The wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana went down in history. On July 29, 1981, Diana Spencer, wearing a sumptuous taffeta gown complete with a 25-foot train, made the three and a half minute walk down the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral in front of 3,000 guests and 750 million TV viewers (via BBC). By the end of the day, she’d become a princess.
It was the royal wedding of the century — but as we all know, what happened next couldn’t be further from a fairy tale romance. In fact, in years to come, Diana would call her wedding day, “the worst day of my life,” explaining that she felt like “a lamb to the slaughter” (via Independent). Charles and Diana’s relationship quickly soured, and the tabloids of the day were obsessed with tracking the strained relationship. By 1992, the couple had officially separated (via History).
With the release of the fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown, a new generation was introduced to the heartbreaking and complicated Charles and Diana story. While the show is somewhat fictionalized, it does give an insider look at the dysfunctional marriage. So we finally know why Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced.
Diana Spencer had only met Prince Charles 13 times before they married
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage was publicly portrayed as a fairy tale romance. And at the time, Diana did think herself in love with Charles; as she told her biographer Andrew Morton, “I remember being so in love with my husband that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world” (via The Oprah Magazine).
Sadly, the truth of the matter was that Charles and Diana were practically strangers at the time of their wedding. In fact, they’d only met a handful times before tying the knot. In Diana’s personal tapes, recorded with her voice coach Peter Settelen in 1992, she revealed, “We met 13 times and we got married” (via Cosmopolitan). Additionally, in these 13 meetings, Charles and Diana were rarely alone. As royal biographer Penny Junor explained to History Extra, “They really didn’t know one another at all.”
While Diana may have thought herself in love at the time of her marriage, it’s fairly evident that Charles didn’t feel the same way. When asked if they were in love, Charles infamously replied, “Whatever in love means.”
The age gap between Prince Charles and Princess Diana contributed to their divorce
At the time of their wedding, Prince Charles was 32, while Princess Diana was just 20; she was 19 at the time of the proposal. With more than a decade separating the couple, it’s easy to see how they may have been mismatched from the beginning. At the time, however, few people seemed perturbed by the age disparity, as former royal correspondent Stephen Bates explained to Time. Charles even joked about the age gap in an interview for The Guardian, saying, “I think that Diana will keep me young, apart from anything else.”
However, as time went on, it became clear that the age gap did cause some serious problems in the marriage. Diana was, after all, insanely young at the time of her marriage. According to Reader’s Digest, the 12-year gap meant that their personalities were poorly suited for one another. In fact, it’s widely believed to be one of the most significant factors in their eventual divorce.
Princess Diana was unprepared for the life of a royal
Because of Princess Diana’s youth and inexperience, she was woefully unprepared for the dramatic life changes that came with becoming a royal. In The Firm, royal biographer Penny Junor described Diana as being “little more than a child when she first arrived, totally unprepared for the life that lay ahead and completely out of her depth.” Junor added, “She was a romantic, an innocent, she knew nothing of life or work or relationships” (via Express).
While Diana was expecting to live a real life fairy tale, the reality of becoming a royal was vastly different. As Diana once said to E! News, “The day I walked down the aisle at St Paul’s Cathedral, I felt that my personality was taken away from me, and I was taken over by the royal machine” (via Romper).
It wasn’t just the responsibility of entering the royal family that plagued Diana– it was also the intrusive media attention that came with it. In a 1995 interview with PBS’ Frontline, Diana revealed that the non-stop media attention was an “isolating experience” (via Romper). That pressure eventually contributed to her divorce from Prince Charles.
Prince Charles was still in love with Camilla Parker Bowles
Marriages rarely work when one party’s affections lie elsewhere, whether royal or not. Notably, Prince Charles had dated Camilla Parker Bowles in the early ’70s. As journalist Jonathan Dimbleby put it, “he lost his heart to her almost immediately” (via Town & Country). However, by 1973, Camilla was engaged to Andrew Parker Bowles. Nevertheless, it seemed that Charles was never able to get over his feelings for Camilla — after all, they eventually married in 2005!
As Karen Mooney, who once worked in the royal household, said to The Sun, Charles was “desperately unhappy” married to Princess Diana. “Obviously, he was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles at the time but he was the next in line to the throne, so he had to find somebody to bear his heirs and he did what was expected of him.” For Charles, the marriage was merely an alliance based on royal duty, and he was unable to give Diana the love she craved in the early years of their marriage. Not surprisingly, the couple later divorced.
