Our obsession with royalty goes back way further than Queen Elizabeth II. All over the world and for centuries and centuries, people have yearned for a glimpse behind the velvet curtain — just to discover that life as a royal isn’t all fancy dresses and fine dining. It can be cruel, grueling, and demanding of those in power…especially of its queens.
If you’re looking to learn about a queen with a storied past, look no further than Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Known for her stunning beauty and strange habits, her enthusiasm for life couldn’t be contained by palace walls…a quirk that ultimately threatened her life.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1837, Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie was immediately considered eccentric. Her father was known for his odd ways, including his decision to teach her horseback riding instead of sending her to school.
Elisabeth wouldn’t have become empress if she hadn’t met and married Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, something we’re sure her sister, Helene, stewed about for years: Helene was meant to marry Franz, but when he met Elisabeth, he switched sisters.
Like her father, Elisabeth loved adventure and freedom more than anything else, even when she became Empress. She once said, “If I arrived at a place and knew that I could never leave it again, the whole stay would become hell despite being paradise.”
Franz Joseph and Elisabeth married eight months after their official meeting, meaning Elisabeth took the crown at just 16 years old. With no ready access to birth control, however, she discovered she was a few months pregnant…one month after the wedding.
The Princess Diaries 2 (2004)
Elisabeth’s mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Bavaria, was called “the only man in the Hofburg palace” — naturally, she was a force to be reckoned with, especially when Elisabeth was involved…and especially after Elisabeth gave birth to her first child.
Sophie called Elisabeth “a silly young mother” and named the baby after herself without consulting Elisabeth. She refused to let her daughter-in-law care for or see her newborn, and she did the same with Elisabeth’s second daughter, Gisela.
Franz was head-over-heels for Elisabeth, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. She was quick-witted and adventurous, and she thought Franz was a spineless mommy’s boy. Because of this, she never minded Franz’ wandering eye — and even encouraged his affairs.
Elisabeth was renowned for her natural beauty, and she thought her weight — which was a steady 110 — was essential to her looks. She even outsourced rigid corsets from Paris, which took up to an hour to tightly lace up.
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Elisabeth was under enormous stress to produce an heir to the throne, so after two daughters, she was feeling the pressure. She once entered her study to find that someone had underlined a vicious passage in a book, just for her to read…
Little Women (1994)
It read, “If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State,” among other cruel paragraphs about how it’s the Queen’s “duty” to produce an heir. Elisabeth immediately knew who had left the messages: Sophie.
We’ve established how Elisabeth was a free-spirited woman, and this shone through in her love of horses. She was even one of the most celebrated horseback riders in the world during her heyday!
The Empress was certainly eccentric, but some speculate that her mental health status was far more serious. This belief likely stems from something she quipped to Franz, who had asked what she wanted for a gift: “A…lunatic asylum would please me most.”
At the ripe old age of 21, Elisabeth finally gave birth to a baby boy, which lead to Elisabeth’s full political power. Still, she had very little say in little Rudolf’s upbringing, just like with her daughters before — that responsibility was again taken up by Sophie.
Elisabeth is famous for many things, and this one just about tops the list: Her hair was her most prized possession, and it grew to such epic lengths that it took hours each morning to groom and style. She was often left with killer headaches afterward.
Sissi-The Young Empress (1956)
Her beauty was probably a cover for her true internal struggles: It’s widely believed that she suffered from an eating disorder, and that her frequent bouts of illness were due to deep seated unhappiness about her constricting royal status.
Though Elisabeth and her son were never close, they shared many of the same qualities: Both were stubborn, adventurous people who disliked the pomp and circumstance of the throne. They also shared liberal political views.
When Elisabeth’s last child, Marie, was born, Elisabeth was determined to raise her without help…which ultimately backfired. Marie grew to be known as “The Only Child” because of how her mother spoiled and doted on her.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Turning 32 was apparently a sign to Elisabeth that she was over the hill, as she refused to sit for any more portraits and photos. She claimed that she wanted to remain youthful and beautiful in the public’s imagination forever.
From 1888-1892, Elisabeth lost important loved ones: Her parents, her sister, and even the man she was rumored to have had an affair with. When she heard of her lover’s death, she reportedly cried out, “My last and only friend is dead.”
Her son, Rudolf, died in what is today known as the Mayerling Incidient: He and his teenage mistress committed suicide together in an apparent love pact. Though she and her son had never been close, she wore black every day for the rest of her life.
