Marrying a Prince may sound like a fairy tale come true, but the reality of Royal life can be harsh and unforgiving. From navigating an endless list of unwritten rules to living the rest of your life in the public eye, Royal life can turn into a full-blown nightmare after just one faux pas.
A Lifetime Of Public Duty
Princesses do not have official job descriptions, but they are expected to act as brand ambassadors for both the Royal Family and the UK. Royals tend to become patrons of charities, attend events and perform duties in the public eye almost every day.
In the latest documentary on True Royalty, The Royal Wives of Windsor, journalist Rachel Johnson says, “I don’t envy the Royal wives at all. It’s endless meet and greets, endless banquets, endless ribbon snipping.”
“In public, Charles made jokes about ‘splitting his wife in half’ so she could greet all of the public.”
Being Royal means making small talk with people every day. It means shaking hands with hundreds of people you will never see again – which can become dangerous if there’s a stalker lurking amidst an adoring crowd.
When you’re Royal you have to attend events for the rest of your life – even when you’re over 90 years old and would probably rather relax with a nice cup of tea.
Two steps behind
A Royal wife’s job is to support her husband, not eclipse him. This rule proved challenging for Diana because she was more popular with the public than the Prince of Wales.
In public, Charles made jokes about ‘splitting his wife in half’ so she could greet all of the public, but the knowledge that his wife was more popular than him could not have been easy.
Becoming Royal means you normally have to give up any previous career to focus on public duty. Princess Sophie, the Countess of Wessex and wife of Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth, tried to keep her career in public relations.
She was forced to quit after she spoke too openly about the family to a journalist posing as an Arab Sheikh. Royal wives also give up their social media presence in favour of official Royal accounts.
Royal life is made up of unspoken rules and social etiquettes. These rules will be obvious for an aristocrat who has learned how to host tea parties, use the correct cutlery and conduct themselves properly at events from a young age – but they can be a minefield for someone who did not.
“You’re a broodmare if you’re a Royal bride.”
This could have been challenging for Meghan. If she poured her tea the ‘wrong way’, helped herself to another glass of wine, or said the word ‘toilet’ it would make headline news. Luckily she seems to be a fast learner and has managed to fit in with the in-laws.
The Art Of Royal Dressing
Royal women may not have much power, but they do have considerable influence. One way Royal women can use their influence is with clothing. What a Royal wife wears can help launch ethical brands, it can make a statement and it gives the public a sense of who this woman is.
Kate Middleton always manages to look elegant, but when she was first married to William she also used her clothing to show the public that she was ‘just a regular girl’. By wearing high street brands that people could actually buy, Kate was telling people that she was ‘one of them’.
Unfortunately, the power of clothes can also cause great embarrassment if one is seen wearing something questionable. Diana famously made some early mistakes by showing more cleavage than was deemed acceptable, while Sarah Ferguson’s array of questionable fashion choices – including a shawl which looked like a duvet – made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Heir And The Spare
“You’re a broodmare if you’re a Royal bride,” says Jeremy Paxman. It’s true that the traditional function of a Royal wife was to produce offspring, and while we have long since left behind the world of Henry VIII, people are still constantly speculating about whether the Royal wives have become pregnant.
The idea that people are constantly scrutinising you for any sign of a baby bump is hard at the best of times, but the ever-present public eye makes it harder for women who have difficult pregnancies or struggle to conceive at all. Diana suffered from anorexia and poor mental health during her pregnancies, while Kate has experienced debilitating morning sickness.
“Life as a Royal wife is still not easy, but it has certainly changed from what it used to be.”
Royal births themselves are normally a public affair with people waiting outside the hospital for hours, if not days, anticipating a glimpse of the Royal baby. Diana and Kate both gave birth in hospital and both posed for photos mere hours after giving birth.
“It’s a ghastly ritual,” says journalist Rachel Johnson. The idea of having to get your hair and makeup done and smile for the cameras soon after a potentially difficult birth is certainly hard to handle.
Meghan famously broke this tradition by not disclosing the exact due date or place she would be giving birth.
A Shift in Attitudes
Eighty years before Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, another Prince had wanted to marry an American divorcee. Edward VIII met Wallis Simpson in 1931 and, though he had other mistresses at the time, fell in love with her.
The thought that the heir to the British throne could marry a twice-divorced American socialite was unthinkable in the 1930s. After the death of his father King George V, Edward ruled for just 326 days, abdicating upon realising he could not remain King and marry a twice-divorced American of whom his family did not approve. His younger brother, Elizabeth II’s father, took the throne.
Wallis Simpson was the only wife of a Prince in modern times not to be referred to as ‘Her Royal Highness’, a deliberate snub from the new King. Her lack of status amongst the Royals also meant Wallis did not have access to the tiaras that usually adorn a princess’s head. The couple married in France and stayed abroad for much of the rest of their lives.
In 1981, Prince Charles married Diana Spencer even though he was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles. Times may have changed since the ‘30s, but the heir to the throne was still under immense pressure to marry the ‘right’ person.
Diana was an aristocrat, a member of the Church of England, grew up around the corner from one of the Queen’s houses and was a virgin. Camilla, on the other hand, was seen as an ‘experienced’ woman who was not aristocratic enough to become Queen consort someday. Camilla and Charles eventually wed in 2005, but it took a long time for her to be accepted by the public and the Royal family – especially in the light of Diana’s death.
In 2011, Prince William, third in line to the throne, married a middle-class girl he had been dating since university. Seven years later, his younger brother Prince Harry successfully married an American divorcee.
Life as a Royal wife is still not easy, but it has certainly changed from what it used to be. The new generation of Royals have made it clear that they need some boundaries with the press; they are prioritising their privacy and they have more freedom to make decisions based on love. Their life is still full of duty, endless public appearances and tabloid headlines, but they are now able to face it all with the person they love.
Find out more about what it’s like to leave ordinary life behind and become a Royal wife in Royal Wives of Windsor: A Royal Marriage, on True Royalty TV.