The tantalizing royal-wedding tales you need to read to believe.
Each week in May, Vanity Fair will flash back to a different British royal wedding in the lead-up to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’sMay 19 nuptials.
Sixty-five years ago, the idea of a British royal family member marrying a divorcée was so ludicrous—given the family’s association with the Church of England—that Queen Elizabeth II offered her heartsick younger sister a prickly ultimatum: Princess Margaret could marry Peter Townsend, but only if she forfeited her right to the throne for both herself and her children. Princess Margaret opted to keep her crown over the dashing group captain, avoiding a national scandal on par with her uncle’s decision to abdicate the throne for an American wife 17 years earlier. The fact that Queen Elizabeth has signed off on Prince Harry, her one-time-wild grandchild, marrying Meghan Markle—herself an American divorcée and television actress—is a testament to the monarch’s evolving moral attitude. And, at the moment, the British royal family—once teeming with affairs and controversy—is suddenly the picture of normalcy. Luckily for thrill-seeking royal-watchers, a few other palaces have picked up the slack in scandalous nuptials. Ahead, the most tantalizing of those tales.
RUNAWAY PRINCESS BRIDE
Just three months after Prince William married Kate Middleton in a real-life fairy tale—complete with carriage and movie-star-beautiful bride and groom—there was another European wedding that seemed, on paper at least, to be a P.R. slam dunk. Prince Albert, Grace Kelly’s grandson, was set to marry Charlene Wittstock—a gorgeous South African swimmer who competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and looks to be a cross between Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts.But according to media reports, what should have been a dream wedding in 2011 turned out, for Wittstock, to be a nightmare.
Days before the wedding, it was reported that the future bride had attempted to flee Monaco after discovering that Albert, already the father of two illegitimate children, had fathered a third love child during their five-year courtship. According to French weekly L’Express, Wittstock did not just make one attempt at escaping the principality, but three. Alleged attempt one: Wittstock, who is 20 years younger than her groom, is said to have sought “refuge in the South African Embassy in May, while in France for a bridal-gown fitting.” Alleged attempt two is said to have taken place that same month during Monaco’s Grand Prix. Alleged attempt three was reportedly the closest she came to escaping—when she booked a one-way ticket to South Africa and nearly made it to the nearby airport in Nice, France, before being intercepted and stripped of her passport so that, according to a senior detective in Monaco, “the prince’s entourage could persuade her to stay.”
Though Charlene went through with the $55 million, three-day royal wedding, reporters and wedding guests noted the bride’s apparent wedding-day sadness. Charlene “was in tears throughout the wedding ceremony” according to ABC, who added that the bride reportedly recoiled when the groom attempted to kiss her. The Guardian noted that Charlene “emerged from the royal chapel where she laid her bouquet with top lip wobbling and a tear rolling down her cheek. While she dabbed the tears with a hankie, Prince Albert begged in a whisper, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry.’” Even the impartial Associated Press reported that the bride and groom’s eyes were “mostly downcast” and that “tears flowed freely” down the princess’s face. LaineyGossip even nicknamed Charlene “Prisoner Bride” and reported that bride and groom spent their honeymoon “not only in separate beds or separate rooms, but in separate hotels altogether.”
The sadness does not end there, though. Wittstock is said to have demanded DNA tests from her groom—though, according to ABC, it is suggested that results would likely be withheld during the honeymoon in South Africa “for fears that Wittstock would flee while away from the constraints of her marriage in Monaco.”
A British historian told ABC, however, that fleeing Albert would be much harder during the honeymoon since he was officially her husband: “When they got her into that Catholic Church and got her married, they really trapped her so far as the Catholic Church is concerned. It would be very difficult now for her to get a divorce.”
The Palace long denied the rumors, telling one outlet, “None of this is true, and we think it comes from utter jealousy.” Albert, for his part, directly denied the rumors and threatened legal action—though he did seem to confirm that the couple spent their honeymoon in separate hotels . . . “for practical reasons.” The couple remains married and has two children.
Think a runaway royal bride is dramatic? Then meet Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the 64-year-old German royal and distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, who, days before his son’s 2017 wedding, renounced the nuptials over property—including several castles and forests (!)—he claimed his son owed him. A little colorful backstory about Prince Ernst August Sr. first—the head of the deposed royal House of Hanover was convicted in 2008 of assaulting a fellow German at a Kenyan nightclub who refused to turn down the music and shut off some “annoying lasers.” (In his defense, nightclub music is usually way too loud.) Ernst claimed that he had merely “slapped [the fellow German] across the face two times—left and right—saying: ‘One for the music, one for the light.’” But the victim claimed the prince had pounded him with a knuckleduster. More backstory though: Prince Ernst August has also been accused of flashing a Nazi salute, attacking a photographer, and “urinating outside the Turkish pavilion at the World’s Fair in Hanover.” (So maybe it wasn’t so bad that Ernst—the Jersey Shore cast member of the royal family and estranged husband of another royal, Princess Caroline of Monaco—couldn’t attend Ernst Jr.’s wedding?)