It was Elisabeth’s refusal to abide by palace rules that ultimately led to her death. When she traveled through Geneva with an entourage, an anarchist peered under her veil before stabbing her with a four-inch needle file.
While surrounded by her rescuers, Elisabeth’s tight corset prolonged her life long enough for her to utter her final words: “What happened?” Chilling last words from one of the most unique — and tragic — rulers in history…
Every monarchy has its unforgettable leaders, and in the same vein as Empress Elisabeth was Russia’s Catherine II. But where Elisabeth struggled, Catherine II excelled — unlike Elisabeth, Catherine’s political ambition put her on a rocky path towards domination.
Just months after taking the throne in January 1762, Emperor Peter III had made far more enemies than friends. By midyear, a coup was being plotted against him, orchestrated by none other than his wife, Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst.
On the morning of July 9, Sophie put her plan into action, rallying allies to overthrow the unpopular tsar. Dressed in a guardsman uniform and with an army at her back, Sophie stood ready at the gates of the Winter Palace before realizing she’d forgotten her sword-knot.
Just then, a young sergeant named Grigory Potemkin emerged from the ranks and gifted Sophie his own. By the end of day, Peter signed his abdication, and, on September 22, Sophie was crowned Catherine II, Empress of Russia.
But Catherine never forgot the chivalrous soldier who came to her aid that day, and after taking the throne she ensured Potemkin’s promotion to second lieutenant. He was eventually promoted to Kammerjunker, giving him a place within Catherine’s court — and within her home at Winter Palace.
While the empress hadn’t taken Potemkin as a lover, she encouraged his flirtatious behavior whenever they met. He was fond of kissing her hand, and she never minded his unprompted declarations of love.
Yet Catherine wasn’t known to be a one-man kind of woman. She had taken up a number of lovers while Empress consort, and even now, Potemkin wasn’t in sole possession of her affections — her general, Grigory Orlov, was her undisputed favorite.
Still, Potemkin was completely devoted to Catherine and served her unyieldingly during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774. He returned to St. Petersburg a war hero, and after casting aside her latest lover, Alexander Vasilchikov, Catherine and Potemkin became intimate.
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Their relationship was one of “laughter, sex, mutually admired intelligence, and power,” with the empress often referring to Potemkin as her “Twin Soul” and her “Golden Pheasant.” The two corresponded regularly while apart, and many of their private rendezvous took place in the saunas of the Winter Palace.
Potemkin’s political influence grew substantially with Catherine’s blessing, and he was held in high regard for his military acumen. He was granted numerous titles and positions of power, making him fabulously wealthy and a key member of Catherine’s court.
During this time, it’s also believed that Catherine and Potemkin were secretly wed. The empress more or less referred to Potemkin as her consort in most of her letters, and as they aged, their conduct began to mirror that of husband and wife.
Yet around 1775, their relationship began to change. Catherine took her secretary Pyotr Zavadovsky as a lover, and by May of 1776, he’d succeeded Potemkin as Catherine’s favorite.
But that didn’t spell the end for Potemkin and the empress. He remained one of Catherine’s close personal advisors and resumed military campaigns to expand her empire, constructing cities in the newly acquired territories of New Russia and Crimea.
Potemkin was so consumed with pleasing Catherine that during the empress’ visit to the south, he reportedly constructed villages with fake façades to fool her into thinking the area was richer than it was. Though the extent of his deceit has been overstated, the term “Potemkin Village” arose from this incident.
Despite his time away from the Winter Palace, Potemkin also remained considerably involved in Catherine’s love life. He would often partake in relations with the empress and her newest paramore and “filled in” when Catherine was between lovers.
Potemkin even “vetted” prospective candidates to gauge their suitability for the empress. All the while, Potemkin embarked on a number of sexual escapades of his own — including ones with his own nieces.
Though Catherine and Potemkin never revived the relationship they once had, the two remained incredibly close throughout the remainder of their lives. The empress ensured that Potemkin was well taken care of, gifting him land, serfs, and rubles aplenty.
But in October of 1791, Potemkin fell ill in the city of Jassy while planning an assault on Poland. He recovered briefly, though just a few days later he succumbed to bronchial pneumonia and died at age 52.
