How Princess Margaret’s 1978 divorce from Lord Snowdon ‘cleared the way’ for future royals to split – a look at all the royal family divorces (some ending more acrimoniously than others)

  • Royal expert Jennie Bond said the 1978 divorce paved the way for royal splits
  • Among royals to divorce are Prince Charles , Prince Andrew and Princess Anne
  •  For all the latest Royal news, pictures and video click here

The Royal Family has been no stranger to divorce in recent decades, with the marriages of Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne among those hitting the rocks.

But according to royal expert Jennie Bond, speaking in a 2020 documentary, it was Princess Margaret’s 1978 split from Lord Snowdon that proved the initial shock to the establishment and paved the way for future generations of the Firm to break-up with their spouses.

‘She did tarnish the family’s reputation but she cleared the way for others to get out of unhappy marriages,’ said Ms Bond, the BBC’s former royal correspondent.  

Margaret and photographer Antony Armstrong Jones had met in 1958 at a dinner party organised by mutual friends, and married at Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960. 

According to royal expert Jennie Bond, Princess Margaret’s 1978 divorce ‘cleared the way’ for future royals to split (pictured: Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones on their wedding day in May 1960)

But after 18 years together, they divorced, with both parties having conducted extra-marital affairs along the way.

A relationship that started amid the allure of seemingly impossible glamour, would end in acrimony and bitterness.

It was not long before further marriages within the Firm started breaking apart, with three of the Queen’s four children eventually going through divorces of their own.

The War of the Wales: Charles and Diana divorce after a 16-year relationship

Perhaps the best known of the royal divorces is the split between Charles and Diana, which was finalised in 1996. The divorce followed a 16-year relationship, a fairytale wedding at Westminster Abbey and the birth of two sons, William and Harry.

Charles and Diana met during a shooting weekend at her family home, Althorp House, Northamptonshire, in November 1977, at which time the prince was dating his future wife’s older sister, Sarah.

By 1980, Charles had ended his relationship with Sarah and made his move on Diana. Their union was confirmed in November that year, after Diana was spotted at Balmoral.

After a whirlwind courtship, the pair tied the knot on 29 July 1981, at Westminster Abbey.

It was considered the fairytale wedding of the century, yet seeds of doubt had already been planted in Diana’s mind, notably when Charles jetted off to Australia and New Zealand for five weeks early in their relationship.

Despite Charles and Diana’s wedding (pictured) being seen as a fairytale, the couple had an acrimonious divorce some 15 years later

That was shortly after she discovered he had recently spoken to former lover, Camilla Parker Bowles. 

Charles and Diana soon welcomed their first child with the birth of Prince William in June 1982 followed two years later by the birth of Prince Harry in September 1984. 

However, by the mid-eighties there were rumours of infidelity on both sides.  

When Diana did not join the Royal Family’s annual summer holiday to Balmoral in 1987, those rumours intensified. 

Even so, Diana and Charles continued to carry out joint engagements.

But in December 1992 Prime Minister John Major announced to the House of Commons that the couple were to separate. Their divorce was finalised in 1996, and saw Diana stripped of the right to be called Her Royal Highness. 

But her new, liberated post-royal life was cut tragically short after a fatal car crash in Paris in 1997.

Princess Anne splits from her first husband Captain Mark Phillips 

Despite sharing an interest in everything equestrian, Princess Anne’s marriage to Captain Mark Phillips (pictured at their 1973 wedding) did not last

The Queen’s second child, Princess Anne, tied the knot with Captain Mark Phillips in 1973. They had met the previous year at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

After leaving the military at the age of 23, Mark, a former second lieutenant in the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, was a member of the British three-day event team that won the gold medal during the Games. 

They married in November 1973 and went on to have two children, Peter in 1977 and Zara in 1981.

Mark’s nickname in the royal family was ‘Fog’, allegedly – and unflatteringly – bestowed upon him by his brother-in-law Prince Charles because he was ‘wet and thick’.

By 1988, after 15 years of marriage, rumours about the state of the couple’s union were gathering.

But the real cracks were seen during their trip to Australia that year to open the Royal Easter Show.

The couple were  scheduled to spend half the week at the Show, meet the people, and inspect produce, livestock and exhibition halls.  

But Mark  had pulled a muscle at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, forcing him to withdraw, and was on crutches during the visit.

As the princess marched through their engagements, her injured spouse was seen limping behind her. The distance between the couple – emotional as well as physical – was clear.

Two months after the couple returned to Britain, the story broke, with reports saying they barely saw each other any more, they were leading ‘separate lives’ and had an ’empty marriage’.  

Buckingham Palace made no comment on the stories but in 1989 Princess Anne and Mark Phillips officially separated.

They divorced in 1993, and just a few months later Anne married her second husband Tim Laurence.

Mark Phillips would remarry also, this time to American Olympian dressage rider, Sandy Pflueger. They have a daughter, Stephanie.

Prince Andrew splits from Sarah Ferguson

Despite getting divorced in 1996, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew (pictured on their 1986 wedding day) have remained  close, even sharing the same house

While it has been reported that Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson first met when they were both children, it was not until many years later that they reconnected as adults.

Their meeting came via Princess Diana, who herself had been childhood friends with Sarah. The two women became friends again in 1980, with Sarah becoming a member of Diana’s inner circle after her 1981 wedding to Charles.

After Sarah was invited to a 1985 event at Windsor Castle, she and Prince Andrew also reconnected, with their relationship moving quickly.

Within a year, the couple was engaged, with the official announcement being made on March 19, 1986. They tied the knot at Westminster Abbey on July 23, becoming the Duke and Duchess of York  – a gift from The Queen.

The couple had their first daughter Beatrice in 1988, with Eugenie following in 1990.

But the marriage is said to have broken down quickly, with Prince Andrew’s naval career cited as a factor as the job kept him away from home for long stretches of time.

They officially separated in early 1992 before divorcing in 1996.

Sarah reportedly having become estranged from the wider Royal Family in the intervening years. 

In 1992, when photos of the topless duchess had been published, showing American financial manager John Bryan kissing her toes as she sunbathed in St Tropez.

However, Sarah’s relationships with the royals have thawed in more recent times and she has attended some major events, including Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

Andrew and Sarah, meanwhile, continue to maintain a close relationship and share the same house at Royal Lodge.

Peter Phillips announces his divorce from wife Autumn

Happier times: Peter Phillips on his wedding day to Autumn. The pair tied the knot at St George’s Chapel in Windsor in 2008

When Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips revealed he would be splitting from wife Autumn, the news came as a surprise to many.

The couple met in 2003 at the Montreal Grand Prix while Peter, who worked in the motor sports industry, was on a business trip. Autumn was working as a Budweiser girl at the event.

The pair embarked on a relationship, although Autumn did not at first realise he was the Queen’s grandson. After a few years of dating, he popped the question.

The couple tied the knot at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in 2008, in a service attended by senior royals including the Queen, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry. 

Some controversy followed the nuptials, after the couple’s wedding photos were sold to Hello! magazine for a reported £500,000 fee, provoking claims the couple had exploited their royal connections.

After living in Hong King, the couple moved back to the UK in 2010, with Autumn giving birth to their first child, a daughter named Savannah, in December that year. Their second child. Isla was born in March 2012.

The couple raised their daughters in Gloucestershire and were regulars at the traditional 17th-century stone-built pub, the Ragged Cot Inn in Minchinhampton — which was also the favourite drinking hole of Peter’s parents decades ago.

After 12 years of marriage, they announced they had separated but remained ‘amicable’ and pledged to continue to co-parent their daughters. 


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