But back to the wedding. Ernst Sr. did not drop the bombshell until days before his son—also named Ernst August of Hanover—was due to marry Russian-born catsuit designer (seriously!) Ekaterina Malysheva. (In case you were wondering, Malysheva was inspired to launch her catsuit line after, according to her company’s official Web site, “a life-changing trip to Burning Man Festival.”) Ernst Sr. didn’t care that his son—a descendant of Queen Victoria and a distant heir to the British throne—was marrying a catsuit designer who had been to Burning Man. Ernst Sr. cared that his son wouldn’t return the Hanover properties he had deeded him in the mid-00s for murkily motivated tax purposes. The properties include the Marienburg Castle and forestland in Lower Saxony. (If we had $1 for every time we argued with a relative over who had the rights to the family forestland.)
In an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Ernst Sr. took his stand publicly, saying (via translation), “I am constrained to preserve the interests of the House of Hanover and the property, including cultural property, which has been its property for centuries . . . I continue to hope that my son will eventually think of the best interests of our family and yield. I am ready for discussion and reconciliation.”
Ernst Sr. did not attend the wedding—which looks to have been lovely. Malysheva wore an elegant Sandra Mansour gown constructed of Chantilly lace (no catsuit) and a tiara that belonged to Emperor Wilhelm II’s only daughter. The reception took place at Marienburg Castle, where the couple danced to Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”
Meghan Markle won’t be the first television star to marry into a royal family. In 2015, Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip raised a few eyebrows when he married Sofia Hellqvist, a tattooed former waitress who had appeared on the country’s reality show Paradise Hotel—about singles stuffed into a luxury-hotel resort and plied with alcohol in hopes of sparks flying. Her participation, for royal snobs, wasn’t the most incriminating detail of her résumé, though. On the reality show, she made out with porn star Jenna Jameson. In non-television pursuits, she also modeled topless with a boa constrictor for Swedish men’s magazine Slitz.
Carl Philip, the only son of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, reportedly ended his 10-year relationship with an advertising executive when he met Sofia in 2009 at a club in Stockholm—a story line that understandably enraptured Swedish tabloid readers. When press suggested that Carl Philip’s family was unreceptive of his reality-star girlfriend, the prince took part in a television interview to claim otherwise. “My parents and my sisters were curious about her, open, and welcomed her with a big hug,” Carl Philip said, suggesting that any media criticism of Sofia’s past was mean-spirited: “She was hung out to dry in a bullying type of way.”
According to reports, palace insiders helped move Sofia away from spray tans and into charity, preparing her for interviews about her past. “It happened 10 years ago,” Sofia later said in a television interview, brushing off her scandalous past. “I have moved on in life. I do not regret anything, it has built me as a person.”
The couple’s 2015 wedding, in the Royal Chapel of Stockholm Palace, had a few—uh—untraditional touches on par with Carl’s bride.
“They came down the aisle to an instrumental version of Enya’s ‘Athair ar Neamh’; then, during the ceremony, Swedish singer Al Fakir sang Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ and David Pagmar performed a Swedish version of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella,’ called ‘Paraply,’” reported the BBC. “To top things off, the couple exited the church to the hymn ‘Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,’ which suddenly dropped into Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately,’ just as it does when Lauryn Hillsings it in the finale of Sister Act 2. The Duke and Duchess left out the rap, though.”
Just in case you did not believe that a rendition of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was actually performed at a traditional royal wedding in Sweden, I give you . . .
This is not the most scandalous chapter in the family’s history, though. In 2010, Carl Philip’s father King Carl Gustaf was at the center of a scandal when the book Carl XVI Gustaf: The Reluctant Monarch alleged that the royal, in his youth, had a “predilection for wild, alcohol-fueled orgies and naked jacuzzi parties with models.”
The book also alleged that the king frequented mob-run clubs and had a year-long affair with a Swedish-Nigerian pop singer and model in the 90s.
Rather than deny the rumor, King Carl Gustaf held a press conference “in a forest after an elk hunt”—naturally—where he told reporters, “I have spoken with my family and the Queen and we choose to turn the page and move forward because, as I understand, these are things that happened a long time ago.”