Inside King Charles And Sarah Ferguson's Relationship

Before the British royal family ever heard the name "Meghan Markle," there was another persona non grata at Buckingham Palace. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, was the most controversial figure in the royal echelon of society. For decades, it seemed that Sarah — or "Fergie," as she was known in the press — could do nothing right. Following her marriage to Prince Andrew in 1986, the royal family found Fergie to be too boisterous, according to Vanity Fair. When she gave birth to Princess Beatrice in 1988, Express reports, the media pounced on the new mother's choice to join her husband in Australia while her infant daughter remained in London. Later, after Sarah divorced Prince Andrew, she created quite a stir by monetizing her role as a British royal through advertisements and product endorsements. Per CNN, she even worked as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers for 11 years, leaving senior members of the royal family aghast. 

Over the years, Fergie's antics created tension with her ex-husband's family, particularly Prince Philip. In an episode of the podcast "The Firm: Blood, Lies, and Royal Succession" (via Grazia), royal biographer Jane Dismore explained: "She's the one person that Prince Philip would not have anything to do with. He didn't like Fergie." Unlike his father, however, King Charles has fostered a much more complex relationship with Sarah. From family friends to the Fab Four to foes, King Charles and Sarah Ferguson's relationship has evolved tremendously. And that evolution, it seems, is not over. 

King Charles and Sarah Ferguson were family friends

It's never easy to meet your sibling's new love interest. However, when Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson started dating in 1985 (per The Sun), then-Prince Charles knew all about his brother's new girlfriend. In fact, Sarah Ferguson's family was somewhat close to the Windsors, both in terms of background and social circles. For one thing, the Fergusons were already known for having a bit of royal blood. According to a report in Express, Sarah shares some common ancestors with Prince Andrew and King Charles III, starting about 10 generations into the past. Like the Windsor boys, Sarah descended from King James I, King Charles I, King Charles II, and Mary Queen of Scots. This makes King Charles and Sarah Ferguson very distant cousins.

On top of this far-off blood relation, Sarah Ferguson spent time with then-Prince Charles socially. They knew each other through their families, who spent a good deal of time around each other. According to a 1986 report in The Washington Post, the Windsors and the Fergusons actually played polo together. Per the outlet, "Her father, retired army major Ronald Ferguson, plays with Andrew's father, Prince Philip, and is polo manager for Prince Charles." Because of this friendly sports-related relationship, the outlet reports, "Fergie and Andrew first met at about age 3, beside the polo field." As elaborated in the documentary "Sarah Ferguson: A Contemporary Woman" (via YouTube), "Queen [Elizabeth] ... had watched this high-spirited redhead grow up."

King Charles also knew Sarah Ferguson through his wife

King Charles wasn't the only royal who knew Sarah Ferguson since childhood. According to the documentary "Fergie vs. Diana: Royal Wives at War" (via YouTube), Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson were also longtime buddies. Royal expert Jennie Bond told the filmmakers, "Diana and Fergie ... knew each other from when they were about 14." When the pair grew older, they became closer. In the same documentary, Vanity Fair's royal editor Kate Nicholl revealed that, in their early 20s, "[Diana and Sarah] became good friends. You know, friends who lunched. Friends who ... shopped together." The pair began hanging out at then-Prince Charles' polo matches to root for his team. By the 1980s, the former Prince of Wales would have noticed Sarah and Diana chatting in the stands at Windsor (per Yahoo Life UK).

Although Diana and Sarah's friendship may have been a positive thing, Prince Charles' reaction at the time was mixed. In the book "Diana: In Her Own Words" (via Heart), royal biographer Andrew Morton explained that senior royals, including the former Prince of Wales, showed favoritism to Sarah over Diana. "Fergie was an immediate hit inside the family; Diana was still seen as an enigmatic stranger who held herself aloof," he wrote. Per the biographer, Princess Diana could not even count on her husband to favor her: "Prince Charles was not slow to make the comparison. 'Why can't you be more like Fergie?' he asked."

King Charles and Sarah Ferguson joined the Fab Four

On July 23, 1986, Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The wedding cemented Sarah's role as the Duchess of York and a key member of the British royal family. It also ushered in a new era, one in which then-Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, and Sarah started spending a lot of time together. As royal editor Kate Nicholls explained in the documentary "Fergie vs. Diana: Royal Wives at War" (via YouTube), "We had these two couples go skiing together, go on holiday together, do engagements together. It was just wonderful for the press."

