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A History of Common Marriages

Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle
Welcome to the family (Getty)

While we’re all waiting for the second series of The Crown, the Royal Family has come through for us and announced Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle.

Meghan is a biracial American actress and former blogger known for her role as Rachel in the American legal drama Suits.  The fact that Harry is allowed to marry Meghan, a woman who has also been married before and divorced, is a progressive move for the Royals and one that will make history.

Despite that, this engagement isn’t the first of its kind. The Royals have a long history of consorting with commoners—one that is rife with scandal, public affairs and finally, Royal divorce. There’s even been some nudity.

Prince Edward famously gave up the throne for American socialite Wallis Simpson after he was told he couldn’t marry a woman with two failed marriages behind her and remain on the throne as Head of England (which, at the time, didn’t allow divorced people to remarry). He abdicated and married Wallis the same year. The couple remained together until he died 35 years later.

Princess Margaret’s marriage to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones didn’t work out so well. After she was told she couldn’t marry divorcee Captain Peter Townsend, she rushed into the marriage with Armstrong-Jones. Affairs and acrimony followed and they had the first Royal divorce.

Grace Kelly set the precedent when she gave up her career to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. Although she tried to take on roles during her marriage, public outcry prevented her from doing so. Despite rumours of unhappiness, cruelty and infidelity, the couple remained together until her death.  

Grace Kelly’s son Prince Albert II followed his parents’ tradition, marrying the Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock in 2011. The couple announced their relationship during the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony.

Diana Spencer might not have been a commoner by anyone bar the Royals’ standards, but she didn’t have much idea what she was letting herself in for either, based on those 13 meetings with Prince Charles before the wedding. There followed an unhappy marriage that imploded publicly. The fallout included the revelation of Charles’ on-going affair with Camilla, media exposés and tabloid obsession with Diana and her own subsequent relationships, before her death.

Self-proclaimed commoner Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew in 1986. The couple were only married for six years before they got divorced. Fergie then became a mainstay of the papers, working as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and doing stints on reality TV. She was also famously caught on camera offering access to Prince Andrew for money (£500,000 to be exact). Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t invited to Prince William and Kate’s wedding after that.

In Sweden, Crown Princess Victoria married her personal trainer in 2010, while Prince Carl Philip married former glamour model and reality TV star Sofia Hellqvist in 2015. Clearly, we can all learn a lesson from the Swedish Royals when it comes to marrying whomever we want.