Russia was saddened by Potemkin’s loss, though Catherine took the news the hardest. “A terrible, crushing blow struck me,” she wrote to a friend. “A courier brought me the mournful news that my pupil, my friend, one might say my idol, Prince Potemkin-Tavrichesky has died.”
In the days following his death, the empress put social life in St. Petersburg on hold so that all could mourn Potemkin. She also purchased Potemkin’s home, the Tauride Palace, as well as his art collection and even paid off his debts.
Catherine ruled five more years before dying of a stroke at age 67. And while the empress continued to take lovers even in the months before her death, many believe that Catherine never fully recovered from the loss of her beloved Potemkin.
Yet Catherine’s relationship history still remains rife with controversy — something the British royal family is no stranger to. For centuries, the British royal family has kept commoners guessing with their scandalous personal lives. The steamiest royal relationship has been subject to scandal from the start…
1. Not only is Meghan Markle a non-Brit, but she was a well-known actress and divorcee when she and Harry began dating. With three strikes seemingly against her, Meghan’s path to royalty seemed like nothing more than a Hollywood dream.
Royal purists were quick to condemn the relationship, going as far as harassing the American both in person and online. But love prevailed in the end, and the couple’s marriage in 2018 was well received by most Britons.
2. King Edward VIII & Wallis Simpson: The reign of King Edward VIII was controversial from the beginning, but things grew even more complicated when he resolved to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. In the eyes of the Church of England, such a marriage would stain the monarchy.
Unwilling to give up Simpson, and knowing the marriage would send the country into turmoil, Edward abdicated the throne in 1936 just 11 months into his reign. The couple was exiled to France, and relations with the Royal Family and Britain broke down shortly after.
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3. Prince Charles & Princess Diana: Described as a “fairytale” by members of the British aristocracy, Prince Charles’ marriage to the late Princess Diana charmed the entire world. The couple was inseparable, and it appeared this royal relationship was one built to last.
Alas, this was not the case, as below the surface things were anything but picturesque. Behind closed doors, the couple could barely stomach one another, and after just five years, the extramarital affairs had begun.
Shortly after news of the couple’s difficulties broke, Charles was spotted with his former girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles, though he insisted they were just “great friends.” In response, The Mirror published the transcript from an intimate phone call between the two and exposed the affair.
With the relationship out, Charles remained with Camilla, and the couple tied the knot in 2005. Though the Queen gave the marriage her blessing, she chose not to attend the ceremony.
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But Charles’ infidelity wasn’t the only strain on the couple’s marriage. Diana had relationships with other men, including a four-year fling with Captain James Hewitt – the family’s riding instructor – whom she reportedly fantasized about running away with.
Diana also had an affair with Italian art dealer Oliver Hoare (right) and a man by the name of James Gilbey. In taped calls between the princess and Gilbey, he referred to Diana no less than 53 times by the pet-name “Squidgey.” The scandal was later dubbed “Squidgeygate.”
The Mirror UK
4. Princess Anne & Timothy Laurence: Like her brother Prince Charles, Princess Anne is no stranger to divorce. In 1992, her marriage to Captain Mark Phillips ended after she began an affair with naval commander Timothy Laurence.
The relationship became public when letters sent to Anne by Laurence were stolen from her briefcase and published by The Sun. They wed in Scotland in December of that year, as the Church of Scotland permits second marriages for divorcees.
5. Princess Margaret & Peter Townsend: A recent divorcee, employee of the crown, and 16 years Margaret’s senior, Captain Townsend made waves in the ’50s when his affair with Princess Margaret leaked to the public.
The crown posted Townsend to Brussels in an attempt to calm the media frenzy, but word had already broke that Margaret planned to marry him. Ultimately, though, the princess decided against the marriage, unwilling to relinquish her claim to the throne.
Five years later, Margaret wed photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, and the two were granted the titles of Count and Countess of Snowdon. The marriage seemed idyllic, but after only a few years cracks began to show.
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Margaret was known to have engaged in a number of affairs by 1966, and by the early ’70s, the couple had irreparably drifted apart. The Snowdons split in 1978, making Margaret the first royal divorcee since Princess Victoria in 1901.
6. Prince Andrew & Sarah Ferguson: After ten years of marriage, Prince Andrew and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson divorced in 1996, citing strain from Andrew’s extensive military career. The divorce was amicable, but Fergie’s scandalous relationships that followed cast her in a negative light.
