Why was Princess Michael of Kent critical of Princess Diana?

Who is Princess Michael of Kent? And what did the 6ft ‘Austrian’ baroness say that was so critical of Princess Diana?

  • Princess Michael is a neighbour of William and Kate at Kensington Palace 
  • Born Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, she didn’t know her father was a Nazi
  • For all the latest Royal news, pictures and video click here 

After marrying the Queen’s first cousin in 1978, Princess Michael of Kent declared in an interview with American fashion magazine that she boasts more royal blood than any other royal to have married into the family since Prince Philip.

‘It is just a genealogical thing, a fact of life,’ the princess, born Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, proclaimed.

She is the wife of Prince Michael of Kent and claims descent from both Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II of France, and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers – and was described in jest as ‘a bit too grand for us’ by the late Queen.

She appears on a Channel 5 show, The Royal Borough: Kensington & Chelsea, tonight.

Her nicknames – including MC to her friends or ‘Princess Pushy’ to Princess Anne – give a mixed impression of the princess, whose royal life has been an obstacle course of stumbling blocks and controversies. 

Princess Michael was born Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz on her grandmother’s estate near Carlsbad, which is now in the Czech Republic but was historically in the Austrian empire

Over the years, she has made unwisely blunt remarks about the royals, once claiming that King Charles had deeply resented Diana’s popularity

The Austrian brought up in Australia

Princess Michael was born on the estate of her grandmother Princess Hedwig von Windisch-Graetz’s near Carlsbad in Bohemia, historically part of the Austrian empire. Her parents were Baron Gunther von Reibnitz and his wife, Marianne.

In 2014 it was revealed her aristocratic father had been a member of the Nazi party until he was kicked out in 1944. He served in the SS for 11 years, from 1933. 

Historian Philip Hall unearthed the baron’s Nazi membership at the Berlin Document Centre, where evidence showed he had joined the SS three years before Hitler became chancellor.

He also found references to Princess Michael’s father being recommended for an appointment by Herman Goering. It is  believed he fought on the Polish front.

Princess Michael said she hadn’t known about her father’s SS past and was said to be heartbroken about the publicity it received. 

‘She actually developed an ulcer and lost two stones in weight and really worried about the shame it had brought on the Royal Family,’ said royal expert Phil Dampier.

Princess Michael described her devastation in an interview, saying: ‘It came as a really great blow to me, because I always rather hero-worshipped him.

She is said to have first met the Queen’s first cousin, Prince Michael, left,  not long after her first wedding

The prince recalled his first encounter with the 6ft, blonde baroness, saying: ‘I was very struck by this tall Austrian lady. I was very impressed’

‘What the public perception of me will be, I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when all this happened. So I hope they will judge me on my own performance but my shoulders are broad and I shall carry it. But yes, it’s a deep shame for me.’

Princess Michael was born on 15 January 1945, just months before the end of the Second World War.

But Dr Chandrika Kaul, a historian at St Andrew’s University, told a Channel 5 documentary it was ‘hard to believe’ that the princess had no knowledge of her late father’s Nazi past.

‘She is on record, as saying that “Here I am, discovering this very unpleasant story,”  said Dr Kaul. 

‘I find it hard to believe that Princess Michael, with a deep interest in European history, would be totally unware of her father’s role as a Nazi party member.’

With her elder brother and her parents, a young Princess Michael had been forced to flee to American-occupied Bavaria in 1945 as the Soviet army approached.

After her parents divorced in 1946, she moved to Australia with her mother and brother, attending a Catholic school in Sydney while her mother set up a beauty salon.

With her elder brother and her parents, a young Princess Michael had fled to American-occupied Bavaria in 1945 as the Soviet army approached

Speaking on a Channel 5 documentary, Princess Michael Of Kent: The Controversial Royal, biographer Anne Sebba explained the family’s situation, saying: ‘There was not a lot of money at that point and it was rumoured that her mother had to sell a tiara in order to buy the salon in the eastern suburbs of Australia.’

According to The Express, Princess Michael spent the next 15 years in Australia. 

‘They were quite humble beginnings for her,’ said Phil Dampier.

‘But I think she always thought that Australia was not big enough for her.’

She spent time living on her father’s farm in Mozambique and later moved from Vienna to London to study History of Fine and Decorative Art at the V&A in the 1970s.

‘Really from the get-go in London, she was moving in royal circles which she felt was her birthright,’ said Anne Sebba.

