Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship is a sad story. Their marriage was contentious, and their divorce, messy—Diana died a mere year after the official papers were signed. And throughout it all, nearly every single dramatic detail played out in the global press. Some of it in the tabloids, and some of it through interviews they gave themselves: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” Diana famously told the BBC in 1995.
Although more than two decades have passed since their split, the troubled union is set to once again reenter the spotlight in November with The Crown’s fourth season. Trailers released by Netflix show split seconds of the couple fighting, Diana storming off, and lastly, the soon-to-be princess alone in her wedding dress. A solemn voiceover carries over it all: ”Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made. A prince and princess on their wedding day. But fairy tales usually end at this point with the simple phrase ‘They lived happily ever after.’”
The Beginning: Country-Home Courtship to Church
November 1977: Prince Charles meets Lady Diana for the first time at Althorp House, her 1,500-acre family estate in Northamptonshire, England. At the time, he was dating her older sister, Sarah, and had traveled up to join her for a shooting weekend. In a later interview, he’d recall “what fun she was” during this initial interaction.
February 1978: Charles and Sarah go on a ski weekend to the Klosters (where they are captured by a photographer). It’s here where she allegedly meets a journalist whom she tells she wouldn’t marry Charles “if he were the dustman or the King of England.” Upset about her disclosure to the press, it’s said Charles ended their relationship soon after. However, both sisters remain in his circle, even attending his 30th birthday party in November at Buckingham Palace.
July 1980: Both Charles and Diana are invited to stay at their mutual friend Philip de Pass’s family home in Sussex for the weekend. There, Diana emphatically talks to Charles about the recent death of his beloved great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten. “The next minute, he leapt on me, practically,” she said according to the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words. “But then it sort of built up from there.”
September 1980: Cameras capture Diana at Balmoral, the royal family’s private estate in the Scottish Highlands. Just like that, the secret of their relationship is officially out.
February 1981: Prince Charles proposes to Diana at Windsor Castle. She says yes. At that time, it’s said the couple had only gone out a dozen or so times. Afterward, the press attention on the 19-year-old reaches a fever pitch. Although she handles much of it with grace, the New York Times reports that she once burst into tears at the wheel of her car. “I know it’s just a job they have to do, but sometimes I do wish they wouldn’t,” she said of all the photographers. She moves from a tiny apartment to Clarence House.
The couple formally announces their engagement to the world on February 24. When a reporter asks Charles if they are in love, he famously replies, “whatever ‘in love’ means.”
March 1981: Charles flies to Australia and New Zealand for five weeks, leaving his newly betrothed behind. She’s spotted crying at Heathrow airport upon his departure—not because she is sad, but because before he left, he had taken a phone call with Camilla Parker-Bowles. “It just broke my heart,” she later recalled, according to Diana: In Her Own Words.
July 1981: The royal wedding. Diana expresses doubts before walking down the aisle—especially after, it’s said, she found a bracelet Charles made for Camilla. But her sisters say it is too late to call it off, and she goes through with it. An estimated 750 million people watch their Westminster Abbey nuptials on July 29, where Diana wears a dress by Elizabeth and David Emanuel.
The Middle: A Troubled Union Emerges
June 1982: The couple has their first child, Prince William. Afterward, Diana suffers from postpartum depression. “You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very, very low in yourself,” she told the BBC in 1995.
September 1984: The couple welcomes their second child, Prince Harry.
1986: Tremendously unhappy with their marriage, both Charles and Diana have extramarital affairs. Charles told his official biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, in 1994 that he picked things back up with Camilla Parker Bowles in this year. Meanwhile, it’s alleged that Diana’s affair with army captain James Hewitt started around a similar time.
In a letter to an unidentified correspondent, Charles writes, “How awful incompatibility is, and how dreadfully destructive it can be for the players in this extraordinary drama. It has all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy…I never thought it would end up like this.”
1987–1992: The next few years see Charles and Diana plagued with rumors of marital trouble. In 1987, Diana doesn’t join Charles on the family’s annual summer trip to Balmoral, leading press headlines to spew a “Royal break.” During several public appearances, they seem distant and unhappy. In a 1988 Vanity Fair story, reporter Georgina Howell found this: “She was the love object of everyone in the world except her husband…she was faced in her mid-twenties with something she found chilling to contemplate: a fairy-tale marriage that had cooled into an arrangement.”
The End: Tell-Alls, Travels, and Turmoil
May 1992: Andrew Morton publishes Diana: Her True Story, a blistering tell-all of the collapse of the Wales’ marriage, Charles’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana’s own mental health struggles. Secretly, the princess had cooperated with the book, providing Morton with audio recordings.
November 1992: Prince Charles and Princess Diana go on an official trip to South Korea together. They look so miserable that the British press calls them “the Glums.”
December 1992: Prime Minister John Major announces to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales are separating. “This decision has been reached amicably and they will both continue to participate fully in the upbringing of their children,” he reads from a Buckingham Palace statement. Neither Charles nor Diana make a comment. Instead, Charles attends a business luncheon and Diana visits a clinic in northeast England.
The palace tells reporters that no third party was involved in the decision, all despite tabloid reports and Morton’s book.
The drama throws the monarchy into deep turmoil. “The news of the separation comes at a time when the credibility of the monarchy is at a modern low-point as a result of persistent reports alluding to the marital scandals and wealthy life style of some members of the royal family,” the New York Times commented on the announcement.
In a 1995 interview with the BBC, Diana said that she felt “deep, deep, profound sadness” about their decision. “We had struggled to keep it going, but obviously we’d both run out of steam.”
August 1996: After coming to an agreement in July, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s divorce is [finalized in August.]](https://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/29/world/it-s-official-charles-and-diana-split-and-she-pays-her-own-bills.html). Diana receives a significant financial settlement, but is stripped of her “Her Royal Highness” status. Tragically, her new, liberated post-royal life is cut short after a fatal car crash in Paris a year later.
From Vogue US