The media was, in fact, so enamored by the newlywed couples' friendship that British tabloids dubbed them the "Fab Four," as per ABC. And, from the outside, things seemed to be going swimmingly. In her documentary interview (via YouTube), Nicholls addressed the apparent success of the friendship between then-Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, and Sarah Ferguson. "We had our first 'Fab Four.' ... They seemed to get along like a house on fire. ... And, for the early years, at least, this all looked like it was going to work very well," she revealed.

Nonetheless, behind closed doors, things weren't as wonderful as they appeared. As royal expert Imogen Lloyd Webber told "20/20" (via ABC), "They weren't particularly functional."

Soon, however, Charles found Sarah 'undignified'

In the early days of Sarah Ferguson's marriage to Prince Andrew, King Charles approved of the match. However, as time went on, his enthusiasm waned. The reason for King Charles' change of heart may have had something to do with Sarah's lack of decorum. According to the documentary "The Royal Wives of Windsor" (per Express), Sarah didn't wear the right clothes. As one insider reportedly told the filmmakers, "One of the queen's private secretaries described her [style] as 'vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.'"

On top of her fashion faux pas, Sarah had a boisterous personality that rocked many of the senior royals. Once, on a ski trip, Sarah and the rest of the Fab Four were posing for a photo on the slopes. Express reports that, to add some color to the shoot, Sarah and Princess Diana intentionally started to ski into each other, as if they were tumbling down the mountainside. The photographers, such as Kent Gavin, thought that the resulting pictures were phenomenal. However, the future King Charles was not impressed. Recalling the incident for the documentary "Royalty Close Up: The Photography of Kent Gavin" (via Express), Gavin said, "It upset Charles like you wouldn't believe!"

Royal experts, like Ingrid Seward, largely agree with Gavin's take on King Charles' reaction to the photos. In the documentary "Fergie and Andrew: The Duke and Duchess of Disaster" (via YouTube), Seward said, "Charles got annoyed because he thought it was undignified. That came back to haunt Fergie, those photographs."

Sarah Ferguson helped Princess Diana plan her divorce from King Charles

If things were already tense between King Charles and Sarah Ferguson, things only got worse as their respective marriages fell apart. In 1992, Prime Minister John Major announced King Charles and Princess Diana were separating, as reported by Town & Country. This was also the year that Sarah Ferguson separated from Prince Andrew (via Smithsonian Magazine). Interestingly, the fact that both royal wives left the Windsor boys within months of each other was no coincidence. According to the documentary "Fergie vs. Diana: Royal Wives at War" (via YouTube), Sarah Ferguson helped Princess Diana plot her break up with then-Prince Charles. In the film, royal journalist Richard Kay explained, "[Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana] did actually come up with a scheme that they would go together. They would announce their separations simultaneously to set off this sort of depth charge ... under the royal family." 

Apparently, Princess Diana was initially hesitant to leave her royal husband. As royal expert Jennie Bond revealed in the same documentary (via YouTube), "Fergie was the one who was leading the way on this. She wanted to give Diana the courage to break loose, as well." Perhaps it was because of Sarah's role in King Charles' divorce from Princess Diana that the future monarch grew to resent her. One royal insider told The Sun, "Charles is not okay with Fergie. ... He feels she sided with Diana over Camilla all those years ago."

However, King Charles and Sarah Ferguson continued to have a lot in common

Because of her role in his divorce, King Charles wasn't Sarah Ferguson's biggest fan. As a royal insider told The Sun, "He can't stand her in reality. He thinks she's brought embarrassment to the royal family in the past." One such embarrassment almost certainly included the 1992 iconic photo scandal, which announced Sarah's extramarital affair to the world in the most graphic way possible. The photographs, published in the Daily Mirror, featured the Duchess of York topless sunbathing at her private home in St. Tropez. In one shot, she is leaning back into a lounge chair while her financial adviser, John Bryan, kisses her toes. In another, the pair smooch in front of a young Princess Eugenie. Per an interview with royal expert Ingrid Seward in the documentary "Fergie and Andrew: Duke and Duchess of Disaster" (via YouTube), "The queen was furious with [Sarah]."

Although King Charles found Sarah crass, the reality is that Sarah was not the only member of the royal family having an extramarital affair. In January 1993 — just months after Sarah's photos leaked — King Charles faced his own press scandal. The People (per the Daily Mirror) published a transcript of an intimate conversation between the future king and his then-mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. The conversation, known colloquially as "tampon gate" (per Cosmopolitan), made it clear to the world that then-Prince Charles was unfaithful to Princess Diana.