After spending five years as an apprentice for London’s top interior designers, she opened her own interior design business, Szapar Designs.

Married life began with a blazing row

Marie-Christine’s first marriage was to Old Etonian banker Thomas Troubridge, referred to as ‘poor Tom Troubridge’ by Private Eye magazine.

They were married at Chelsea Old Church in 1971, where ushers reported the couple had ‘a blazing row’ in the vestry. 

They separated two years later and were divorced in 1977, with the marriage annulled by the Pope the following year. 

She is said to have met the Queen’s first cousin Prince Michael not long after her first wedding while staying at Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire, home of Troubridge’s old school friend Prince William of Gloucester.

She said Prince Michael was ‘the funniest man I had ever met’ after their first encounter

Speaking to the Daily Mail the month before her marriage to Prince Michael, Marie-Christine described their first meeting, saying: ‘I thought Prince Michael was the funniest man I had ever met. We just kept talking and laughing together.’

The prince recalled his first encounter with the 6ft, blonde baroness, saying: ‘I was very struck by this tall Austrian lady. I was very impressed.

‘I remember we had a long talk about history of art, sitting in a hut eating sausages.’ 

Marie-Christine’s  first marriage began to disintegrate when Troubridge was posted to Bahrain; she and Prince Michael grew close.

She said: ‘For a long time we cried on each other’s shoulders. I saw him, for a year, simply as a friend.

‘Now I’m glad we had that time because friendship is something you never lose.’

The couple faced a series of hurdles in their attempt to wed, with Marie-Christine describing the road to marriage as ‘a very long and a very, very tortuous one.’

According to the 1701 Act of Settlement, a member of the Royal Family was unable to marry a Roman Catholic while the Church of England barred the marriage of divorced persons in church.

The couple managed to make their vows in a civil ceremony in Vienna in 1978 and later, after receiving Pope John Paul II’s permission, had a Roman Catholic ceremony in 1983 at Archbishop’s House near Westminster Cathedral.

To marry Marie Christine, Prince Michael, who was 15th in line for the throne at the time, renounced his succession right in accordance with The Act of Settlement 1701.

He later retrieved his rights of succession thanks to the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 (which removed both the prohibition on Catholics and the presumption in favour of male heirs).

The Queen’s sister Princess Margaret was reportedly ‘furious’ that a foreign-born divorcee had been allowed to marry into the royal family, particularly after she had been dissuaded from marrying divorced RAF officer Peter Townsend in 1953. 

The couple have two children, Lord Frederick Windsor and Lady Gabriella Kingston. The family is pictured here leaving St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington with four-day-old Lady Gabriella

Prince and Princess Michael of Kent pictured with their son Frederick at Kensington Palace

It was hard for a Roman Catholic to marry into the Royal Family and, as she was a divorcee, she could not get married in an Anglican church. Prince and Princess Michael eventually chose a civil ceremony in Vienna – before a Papal dispensation allowed a Catholic marriage in Westminster

Speaking to Channel 5, royal commentator Viscountess Hitchingbrooke said: ‘You can imagine this did not go down well with Princess Margaret, who was told by her own sister, Queen Elizabeth, that she couldn’t marry a divorcee.

‘In fact she was said to be furious.’

Viscountess Hitchingbrooke said it had been claimed that Princess Margaret, who died in 2002, wouldn’t speak to Princess Michael, her first cousin’s wife, because she was a Roman Catholic.

Prince and Princess Michael have endured longstanding rumours of infidelity – which they have mostly denied – fuelled in part by the amount of time they spend apart.

Prince Michael explained: ‘I think people put two and two together and make five.

‘We spend a lot of time apart. The princess is a writer and she likes to get to write.

‘We both have different interests and, although some coincide, this makes for a much richer life than always doing the same thing. So we have a tremendous life and we enjoy practically all of it.’

In a 2013 interview, the Princess recalled her mother saying that separate quarters mean ‘you won’t see each other being cross or saying, “I can’t do this up. It’s too tight!”’

Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent during Royal Ascot 2023 in June

The prince and princess worked on raising their public profile and held dinners with those who might be interested in hiring him after he left the Army

Six years after their 1978 marriage, Princess Michael was linked to Texan oilman Ward Hunt, who was said to have proposed to her. 

There was also speculation about an affair with Elizabeth Taylor’s sixth husband, John Warner, an American senator. 

