It's (almost) the done thing nowadays but marrying into royalty used to cause a stir, from raised eyebrows to full-blown conniptions.
By Felicity Lewis
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier
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He was Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi, ruler of the tiny principality of Monaco, a tax haven and gambling mecca. She was, well, Grace Kelly. Luckily for him, the Hollywood star had taken a shine to the French Riviera while filming To Catch a Thief there with Cary Grant in 1954. She met the prince the following year during a photo shoot at Monaco's palace; they married in 1956 in a swirl of glamour. Rainier, dripping with medals in his self-styled military garb and Kelly, in a symphony of tulle, taffeta and Brussels lace, were watched by millions of television viewers as she delivered her vows in French.
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier: the sequel
Kelly and Rainier married twice. Under the French Napoleonic code, a civil ceremony was held in Monaco Palace the day before the Nuptial Mass. It took just 16 minutes – plus another 26 minutes to read out Kelly's 140 new titles. Fresh from Philadelphia, Kelly's parents, and her brother and his wife had front-row seats (see above). Kelly's dresses for both weddings were gifts from MGM, sewn by the studio seamstresses. In marrying Rainier, she famously stepped away from her film career (and had to turn down a role in Alfred Hitchcock's 1962 film Marnie) but she was, of course, never out of the spotlight right up until her death in 1982, when she had a stroke and her Rover plunged off a winding French road. Her children have each bypassed royals in choosing a spouse. The first two marriages of Caroline were to “civilians” (although she is now with Prince Ernst August, head of the House of Hanover). Albert is married to a swimming champion (see below). Stephanie, the youngest, is married to a circus acrobat.
Rita Hayworth and “Prince” Aly Khan
Less well known is that another Hollywood star, Rita Hayworth of Gilda fame, married royalty of sorts. Fresh from a four-year marriage to none other than Orson Welles, the Love Goddess became engaged to the dashing Prince Aly Khan, heir to the Ismaili sect of Shiite Islam (a spiritual rather than temporal dominion). In a fit of prenuptial panic in 1949, according to Vanity Fair, Hayworth summoned Welles and asked him to marry her – again. Welles demurred and her marriage to Khan went ahead in Vallauris on the French Riviera. As Hayworth had intuited, being a princess turned out to be no fun for her. Khan had been spotted out and about with other starlets by the time she divorced him in 1953 on grounds of extreme mental cruelty.
Silvia Sommerlath and King Carl Gustaf
And now to Scandinavia and the Lycra-clad ABBA, whose members dedicated a song to palace newbie Silvia Sommerlath and Prince Carl Gustaf at a royal command show the night before the royal wedding in Stockholm in 1976: Dancing Queen. When Sommerlath, a German former flight attendant and consular official met the prince, she added Swedish to the list of five languages in which she was already fluent. That she was a “commoner” caused the usual raised eyebrows but she went on to charm the Swedes and to become their longest-serving Queen. The royal couple also set a family trend: all three of their children went on to marry non-royals, including Victoria (below) who married her personal trainer.
Daniel Westling and Princess Victoria
“Once upon a time, there was a young man who, while perhaps not a frog, was certainly not a prince,” said former fitness instructor Daniel Westling at his wedding to Crown Princess Victoria, heir apparent to the Swedish throne. Westling, who was the princess's trainer (he owned three gyms in Stockholm), received intensive sprucing ahead of his wedding. His image makeover included ditching his Alfa Romeo for a Lexus. Now a father of two, he told a Swedish news outlet recently that he wanted his children to know what it was like to catch a bus and barrack at a football match. “Being with your children is the best thing in the world,” he said.
Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby and Prince Haakon
Norwegian Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby had done a stint as a exchange student at Wangaratta High School (the one in Australia), worked for the Norwegian-British chamber of commerce in London, waited tables at an Oslo cafe, had a son and partied a lot when she met Prince Haakon at a local music festival. Fortunately for Haakon, his father, Harald, had done the hard yards in breaking from convention in 1968. Harald stared down his father, King Olav, to marry Sonja Haraldsen, the daughter of a cloth merchant. (Among many other things, Sonja is the first queen ever to go to Antarctica.) The best man at Hoiby and Haakon's 2001 wedding was Prince Frederik of Denmark (you can see him in the background of the photo above) who was involved in his own whirlwind romance at the time, with a woman he'd met in Sydney …
Mary Donaldson and Prince Frederik
That time I met the Crown Prince of Denmark at the Slip Inn and he told me his name was Fred. Ah, the social-media posts Mary Donaldson could have shared had she not been the very soul of discretion since she started dating Prince Frederik Andre Henrik Christian, Count of Monpezat. Danes lined the streets and Australian fans were glued to their TVs to see the girl from Tassie's Taroona High turn royal in 2004. Fast-forward to 2018, and the Danish mother of four has morphed into a polished queen-to-be. She heads the Mary Foundation (to combat bullying, domestic violence and loneliness among Danes) and still gets to ride horses just as she did growing up in Tasmania.
Michiko Shoda and Crown Prince Akihito
Michiko Shoda met Prince Akihito on a Karuizawa tennis court in 1957. A descendant of the samurai class, she spoke English, wrote poetry, played piano, had studied at Oxford and Harvard and reportedly beat him at their game of doubles. However, she was not royal. No commoner had ever married into the Japanese imperial family, said to be the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. Shoda's prospective mother-in-law, the Empress Kojun, was famously unimpressed; that Shoda was a Catholic just made it worse. Yet when the Shinto wedding went ahead, during the April cherry blossom season of 1959, more than half-a-million Tokyo residents turned out to cheer on the couple. Another 15 million watched on television. The couple, now Emperor and Empress, celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next year.
Kei Komuro and Princess Mako
If Michiko Shoda had a tricky time marrying into the Japanese imperial family, consider the seven royal Japanese women who have had to marry out. Japan rewrote its laws in 1947 to bring them into line with its US-written constitution and to limit the size of the imperial family. Any female royal who marries a commoner has to leave. The royals realised they may have gone overboard by the 2000s, when their family was shrinking and they had no male heirs. Changes were floated to allow women (in the male line) to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. But then one of them had a baby son – phew! – so the issue was shelved. Akihito's eldest granddaughter, Princess Mako, looks set to be the eighth woman to leave because she is engaged to a chap she met at uni who works in a Tokyo law firm. Their November nuptials were recently put off, because of what she called “immaturity”, until 2020.
Lisa Halaby and King Hussein
In the mid-70s, Lisa Halaby was a Princeton architecture graduate who had hitchhiked around Australia. A trip to Jordan with her father, who had chaired Pan Am Airways, led to a job in Jordan's airline industry, which led to an encounter with King Hussein (still grieving the death of his third wife in a helicopter crash), which led to Halaby becoming the first US-born queen of an Arab country. On her wedding day, she was renamed Queen Noor al-Hussein (meaning Light of Hussein) and the old Lisa Halaby was gone. It's little wonder that her memoir was titled Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. When Hussein died, in 1999, it was his son King Abdullah II, from his second marriage to English model Toni Gardiner, who ended up taking the throne. Abdullah II also married outside royal circles: his wife is former banker Rania Al-Yassin, also known as Queen Rania.
Letizia Rocasolano and King Felipe
Now to Spain, where TV journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano caused tingles in the Catholic Church ahead of her 2004 marriage to King Felipe on account of her being a divorcee. While issues such as Catalan secession exercise the nation, tensions in Letizia's relationship with her mother-in-law and, yes, what she wears when she goes out have the capacity to trigger headlines across Spain.
Maxima Cerruti and Prince Willem-Alexander
Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander's marriage to investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta Cerruti was controversial, not because she was not royal but because of her father's past as a civilian minister in Argentina when the country was ruled by a dictatorship. Her parents did not attend her wedding in 2002 nor her swearing in as queen consort of The Netherlands in 2013. Meanwhile, Willem-Alexander had been leading a rather dashing double life of sorts: it was revealed last year that the king had been co-piloting Fokker 70 passenger flights incognito for KLM twice a month for 21 years.