The couple still maintains a close relationship, and as Duchess of York, Fergie still receives a certain level of royal treatment. She also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of one day remarrying Andrew: “He’s still my handsome prince,” she said.
7. Prince William & Kate Middleton: Most people wouldn’t consider Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton scandalous, but the years before certainly were. Many speculate that William’s eight-year courtship of Kate was due in large part to her being a “commoner.”
Being that Kate doesn’t have royal blood, the Queen should’ve given her the title of Princess William as opposed to her current title of Catherine, Her Royal Highness the Dutchess of Cambridge. Lucky for her, the Queen isn’t too much of a stickler for the rules.
8. Kate Middleton & Meghan Markle: While not entangled in a love affair, the two duchesses have possibly the most scrutinized relationship among England’s most famous family. Reporters can’t help but speculate — are they friends, rivals, or something else?
Meghan and Kate made their first official appearance together on Christmas Day in 2017. Of course, they had very different paths in ingratiating themselves into the Windsors. They were almost from two separate worlds.
Even though she wasn’t a noble, Kate came from a privileged background. Her parents ran a successful party supply company, and she attended the prestigious University of St. Andrews. There, she befriended classmate Prince William.
After years of dating, William and Kate decided to tie the knot in 2010. The following year, in what the press dubbed “The Wedding of the Century,” she became the Duchess of Cambridge. Similarly, Meghan got married in 2011.
However, she didn’t marry any prince! Then a Hollywood hopeful, the Los Angeles native got hitched with actor and producer Trevor Engelson. Their marriage dissolved two years later, as Meghan’s career really started to take off.
Meghan’s earlier career was defined by bit parts and a stint as a suitcase girl on Deal or No Deal. However, her name went up in lights when she nabbed the regular role of Rachel Zane on the USA legal drama Suits.
As Meghan’s work prospects took off to new heights, her personal life did the same. In 2016, a mutual friend did her a royal favor by setting her up on a blind date with Prince Harry. Their relationship started heating up before long.
Soon, she scored an invitation to Kate’s 35th birthday party. We can only assume she made a strong first impression on the royal family, but the details are hazy. All we know for sure was that she gifted Kate a dream journal.
And the two women would soon get to know each other even better. Not to be outdone by William and Kate, Harry and Meghan wed in lavish fashion in 2018. A foreigner — and a mixed-race one at that — had officially become a Windsor.
With Kate and Meghan now firmly entrenched among the royals, there was the big question of how the sisters-in-law would get along. Insider accounts reported they got off to a bit of a bumpy start.
While pregnant with Prince Louis, Kate felt stress from both the physical toll and the public scrutiny. She didn’t necessarily have the time to properly welcome Meghan into the family, as she already had a ton on her plate.
However, Meghan reached out to Kate during this trying time. She shared some dietary advice that helped the Duchess through the rest of her pregnancy. In turn, Kate lent a hand in Meghan’s big dilemma.
Naturally, Meghan found herself in a big adjustment as she shifted from Hollywood to Buckingham Palace. Her experienced sister-in-law helped her learn royal protocol — everything from proper wardrobe to how to stand at official events.
From there, a close bond formed between them. When their busy schedules allowed, they spent time together one-on-one, such as a weekend visit to Wimbledon. They exchanged jokes and comments throughout the match.
The royal sisters-in-law grew closer on a personal level, but Kate also took Meghan under her wing on a professional level. She invited Meghan to join the Royal Foundation Forum, a charitable organization started by William and Harry.
This was a huge step forward for Meghan. “She really admires how Kate has carved out her own space when it comes to humanitarian work alongside being an amazing mother,” said a source close to the royal family.
When Meghan announced her pregnancy in late 2018, nobody celebrated more than Kate. She couldn’t wait for the two of them to experience motherhood together. But she didn’t foresee the other big change on the horizon.
Just months before the birth of their first child, Harry and Meghan decided to move out of Kensington Palace. They would take up residence at Frogmore Cottage, under a separate roof from the rest of the family for the first time.
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The move would mean that Meghan and Kate would see each other on a less regular basis. Still, there was no doubt they’d still make time for each other, especially once their children became friends.
Though they may clash on occasion, the two women realize that they’re best off supporting each other. When it comes to marrying into the world’s most high-profile family, Kate and Meghan know they need to stick together.