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The fourth season of The Crown follows Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and King Charles's (Josh O'Connor) whirlwind courtship, marriage, and separation.
Why did Charles and Diana ultimately divorce? It's complicated—but it has to do with Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana's unhappiness.
These are the details of the royal divorce.
In 1981, King Charles and Princess Diana were married in front of an audience of 3,500 guests at St. Paul's Cathedral and nearly 750 million TV viewers. The royal couple's separation in 1992 and divorce (which was finalized in August, 1996) was a far more private affair—though they both later conducted revealing interviews that gave their side of the story.
Season 4 of The Crown provides an intimate rendering of Charles and Diana's marriage, imagining what happened when the cameras were gone. Spanning from 1977 to 1990, the season ends before Charles and Diana separate, or even file for divorce.
However, the couple's palpable unhappiness sets the scene for their separation to play out during seasons 5 and 6. Throughout The Crown is a sense of foreboding on both characters' parts, which may have been reflected in real life. The biography Charles At Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes And Dreams alleges that Charles, 32, doubted marrying Diana, 20, after only 13 dates.
“I desperately wanted to get out of the wedding in 1981, when during the engagement I discovered just how awful the prospects were having had no chance whatsoever to get to know Diana beforehand," Charles allegedly told biographer Robert Jobson. Charles's ambivalence came through in the famous engagement interview in 1981, when he awkwardly responded, "Whatever in love means" to the interviewer's question about whether he was in love.
Things don't get much better from there for the couple. In future seasons of The Crown, Charles and Diana will be played by Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki, replacing Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin. The casting move makes sense: Season 4's versions of Charles and Diana are still somewhat hopeful.
Here are some of the most salient details of Diana and Charles's divorce.
A tell-all book described Diana and Charles's marital troubles, and reasons for their divorce in 1996.
The queen described 1992 as her "annus horribilus," thanks to the publication of a scandalous book and Charles and Diana's public separation.
Andrew Morton's tell-all Diana biography, Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words, was published in 1992, featuring interviews with the princess herself that she smuggled out on tapes via an intermediary, her friend James Colthurst.
And the book really was a tell-all—Tina Brown called it "a Molotov cocktail hurled at the House of Windsor" in The Diana Chronicles. "Its assertion was that Diana wouldn't settle for the system of structural infidelity that maintained royal marital facades of the past," Brown wrote. She wanted love.
In candid tapes, Diana described her struggle with an eating disorder; suicide attempts; Charles's enduring affair with his married girlfriend (and now wife), Camilla Parker Bowles; and feelings of despair regarding her marriage. Of her wedding, she said, “I felt I was a lamb to the slaughter. And I knew it.”
As the marriage went on, Diana's popularity also created a wedge between them. During the couple's first trip to Wales in 1981, crowds would "groan" if King Charles was on their side, Morton wrote. The Crown's episode "Terra Nullius" explores this dynamic further during their 1983 trip to Australia.
With the book, Diana shattered royal precedent of keeping mum. Speaking to the BBC's Martin Bashir in 1995, Diana said the royal family was "shocked and horrified and very disappointed" by the book, which was an instant bestseller. "What had been hidden—or rather what we thought had been hidden—then became out in the open and was spoken about on a daily basis, and the pressure was for us to sort ourselves out in some way," Diana said.
The couple's separation caused Diana "deep, deep, profound sadness."
Diana had spoken about her marriage in Morton's book—and people were waiting on an answer about what came next for the couple. "Were we going to stay together or were we going to separate? The word separation and divorce kept coming up in the media on a daily basis," Diana told Bashir in the Panorama interview.
The book prompted them to discuss the state of their relationship. "We could see what the public were requiring. They wanted clarity of a situation that was obviously becoming intolerable," Diana said. Ultimately, Charles made up his mind. "My husband asked for the separation and I supported it," Diana said, but said it caused her a "deep, deep, profound sadness."
In December 1992, after 11 years of marriage and two sons, Diana and Charles announced their official separation. Moving forward, Diana found herself with a new role, one in which her freedoms were still limited.
"I was now the separated wife of the Prince of Wales. I was a problem. It showed itself by visits abroad being blocked, by things that had naturally come my way being stopped, letters that got lost. Everything changed for me after we became separated and life became very difficult for me then," Diana told Bashir.
While separated, Charles and Diana spoke candidly about their marriage in interviews.
After the separation in 1992, the royal couple became even more open about their deteriorating relationship. Each gave impactful, oft-quoted interviews with different journalists, that gave their side of the stories.
On June 29, 1994 a two-and-a-half hour TV documentary on Charles aired. Though Charles spoke about things like the avalanche that killed his friend, it's best known for being the interview in which he admitted to cheating on Diana. Charles told journalist Jonathan Dimbleby that he was "absolutely" faithful to Diana, "until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried," theNew York Times reports.
The day the documentary, and Charles's confession of infidelities, aired, Diana stepped out in a striking black dress—known forever as the "revenge dress."
Diana, like Charles, also admitted to infidelities in her interview with Martin Bashir on BBC's Panorama. She had a five-year-long relationship with Major James Hewitt, who had just published a book about their affair. Diana said she "was in love with him," but was "very let down" by his behavior.
Diana also pointed to Charles's infidelities, uttering the famous line, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." She went on to insinuate that Charles was not fit to be king, and that the monarchy was out of touch.