Nonetheless, King Charles snubbed Sarah Ferguson at Prince Harry's wedding

Despite King Charles' own scandalous past, he was not particularly keen on welcoming Sarah Ferguson to family events. According to a report by the Daily Mail, Sarah Ferguson was invited to Prince Harry's 2018 wedding to Meghan Markle, mostly because Prince Harry personally requested her presence. However, the outlet reports, Sarah was not invited to the reception that then-Prince Charles paid for. The reason was reportedly the former prince's disdain for his ex-sister-in-law. As an insider told the Daily Mail, "Numbers are limited to the evening party, she is not a member of the Royal Family anymore, and Prince Charles simply doesn't have time for her. He just can't see why she is still such a big part of his brother's life."

In spite of the future monarch's snub, Sarah Ferguson attended the wedding itself with her head held high. As reported by "Good Morning Britain" (via Hello!), the Duchess of York was grateful to the people who did include her in the event. Sarah told the British morning talk show, "I felt honored and grateful for Harry and Meghan to invite me. ... It was very kind of them and I think I can't thank them enough for doing that." Nonetheless, throughout the interview, she still showed solidarity with the late Princess Diana. When asked what she was thinking during the event, Sarah responded, "I felt ... really happy for my friend Diana, who I love."

King Charles considered removing Sarah Ferguson from the Lodge

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew may have divorced in 1996, but the pair have maintained a close friendship in the years following their breakup. The most unusual part of their so-called separation is perhaps that the pair do not live separately. As per Hello!, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew continue to share a home, after all of these years, at Royal Lodge at Windsor. In the documentary "Fergie and Andrew: Duke and Duchess of Disaster" (via YouTube), royal expert Richard Kay added, "They have their holidays together. They have a home they bought together in Switzerland, a skiing lodge. And, in fact, they now spend most of their time together."

Interestingly, however, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew's time at Royal Lodge could be soon coming to a close. The Sun reported that King Charles may soon evict the couple from the royal property. The reason, however, seems less personal than political. Following Prince Andrew's involvement with the sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, the prince was removed from royal duties, as reported by BBC. For a disgraced prince and his ex-wife to continue living on the monarchy's land could be disastrous for the royal family's image. As an insider told The Sun, "If [Prince Andrew is] doing no duties and rattling around a £30 million mansion during the cost-of-living crisis, then it's a terrible look."

The king was urged to control Sarah Ferguson's socials

It's no secret that Sarah Ferguson's past makes her somewhat of a liability when it comes to the royal family's image. Beyond her photo scandal, Sarah has botched several public relations opportunities over the years. On one occasion, ABC reports, she was even caught on camera selling access to Prince Andrew for £500,000. The culmination of these scandals has led King Charles to regard Sarah Ferguson with an eye of suspicion. Per a royal insider's interview with The Sun, "The fear with her is that she will never stop promoting herself and looking for ways to make money off her royal position."

Perhaps this very concern has prompted some members of the public to urge King Charles to take control of Sarah Ferguson's social media presence. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Sarah's Instagram page has blown up — and not everyone is happy about it. In the podcast "Royally Obsessed" (via The International News), royal commentator and podcast host Christina Garibaldi found Sarah's internet presence to be a bit over-the-top: "We saw these pictures with the queen's corgis and Fergie for her birthday over the weekend." Co-host Christine Ross agreed, saying, "She's kind of going rogue with social media." According to Garibaldi, King Charles may have to step in and control Sarah's social media: "I think Charles is going to have to rein her in at some point because it feels like she is just like everywhere right now."

King Charles showed Sarah Ferguson some Christmas forgiveness

After years of snubs and overall exclusion, King Charles and Sarah Ferguson have started to bury the hatchet. The Daily Mirror reports that, in 2022, King Charles invited Sarah to join the royal family for Christmas lunch for the first time in three decades. Previously, the outlet reports, Sarah had to spend Christmas lunch alone, while Prince Andrew and their daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, enjoyed a meal with senior members of the family. In 2022, however, King Charles decided to make Sarah Ferguson feel included in the royal Christmas celebration. As royal biographer Ingrid Seward told the outlet, "King Charles is not an unkind person. He has been through the emotional mill himself. There were many times Camilla had to hide away like a fugitive so he understands Andrew's situation only too well."

Some royal commentators even believe that King Charles invited Sarah to the luncheon out of respect for his late mother. As royal commentator Robert Jobson wrote for The Sun, "In forgiving Fergie, [King Charles] is following his mother's example, because the queen, before her passing in September, had made up with Sarah, her former daughter-in-law." As a royal insider told The Sun in 2019, "The queen is relaxed because of her personal affection towards Fergie, despite the duchess' previous bad behavior."