Charlene Wittstock and Prince Albert
Back to Monaco half a century later for another big wedding, this time between a prince and a swimmer. She competed for South Africa in the Sydney Olympics. He was a judo black belt who bobsleighed for Monaco in five winter Olympics. She had no conspicuous past, he had officially acknowledged a son by a previous girlfriend, a French-Togolese flight attendant. Wittstock's princess training included learning the local language, Monegasque. As her nupitals approached, there were reports she had been intercepted high-tailing it to the airport. In the end, the marriage went ahead with Wittstock succeeding her late mother-in-law as Her Serene Highness of Monaco.
The Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales
Diana Spencer was a shy, 19-year-old Sloane Ranger teaching at a private kindergarten in Pimlico when she came to the world's attention as a love interest of the Prince of Wales. She was no stranger to royalty: princes Andrew and Edward were childhood playmates; the Prince of Wales had dated her older sister; she was descended five times from King Charles II; and her father, Earl Spencer, had worked for the royal household. (We consulted London company Debrett's on whether Diana was a commoner, albeit a Lady on account of her father being an earl, when she married Charles. She “would have retained her courtesy title Lady after marriage if she had married an untitled person”, they replied, but “Debretts dont refer to commoners vs. those with titles.” Quite right too. In return for their advice, they asked that we mention their who's who of titled Brits.) In any case, Diana's storied marriage to Charles seemed to be fraying even as it began, at St Paul's Cathedral in 1981. Yet, as the Princess of Wales, she set about becoming “the queen of people's hearts” and, amid the outpouring of grief after her death in Paris in 1997, the 36-year-old was widely referred to as the People's Princess.
Kate Middleton and Prince William
Before they opened their party supplies business, Kate Middleton's father, Michael, was a flight despatcher and her mother, Carole, a flight attendant – and so, reports have it, William's friends at once stage took to murmuring “Doors to manual” when Kate walked into the room. Kate, of course, has had the last laugh. He proposed to her in a safari park in Kenya, having lugged his mother's sapphire engagement ring in his backpack for three weeks before he found the right moment. He sought the green light from her parents and then, by legal necessity, from his grandmother, who responded thus: “NOW KNOW YE that We have consented and do by these Presents signify Our Consent to the contracting of Matrimony between Our Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, K.G., and Our Trusty and Well-beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.” Since their marriage, Kate has been known for her discretion and sensibleness. She has even been spotted in supermarket car parks loading up the family Range Rover with groceries she has bought herself.
Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales
It's 80 years since Wallis Warfield Simpson blazed a trail as a commoner-with-a-past seeking to marry royalty. Technically, she never did. When she began her liaison with the Prince of Wales, the Baltimore socialite had divorced a husband because of incompatibility and was still married to a second. The horror. Even though she went on to divorce her second husband, the Church of England (with the prince as its soon-to-be head) did not allow divorcees to remarry if their previous partner was still alive. The church changed that rule in 2002 but not before hearts had been broken – as fans of The Crown would know, it was the reason Princess Margaret was not allowed to marry Peter Townsend in the late 50s. (She went on to marry, and later divorce, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones). Edward's predicament heated up when King George V's death made the prince into King Edward VIII. How to reconcile his love life with his new job? In the end, he handed the throne to his younger brother, Albert (Queen Elizabeth and Margaret's father), who became George VI. Taking up the title of Duke of Windsor he was not, technically, royalty when he married Simpson in 1937 in a chateau in France.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
And so the spotlights of the world converge on the star of Suits, born Rachel Meghan Markle in Los Angeles, daughter of Doria Ragland, a social worker and yoga instructor who will accompany her daughter to St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle this weekend, and Thomas Markle, an Emmy award-winner for his lighting direction on daytime soap General Hospital, who will not accompany his daughter for reasons we have heard about all week. The couple will have 10 pageboys and girls and a lemon elderflower wedding cake. The big day will usher in the end of Meghan's acting career and charity work and the beginning of different charity work and interesting times as Harry's partner. Naturally, Markle has shut down her social media accounts now, including her lifestyle blog, The Tig, which now bears this sign-off to fans: “Above all, don't ever forget your worth – as I've told you time and time again: you, my sweet friend, you are enough.”
Felicity Lewis is multimedia editor for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WAToday.
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