Through this interview, it became clear that Diana was ready to move on. "I don't sit here with resentment: I sit here with sadness because a marriage hasn't worked. I sit here with hope because there's a future ahead, a future for my husband, a future for myself and a future for the monarchy," Diana said.
And the Panorama interview gave her the leverage to do so. "The Panorama interview had given her the popular support she needed for a divorce on something like her own terms," Brown wrote in her biography.
Charles's, um, racy recorded phone call with Camilla led to further turmoil.
The Crown will definitely skip over this notorious incident in the royal family's history—Josh O'Connor, who plays Charles, guaranteed it. “When they offered me the role, one of my first questions was—I say questions, I think it was pretty much a statement—‘We are not doing the tampon phone call,’ O’Connor said on SiriusXM’s “EW Live” with Jessica Shaw.
O'Connor is referring to a flirtatious six-minute phone call that took place in 1989, when Charles was married to Diana, and Camilla was married to Andrew Parker Bowles. The King of England joked that he’d like to be Camilla’s tampon, so that he could "live inside [her] trousers," per transcript in The Mirror. Camilla's response? "Oh, what a wonderful idea."
After the separation, Princes William and Harry split time between their parents.
The princes both attended Ludgrove boarding school, and were gone for much of the turmoil leading up to the official separation announcement in December 1992. Morton wrote about their reactions in a book: "The boys’ responses are instructive. Harry seemed bewildered and almost indifferent, while his older brother burst into tears. After he had composed himself, he told his mother, ‘I hope you will both be happy now,’” Morton wrote.
During the separation, the boys were ferried between their parents' diverging lives, especially as Diana hung out with a new, jet-setting celebrity set—her friends included Elton John and Jemima Khan (now Goldsmith), who lived in Pakistan. "There was the point of where our parents split and the two of us were bouncing between the two of them and we never saw our mother enough or we never saw our father enough," William said in the ITV documentary, Diana, Our Mother.
One of the most famous vestiges of this period are photos of Diana, dressed casually, enjoying a day at Thorpe Park with her sons in 1993.
The Queen wrote a letter to Diana urging a divorce in 1995.
In the Panorama interview, Diana broached the topic of divorce. "I don't want a divorce, but obviously we need clarity on a situation that has been of enormous discussion over the last three years. So all I say to that is that I await my husband's decision of which way we are all going to go," she said.
Ultimately, it was the Queen who decided. December 20, Diana received a letter from the Queen, per Brown's biography. "'Dearest Diana,' it began, and went on to request that she agree to an early divorce from Charles 'in the best interests of the country.' It was signed, 'Love from Mama.' The Queen let Diana know that she had discussed the matter with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister and that both 'agreed you must divorce.'"
Brown wrote that the Queen's intervention "got Charles off the hook," for it was her decision to end the marriage, not his.
There was debate over whether Diana would keep her title.
After her divorce, would Diana retain the title of "Her Royal Highness?" It was a matter of debate. In 1994, after a string of tabloid revelations following her marriage, Prince Philip summoned Diana to a meeting, per Brown's book.
"If you don’t behave, my girl,” Prince Philip reportedly told her, “we’ll take your title away. Diana gave him a long, cool stare. “My title is a lot older than yours, Philip,” the Earl Spencer’s daughter replied," Brown wrote.
Ultimately, Diana had to revoke her HRH once she entered public life: She would merely be Diana, Princess of Wales. William, Diana's son, reportedly promised to return her title one day. '"She told me how he had sat with her one night when she was upset over the loss of HRH, put his arms around her and said, 'Don't worry, Mummy. I will give it back to you one day when I am king,'" Diana's butler Paul Burrell wrote in his book A Royal Duty.
The divorce settlement was finalized in August 1996, a year before Diana's death.
In August 1996, after an arduous battle, lawyers finally agreed on the terms of the high-profile divorce. Diana received a lump sum settlement of £17 million, as well as £400,000 per year. Though she lost her HRH title, Diana maintained ties to her royal life, including her rights to live at Kensington Palace.
Following the divorce, Diana's staff was greatly reduced. It consisted of a cleaner, cook, dresser and her butler Burrell. She refused to keep her royal security detail after the divorce, something that is striking considering her death.
She continued to wear a ring on her ring finger—with a twist.
Immediately after signing the divorce papers in August 1996, Diana was spotted wearing her wedding band and her diamond and sapphire engagement ring. "It reminded the world not only of the sad dissolution of their marriage that morning at Somerset House, but the joyous day of promises at St. Paul's Cathedral fifteen years before," Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles.
After the divorce, Diana swapped out her famous sapphire engagement ring for an aquamarine one, which she bought herself.
Years later, during her wedding to Harry, Meghan Markle wore Diana's aquamarine ring. Kate Middleton, William's wife, wore Diana's sapphire engagement ring during her own wedding.
Charles was openly linked to Camilla after the divorce.
Per Brown's biography, those close to Charles and Diana believe their marriage could have persisted, were it not for one factor: Camilla, Charles's longtime love. "The marriage could have been saved by a workable truce that might have eventually become a permanent peace," Patrick Jephson, Diana's aide, told Brown.
As it were, Camilla became a more open part of Charles's life during the separation, triggered by Morton's book. "Diana now realized that by outing Camilla to Morton she had unwittingly done her rival a favor. The revelation locked Camilla further into the Prince's life," Brown wrote.
Camilla and her husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, divorced in 1994, after the publication of Dimbleby's book about Charles. Camilla and Charles married in 2005.
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