In 1994 the prince was said to have grown close to former Royal Ballet principal dancer Bryony Brind, 18 years his junior.

The princess was photographed with Russian millionaire Mikhail Kravchenko in 2006, but both denied anything untoward, saying they were friends and business partners.

That year American artist and socialite Lucy Weber claimed to have had an eight-year relationship with the prince, although he refused to comment.

Prince and Princess Michael of Kent have two children together, Lord Frederick Windsor and Lady Gabriella Kingston.

King’s Highgrove mansion? ‘Too small’ 

After marrying into the royal family in 1978, Marie-Christine acquired the soubriquet Princess Pushy, supposedly the invention of of Princess Anne.

Prince Michael was not sufficiently close to the line of succession to receive public money and as non-working royals the pair were not obliged to make such appearances.

But the princess felt it was her duty as a royal to carry out the work in any case. And she supposedly believed that, if they worked hard enough, they could work her way on to the Civil List – the list of royals entitled to public subsidy.

The prince and princess worked on raising their public profile and held dinners with those who might be interested in hiring him after he left the Army.

Broadcaster Bidisha Mamata told Channel 5: ‘She did what she wanted when she wanted, and as a result, the rest of the royals began calling her the pushy princess because she wanted things her way.’

The couple lived in an apartment in Kensington Palace but they also purchased Nether Lypiatt Manor in Gloucestershire after turning down Highgrove – later bought by Charles – because it was too small! 

Paying only £300,000 for Nether Lypiatt in 1981, the couple then spent £500,000 on refurbishment and furnishings and filled it with inherited antiques. 

Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent at a Charity Dinner in London in 1979

Marie-Christine is thought to have been given the name ‘Princess Pushy’ by Princess Anne, because of her attempts to raise her profile after marrying into the Royal Family

The princess was said to have had one of the most extensive wardrobes in the royal family, once saying: ‘people come to see a princess and I don’t have the right to disappoint them.’

The royal family however were unsympathetic, believing she dresses ‘too grandly even for state occasions’.

One senior royal figure told the Daily Mail in 1997 that Marie-Christine would only perform royal engagements if she gets ‘the full machinery – helicopters, police outriders, the lot’.

Another source explained that she wears her family jewellery more than the other royals because ‘she does believe she has a special face which people look at.’

Discussing the Princess Pushy soubriquet with American magazine W, Marie-Christine said: ‘It comes up all the time but nobody has ever given an incident of where I have pushed. We’re not very social. We don’t go out that much. 

‘But they had to put a handle on me. I guess someone said, “She pushed her way into this family”. I didn’t. I held out for years, refusing to marry.’ 

She claimed Diana was ‘uneducated’ The older royals? ‘Boring’

In a tactless outburst, Princess Michael of Kent described Princess Diana as uneducated and claimed she had been unable to cope with fame because she did not have a strict mother

Speaking about Diana, she said: ‘She was my next door neighbour at Kensington Palace and I must say I was very fond of her’

Over the years, she has made unwisely blunt remarks about the royals, once telling an undercover reporter – posing as a potential buyer of her country house – that Princess Diana was ‘bitter’, ‘nasty’ and ‘strange’ and that Charles had deeply resented his former wife’s popularity.

Speaking about Diana, she said: ‘She was my next door neighbour at Kensington Palace and I must say I was very fond of her, very attached to her.

‘Like probably many people of little education who find themselves, like pop stars or film stars, suddenly lauded by the whole world, it is very difficult if you have not had a mother bringing you up who was quite stern and strict.

‘She did not have a mother bring her up and she did not have much education, so it is much harder to cope with eulogy.’

She made the remarks during an interview with disgraced newspaper tycoon Conrad Black to promote her new book on Canadian TV.

When asked about William and Kate, Princess Michael said: ‘We’re thrilled to have a beautiful young married couple with a baby.

‘The people love to see happy young people and I think the older generation are a bit boring for most people.’

At the time of the interview in 2014, her comments have sparked outrage among royal circles.

Opened a Happy Eater on the A3

Prince and Princess Michael continue to perform a number of royal duties, which they fund themselves.

Although they conduct around 200 public engagements a year, they have never received an allowance.

This is in contrast with Prince Michael’s siblings the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, who are closer to the line of succession and receive public money. 

Prince and Princess Michael, do retain private business interests, however. The Prince has worked as a business consultant, offering advice to the construction, telecommunications, insurance, finance and tourism industries.