Princess Diana's struggle with mental illness pushed the royal couple toward divorce
Princess Diana struggled with bulimia, depression, and anxiety throughout her time with Prince Charles. In 1995, she told the BBC the eating disorder was a “symptom of what was going on in my marriage.” In her interviews for Andrew Morton’s biography, she said, “The bulimia started the week after we got engaged.” As she recalled, “My husband put his hand on my waistline and said something like, ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ And that triggered off something in me.”
Within months of getting married, Diana’s mental health deteriorated further. “I was about to cut my wrists,” she revealed. “I came [back to London] to seek treatment.” She saw multiple psychiatrists who reportedly put her on high levels of medication. But as Diana put it, “time, patience, and adapting that was all that was needed” (via Well + Good).
Reportedly, Charles didn’t deal with Diana’s mental illness well. According to the Daily Mail, he didn’t understand her emotional outbursts and tried to seek out help. In fact, Charles was reportedly so distressed by these events that he ended up seeing a therapist for 14 years.
Before their divorce, Prince Charles didn't offer support to Princess Diana
According to Princess Diana’s interviews for her biography by Andrew Morton, Prince Charles was rarely there to support her throughout their marriage. When it came to her struggles with mental health, Diana alleged that Charles said she was “crying wolf.” She recalled one instance: “I was sad and desperate and I was crying my eyes out.” When Charles ignored her, she threw herself down the stairs. “Charles went out riding,” she said.
Diana also claimed that Charles and the rest of the royal family offered no support when it came to the aggressive and intrusive press attention. As she recalled, there were often over 30 photographers waiting outside her home. “I got no support from Charles or the press office,” she revealed. “They just said, ‘You’re on your own” (via The Times).
It’s easy to see how Charles’ lack of support could lead to tension within the marriage, and eventually a divorce.
Prince Charles grew jealous of Princess Diana's popularity
During her relationship with Prince Charles, Princess Diana underwent a stunning transformation, becoming one of the most popular royals in history. “Di-mania” gripped the nation, and even the world. As Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine, explained to Time, her fame was astronomical. “No one in the Royal Family had experienced it before,” she proclaimed. Eventually, Diana became known as the “People’s Princess.”
As Diana revealed in her 1995 interview with BBC’s Martin Bashir, when the couple were out on public tours, the crowds would be clamoring to get a glimpse of her. “Now, if you’re a man like my husband,” she said, “a proud man, you mind about that if you head it every day for four weeks.” She also explained that Charles couldn’t share her happiness at being loved by the public. In fact, he made it hard for her to enjoy any of the public affection. “With the media attention came a lot of jealousy,” she continued. “A great deal of complicated situations arose because of that” (via Marie Claire). Of course, one of those situations was their eventual divorce.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles both had affairs during their marriage
Eventually, things became so strained and unpleasant between Princess Diana and Prince Charles, they sought love and affection elsewhere; both parties are known to have had affairs throughout the marriage. Four years into their union, Diana fell in love with her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee (via The Guardian). She also had an affair with Officer James Hewitt, who was reportedly snuck into Kensington Palace in the boot of the princess’s car (via The Sun).
In 1986, Charles reportedly began an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. It’s clear that this affair put a serious strain on the relationship, and led to Diana becoming suspicious and jealous. As she revealed in private interview taps for Andrew Morton, Diana once confronted Camilla at a party. “I do know what is going on,” Diana recalled saying. “Don’t treat me like an idiot” (via Reader’s Digest). Charles eventually admitted the affair in 1994.
Eventually, the damage caused by the affairs led to Diana and Charles divorcing.
Princess Diana felt excluded from the royal family unit
Winning over the mother-in-law can be tough in the best of times for anyone. As for Princess Diana, she found it almost impossible to feel like a part of her husband’s family. In fact, she often felt actively excluded. In her interviews for Andrew Morton, she recalled one instance where she felt particularly and painfully left out: Prince Williams’ christening. “He was only six weeks old and it was all decided around me, hence the ghastly pictures, she shared.”
