Abdication, divorces and death: A century of UK royal crises

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II’s fun-loving younger sister, Princess Margaret, also sparked a firestorm with her choice for marriage. She began a romance with her late father’s divorced equerry, former Royal Air Force officer Peter Townsend. The couple’s wish to marry prompted a battle between the government and the public
Buckingham Palace says Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, will no longer use the titles “royal highness”(AP File Photo)
Buckingham Palace says Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, will no longer use the titles “royal highness”(AP File Photo)
Updated on Jan 19, 2020 08:04 AM IST
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London | ByAgence France-Presse

The announcement Saturday that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are to give up their titles and stop receiving public funds is only the latest instalment in a royal soap opera that has gripped Britain and the world.

Love over country

The 1936 abdication of Edward VIII 326 days into his reign remains the biggest scandal in modern royal history and caused a worldwide sensation.

Britain’s brief king provoked a constitutional crisis when he stepped down in order to marry the twice-divorced US socialite Wallis Simpson.

The union was deemed impossible while Edward was monarch and head of the Church of England, which at the time refused to remarry divorcees while their former spouse was still alive.

Edward was the first monarch in the 1,000-year history of the British Crown to give up his throne of his own free will.

His brother King George VI replaced him on the throne, and Edward -- who married Simpson in 1937 -- was subsequently ostracised by the rest of the Windsor family until the late 1960s.

He died in 1972.

Margaret’s heartbreak

Queen Elizabeth II’s fun-loving younger sister, Princess Margaret, also sparked a firestorm with her choice for marriage.

In 1952, the then-22-year-old began a romance with her late father’s divorced equerry, former Royal Air Force officer Peter Townsend.

The couple’s wish to marry prompted a battle between the government and the public -- which was seen to be sympathetic to the union -- with the queen caught in the middle.

Margaret was eventually persuaded to abandon the relationship, under the threat of losing her royal position, and instead married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960.

They divorced in 1978.

A horrible year

The queen memorably described 1992 as an “annus horribilis” after three of her children’s marriages crumbled.

Heir to the throne Prince Charles’ split from Princess Diana after 11 years of marriage caused a media sensation.

The princess then rocked the monarchy by leaking shocking details of palace life to author Andrew Morton for his 1992 book “Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words”.

Around the same time the queen’s second son Prince Andrew separated from wife Sarah Ferguson, whom he had married six years earlier.

Meanwhile Princess Anne, the reigning monarch’s only daughter, finalised her divorce from first husband Mark Phillips following their separation in 1989.

Diana’s death

The popular princess died in a high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel in August 1997.

For the next week leading up to her spectacular funeral, Britain was plunged into an unprecedented outpouring of grief which shook the monarchy.

Anger had soon mounted at the silence of senior royals holed up in Balmoral in Scotland, where the queen, Diana’s ex-husband Charles, and their two children, William, 15, and Harry, 12, were holidaying over the summer.

Newspapers, furious that the Union Jack flag was not flying at half-mast over Buckingham Palace, called on the queen to address her subjects.

Within days she had paid homage to her former daughter-in-law in a televised speech for only the second time in her reign. She also publicly bowed before Diana’s coffin.

Prince Andrew scandal

Prince Andrew has been dogged by allegations he had sex with one of the then-teenage victims of deceased US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The prince, often referred to as the queen’s “favourite son”, attempted to clear his name in a BBC interview in November but it backfired spectacularly.

He looked stiff and unapologetic in a performance that one public relations consultant said was akin to “watching a man in quicksand”.

The prince promptly promised to “step back from public duties” a few days later but remains under pressure to cooperate with United States authorities still investigating the Epstein case.

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