It is also suggested he has benefitted from lucrative links with Russia seeing as his great uncle was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance. 

An immaculately turned out Princess Michael at at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2018. She is said to have one of the most extensive wardrobes of any member of the Royal Family

Princess Michael arrives at a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace. With her husband, Prince Michael, she performs around 200 public engagements every year but gets no public money

In 2012, it emerged that the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky had given Prince Michael a stipend of some £320,000, paid via 56 separate transactions from offshore accounts. 

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Prince’s connections came under scrutiny and he has since handed back an Order of Friendship award – one of Russia’s highest honours. He has also stepped down as patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.

The Princess has an interior design business and has developed a career as a writer. She is the author of three non-fiction books and a novel trilogy.

The Princess has occasionally requested payment for personal appearances. Indeed, when she opened a branch of the Happy Eater roadside café chain on the A3, she quipped: ‘I’d go anywhere for a hot meal.’ 

She has also lectured on historical subjects around the world.

In 2002, the couple – who were branded ‘Rent-a-Kents’ for appearing to trade on their titles- faced an uproar when it was discovered they were paying a peppercorn rent of just £69 a week for their plush five-bedroom Kensington Palace apartment.

Princess Michael of Kent didn’t go home after the coronation but went to LouLou’s with friends

The Queen had agreed to meet the balance of the full rent out of her private funds in recognition of the royal and charitable work the couple undertook at their own expense.

Faced with a demand they meet the whole of the £120,000-a-year cost themselves, they put their Gloucestershire manor house on the market and sold it for £5.75 million.

Speaking to The Sunday Times Magazine, the Princess recalled the moment when she was told she would have to sell the property, saying: ‘Of course I miss the big gardens we had at our country house but it became very expensive to run… we couldn’t afford it. 

‘For the first time that terrible word came into my life when our private secretary said, “Ma’am, you have to downsize.” It was the worst word I’d heard in ages.’

Wore Blackamoor brooch to Buckingham Palace

The Princess has been caught up in a number of controversies.

She has come under fire for a number of racist incidents, including in 2004 when the princess supposedly accused group of black diners at a restaurant in New York of making too much noise. 

The Princess courted controversy when she  arrived at The Queen’s Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace in 2017 wearing an ornate Blackamoor brooch

While extremely popular in 18th century, Blackamoor jewellery is now considered to be highly racially insensitive and the word blackamoor has been condemned as a term of abuse for anyone with a dark skin 

The royal was accused of slamming her hand down on the group’s table, telling them: ‘You need to quiet down’ and, before switching tables, the royal is alleged to have said ‘you need to go back to the colonies’.

Her version of the event is that she asked to be moved to a quieter table. When told the only one available was ‘in Siberia’, in other words a socially distant part of the restaurant, she responded: ‘Siberia? At this point, I would be ready to go back to the colonies.’ 

Princess Michael was criticised in 2017 for wearing a ‘blackamoor’ brooch to the Queen’s Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace, where guests included Prince Harry’s mixed heritage fiancée, Meghan Markle.

While extremely popular in 18th century, Blackamoor jewellery is now considered to be highly racially insensitive and the word blackamoor has been condemned as a term of abuse for anyone with a dark skin.

Depicting largely men, but sometimes women, with black skin the figure is typically shown with a turban, dressed in lavish jewels and is commonly fixed in positions of servitude—such as footmen or waiters.

The Princess apologised for her mistake, saying that she was ‘very sorry and distressed’ for wearing the brooch, adding it was a gift she’s worn many times before.

Prince and Princess Michael (centre) at the 2019 wedding of Lady Gabriella. It has been reported that they wish to retire from public life, but an announcement is yet to be made

It was also claimed by Aatish Taseer, who dated the Princess’ daughter Lady Gabriella for three years, that the princess used to own two black sheep named Venus and Serena after the Williams tennis sisters. 

Still going strong…

In 2022, it was reported that Prince and Princess Michael were to announce their retirement from public life, coinciding with the Prince’s 80th birthday.

Marie-Christine held a lavish party at Kensington Palace for her husband on 4 July last year, his 80th birthday, complete with 150 guests and a specially-commissioned portrait of the Prince proudly exhibited on an easel.

While many in palace circles suggested that the pair would use the party to announce their plans for retirement, there was no such gesture and an official statement announcing the news is yet to be made.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea airs tonight at 9pm, Channel 5 

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