

Prince Charles and Lady Sarah Spencer

Before the infamous rocky marriage of then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the future king had a little more than friendship going on with Diana's older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer (later McCorquodale). Sarah, who is six years older than Diana, started dating Charles in 1977. Though things appeared to get off to a good start for the couple, reportedly featuring a joint vacation at a Swiss ski resort, Sarah and Charles' love story soon took a downward turn.

When asked about their relationship during a 1978 interview, Sarah revealed that despite how fond she was of Charles, there was no future for them together. "Charles makes me laugh a lot. I really enjoy being with him," she admitted to Woman's Own magazine (via Time). "There is no chance of my marrying him. I'm not in love with him. And I wouldn't marry anyone I didn't love whether he were the dustman or the King of England." Perhaps unsurprisingly, the royal family reportedly wasn't very pleased with Sarah's honest answer. Charles allegedly called her comments "incredibly stupid" (via Mirror). Meanwhile, royal biographer Andy McSmith claimed in "No Such Thing as Society" that the incident severed Sarah's ties with the rest of the royals. 

While Sarah went on to marry Neil Edmund McCorquodale in 1980, Charles, of course, ended up with her sister, Diana. If you've ever wondered how this happened, let's just say Sarah wore her matchmaking hat. "I introduced them. I'm Cupid," she proudly said following their engagement (via The Guardian).

Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Jonas Bergström

As the world prepared for the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and her lover, Daniel Westling, in 2010, the engagement between Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Jonas Bergström made headlines when a cheating scandal involving the latter groom-to-be broke out. In an interview with a Norwegian gossip rag called Se Og Hor, 21-year-old student Tora Uppstrom Berg claimed she had a one-night stand with Bergström during a ski trip to Sweden. "We were intimate. He followed me home in a taxi at four o'clock in the morning," she told the outlet (via the Daily Mail), adding, "Had I known [he was engaged], I would never do anything like this. I feel sorry for Madeleine for having an unfaithful man."

Consequently, Madeleine and Bergström's engagement was called off, with the Swedish Royal Court requesting privacy for the pair. "After having thought it through thoroughly, the Princess Madeleine and Mr. Jonas Bergstrom have made the decision to go their separate ways," a statement read in part at the time, per CNN. A devastating split no doubt, the princess reportedly left Sweden for the United States as she tried to come to terms with her partner's apparent betrayal.

In a good twist of fate, Princess Madeleine ended up meeting her future husband, Christopher O'Neill, while in America. The couple got engaged in October 2012, getting married the following year June. Together, they have welcomed three children: Princess Leonore, Prince Nicolas, and Princess Adrienne. 

Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly

Compared to other members of the British royal family, not much is heard or seen of Peter Phillips, the oldest child of Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips. Still, Peter has brought his fair share intrigue to the monarchy. In 2003, Peter met his future wife, Autumn Kelly, at the Montreal Grand Prix. Four years later, Peter proposed to Kelly (who was admittedly unaware of his royal status until after they started dating) while walking their dog in the rain — a far cry from the grand hot-air balloon proposal he initially planned. "I certainly didn't see his question coming on this particular day," Kelly later recalled of the engagement to Hello! magazine (via The Telegraph). "I looked horrible, in my wellies with wet hair." 

Following their May 2008 wedding, the couple went on to welcome two daughters. But sadly, Kelly announced her desire to separate from Peter in 2020 — a move that reportedly left the royal heartbroken, though it was later revealed that they began living separately in 2019. "Peter is absolutely devastated by this and just didn't see it coming," a source claimed to The Sun. The separation, the first among Queen Elizabeth's grandchildren, also reportedly deeply saddened the monarch, who was said to be particularly fond of Kelly. 

When their divorce was finalized in 2021, a statement on their behalf read, "Whilst this is a sad day for Peter and Autumn, they continue to put the wellbeing and upbringing of their wonderful daughters Savannah and Isla first and foremost."