If you thought your love life was complicated, try being a royal. It’s hard enough finding someone to love, never mind the added pressures of being trained from birth to uphold certain expectations, follow rules and traditions that have been in place for generations, and lead the rest of the country by a perfect example of royal excellence.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the forces and spontaneity of modern love got in the way. Here are 11 royals who defied familial expectations by marrying commoners (gasp!) and risked it all to be with the people they loved.
1. Edward VIII
December 11, 2021, marks 85 years since Edward VIII abdicated the British throne, making history as the first royal ever to do so voluntarily. Choosing love with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson over a life of kingly privilege—as King, he wasn’t allowed to marry Simpson because of her scandalous marital status—Edward VIII served as king for 325 days before transferring power to his brother, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI. The two married shortly after and despite some controversy, they lived together in France until his death in 1972. In 1986, Simpson was laid to rest by Edward's side at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, near Queen Victoria's Royal Mausoleum, just outside Windsor Castle.
2. Prince Charles
When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, she was considered to be a commoner by royal standards (she wasn’t a princess in her own right, though she did come from a noble family). Their marriage, which seemed like a fairy tale, ended in divorce in 1996 following a series of affairs, one of which involved Prince Charles and his former flame, Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he had dated in the 1970s. In 2002, several years after Diana’s untimely death, the Church of England changed some of the rules regarding royal remarriage and divorce, which allowed Charles and Camilla (who was also a commoner) to eventually be wed in 2005. They’ve been married ever since.
3. Prince William
In a classic case of friends becoming more, Prince William met Kate Middleton at the University of St. Andrews and after nearly 10 years of dating, William—who is second in line to the throne—proposed in 2010 with his mother’s famous sapphire ring while the couple was on holiday in Kenya. Millions tuned in from around the world to watch their Westminster Abbey wedding on April 29, 2011. The couple, currently known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have since had three children: Prince George in 2013, Princess Charlotte in 2015, and Prince Louis in 2018.
4. Prince Harry
Thanks to what has to be one of the most successful blind dates in history, Prince Harry met American actress Meghan Markle via a mutual friend in 2016. The couple became engaged in 2017 and married at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018. In 2020, the couple officially stepped back from their roles within the royal family, surrendering their royal duties, titles, and privileges in favor of living privately in California with their two children, Archie and Lilibet.
5. Princess Mako
Sometimes the stakes are higher and royals are forced to give up their special status to be with the ones they love. That’s what happened to Princess Mako of Japan, who met and fell in love with Kei Komuro, a fellow student at the International Christian University in Tokyo. As per Japanese law, female royals lose their privileges if they marry commoners. Still, knowing the consequences, she followed her heart, and even refused a royal wedding and the payment that’s typically given to royal women in her situation. The couple married in October 2021, and are now living in New York City.
6. Prince Rainier III
Prince Rainier III of Monaco first met Hollywood film star Grace Kelly during a Cannes Film Festival photo shoot in 1955. The couple kept their private correspondence and budding romance out of the public eye until they were married in April 1956 in a glamorous affair described as the “wedding of the century,” with Hollywood legends including Cary Grant and Ava Gardner in attendance. Following her marriage, Kelly retired from acting, embraced her new title of Princess Grace, and had three children with Prince Rainier III: Princess Caroline in 1957, Prince Albert in 1958, and Princess Stéphanie in 1965. Tragically, Princess Grace died in 1982 at the age of 52 after suffering a stroke while driving home to Monaco, which caused her to lose control of her car and veer off the road.
7. Princess Eugenie
Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter Princess Eugenie married brand ambassador Jack Brooksbank on October 12, 2018, at Windsor Castle. The couple, who have described their first meeting at a Swiss ski resort in 2010 as “love at first sight,” kept their long-distance love alive between New York and London for several years before announcing their engagement in 2018. Their first child, son August Philip Hawke Brooksbank, was born on February 9, 2021.
8. Princess Beatrice
Princess Beatrice followed in her sister Eugenie’s footsteps when she married a commoner, real estate mogul Edoardo “Edo” Mapelli Mozzi, on July 17, 2020, in a private ceremony at the Royal Chapel of All Saints, sometimes known as Queen Victoria's Chapel, in Windsor. The two were introduced by mutual friends in 2018—as Mozzi hails from a family of Italian aristocrats, they shared similar social circles—and their daughter, Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi, was born on September 18, 2021.
9. Crown Princess Victoria
In 2001, in true rom-com fashion, Swedish Crown Princess Victoria had just broken up with her boyfriend when she returned home after studying at Yale University, and joined the nearest gym. Lucky for her, Daniel Westling, one of the start-up fitness center’s co-founders, became her personal trainer—and eventually, her husband. The couple, who married in 2010, are the proud parents of two children—Princess Estelle and Prince Oscar.
10. Prince Carl Philip
Crown Princess Victoria’s brother, Prince Carl Philip, made news in 2015 by marrying his commoner sweetheart, model/reality TV star Sofia Hellqvist. The pair first met through mutual friends at a nightclub in 2009 and are happily married with three children.
11. King Felipe VI
In 2003, Spain's King Felipe VI—then Prince Felipe—stunned the nation by announcing his engagement to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, a popular broadcast journalist and news anchor. The couple met in 2002 while she was covering an oil spill in Galicia. The prince was already a fan of the journalist, and asked a mutual friend to arrange for them to meet. The two kept their romance quiet, then married in 2004; they now have two lovely daughters, Leonor and Sofía.