What Happens When Royal Marriages Fail and How Peter Phillips’ Divorce is Different
Through their spokesman Gerard Franklin, Peter and Autumn Phillips announced on Tuesday that they have jointly agreed to divorce, “after informing Her Majesty The Queen and members of both families last year.”
The couple wedded in 2008, and have two daughters, Savannah and Isla Phillips in their 12-year marriage. According to the statement, the pair will continue to live in Gloucestershire and co-parent their children.
While royals go through the same divorce proceedings as everyone else, it can get pretty complicated—if Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s very public separation is anything to go by. But in the case of Peter, who is Princess Anne’s eldest son and 15th in line to the throne, the process was much more straightforward.
As he is considered a private citizen, Peter was not required to seek the Queen's permission for his marriage to Autumn, and likewise, did not have to consult the monarch for his divorce. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the news, citing it a private matter.
The fact that the generation before Peter's had its fair share of failed marriages may have also contributed to the relaxed stance on the announcement. Charles and Diana’s divorce was finalised in August 1996, which came after Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson announced their decision to divorce in May 1996. Both divorces were rife with scandals and gossip. We take a look at how they were handled.
Prince Charles and Diana Spencer
A high-profile divorce that dominated the tabloids back in the 1990s, Charles and Diana’s marriage was one that famously ended in tragedy. Many have said their relationship was doomed from the start, as the pair had a 13-year age gap and had only gone on about a dozen dates before getting engaged. They got married in 1981 and shared a tumultuous 11-year marriage with extramarital affairs on both sides. Charles and Diana officially separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
Both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were reportedly heavily involved in trying to salvage the pair’s marriage. According to the biography, The Queen and Di: The Untold Story, Diana often sought advice from her mother-in-law as she navigated her married life.
She exchanged letters with Prince Philip, who offered her support during the trying times. Ultimately, it became clear that the marriage could not be saved, and he famously wrote: “If invited, I will always do my utmost to help you and Charles to the best of my ability, but I am quite ready to concede that I have no talent as a marriage counsellor.”
The Queen then personally wrote a letter advising Charles and Diana to divorce, after consulting with the prime minister and the archbishop of Canterbury. It was clear that she was still quite fond of Diana however, as the princess was granted permission to keep all of her jewellery with the exception of the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara. The monarch also wanted Diana to retain her HRH title, but was met with opposition from Charles. Hence, Diana was styled as Diana, Princess of Wales after the divorce.
Diana was granted an apartment in the Kensington Palace, access to the royal family jets and a settlement of £17 million. Unfortunately, she passed away in a Paris car crash a year later. Charles finally wedded his lover, Camilla Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony in 2005 to avoid controversy concerning remarriage in the Church of England.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
Andrew and Sarah married in 1986, after a whirlwind romance. The pair had two children—Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie—but the fact that Andrew’s duties as a naval officer often kept him away from his family soon led to the breakdown of their marriage.
After undignified photographs of Sarah with Texan multimillionaire Steve Wyatt were published, the Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation on March 19, 1992, and divorced in May 1996.
During the four years of separation, Sarah ran up a hefty debt from her lavish lifestyle and was involved in another scandal with her financial manager John Bryan, who was photographed sucking on her toes as she sunbathed topless. The Queen reportedly issued a statement that she would not be responsible for the Duchess’ debts.
When the divorce was finalised, Sarah lost her HRH status and was styled as Sarah, Duchess of York instead. She also allegedly received a settlement of £3 million. She continued to maintain a close friendship with Prince Andrew, even sharing a home with her ex-husband. She remains close to Queen Elizabeth and can occasionally be spotted at family events.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips
Peter’s mother, Anne herself, was the first amongst the Queen’s children to get a divorce. She married Mark Phillips in November 1973 and they had two children, Peter and Zara. Anne and Mark eventually began to spend most of their time away from each other—to the point where they were checking into different hotels when they travelled abroad together.
In 1989, The Sun published private letters addressed to Anne from Timothy Laurence—then a commander in the Royal Navy, and now Anne’s husband—which contributed to Anne and Mark announcing their separation. It wasn’t until 1992, after another scandal revealed that Mark had fathered a daughter with art teacher Heather Tonkin, that they finalised their divorce. The Queen later dubbed the year her annus horribilis, as Andrew and Sarah, as well as Charles and Diana, separated that same year. Anne wedded Timothy in December 1992 and the couple remains married to this day.