Diana went on to explain that no one consulted with her about when to hold the event; in the end, they picked 11:00, which was an awkward time for the baby. Diana even felt that she wasn’t included in the pictures. She remembered “endless pictures of the Queen, Queen Mother, Charles, and William,” all without her (via The Times). It felt to Diana as though she was merely there to feed and comfort the baby in between pictures. No wonder the princess felt that her role in the royal family was unsustainable. And no wonder she ended up divorcing her husband.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana lacked the emotional capacity to understand the other
As it turns out, both Prince Charles and Princess Diana may have been unable to empathize with each other due to their backgrounds. Sally Bedell Smith wrote about how their respective upbringings doomed the marriage from the start in the 2017 biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life (via History). “Diana was tormented by feelings of emptiness and detachment,” she said. “She feared abandonment; she had difficulty sustaining relationships; and she kept those close set to her on tenterhooks.”
Charles’ upbringing left him similarly unsuited to open up to Diana in private and form a deeper understanding. In the biography Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward, she wrote that Charles received little to no affection from his parents. Diana apparently once said that the only thing he “learned about love from the Queen and Prince Philip was shaking hands” (via Mirror). It’s no wonder he struggled to comfort or connect with Diana, even in private, or that they eventually divorced.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles didn't have any hobbies or friends in common
It quickly became clear that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were poorly suited as a couple due to their vastly different interests and hobbies. Karen Mooney, an ex-employee of the royal household, described their mismatched personalities to The Sun. “They had nothing in common,” she said, “and as time went by, that really showed.”
As biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote in her biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life (via History), Diana “hated all of his hobbies — his polo, his paintings, his gardening, even his love of Shakespeare.” She reportedly even “banished” many of his old friends.
In the 2007 biography Charles — The Man Who Will Be King, Howard Hodgson explained that Charles’ love of nature proved to be “impossible” for Diana. While he loved spending time at Balmoral, she allegedly associated the rural estate with “solitude and boring loneliness” (via Express). With their divergent interests and hobbies, it’s no surprise that by 1986, the couple were living separate lives prior to their divorce (via Town & Country).
Prince Charles was a little disappointed not to have a daughter
In Princess Diana’s tapes, recorded for biographer Andrew Morton, she revealed that tensions rose between her and Prince Charles after the birth of Prince Harry, her second son. Surprisingly, the couple had been going through a relatively calm period prior to Harry’s birth. “Charles and I were very, very close to each other the six weeks before Harry was born, the closest we’ve ever, ever been and ever will be,” she recalled (via Good Housekeeping). She went on to describe that as soon as Harry was born, “It just went bang, our marriage.” As she put it, “The whole thing went down the drain.” After that, it seemed divorce was imminent.
Diana explained that she was convinced that Charles had been disappointed not to have a daughter. “He wanted two children and he wanted a girl,” she continued. It’s clear that Harry’s birth marked a turning point for the worse in the marriage.
The Queen eventually recommended Prince Charles and Princess Diana separate
After years of tension and unhappiness, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially divorced Queen Elizabeth recommended that they do so. The couple had separated in 1992 after years of tabloid speculation about the state of the marriage (via History). So it seemed like a fairly natural next step.
However, in 1995, Diana gave her infamous Panorama interview on the BBC – and she revealed that the separation was not her idea. “I come from a divorced background, and I didn’t want to go into that one again,” she confessed. She then explained that she didn’t want to divorce because of the effect it would have on their children. That same year, The New York Times reported that the Queen had recommended an official divorce and that Charles was in full support.
While it’s evident that a divorce was not what Diana had wanted, with the Queen’s recommendation it became inevitable. On August 28, 1996, the divorce was finalized and the couple went their separate ways (via History).
Princess Diana and Prince Charles' relationship improved after their divorce
After their divorce, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship settled down, becoming placid and more friendly. As Sally Bedell Smith alleged in her biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life (via History), Charles would often visit his ex-wife and chat with her about Princes William and Harry.
In the book The Diana Chronicles, author Tina Brown claimed that the relationship was “definitely calming down” after the divorce. “They talked about their philanthropies. And she had accepted Camilla,” Brown wrote (via Elle).
Sadly, this new friendship didn’t last. Diana was tragically killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997, and Diana’s friend Simone Simmonds claimed Charles was distraught to learn of the accident. As she told the Daily Mail, he “only realized he loved her after she died.”
It’s impossible to know the full truth about what happened between Charles and Diana, but it’s clear that the relationship was a complicated one that was doomed from the start and that ended in tragedy.
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