Times Royals Broke Rules And It Got Dramatic

As the old saying goes, "You can't choose your family," and nobody understands that adage better than members of the royal family. When you're born into the monarchy, you're expected to adhere to a different set of rules than the general public. Forbidden hairstyles, royal relationship rules, and strict protocols for royal children are among the many guidelines that royals are supposed to follow. But even for one of the most famous families in the world, rules are meant to be broken — or at least bent from time to time.

The pressures of being in the public eye so constantly have certainly had an effect on all members of the Windsor clan. Being expected to convey a pristine image at all times would wear on anyone, and almost every member of the royal family has chosen to disregard protocol at least once or twice. Everyone has to cut loose every once in a while, right?

Some small deviations from protocol only cause a few eyebrows to be raised. Other times, breaking the rules can cause full-blown, worldwide media tidal waves. Whether the perpetrator was an adolescent prince or the sovereign, here are some of the most well-remembered royal rulebreakers in history.

When Queen Elizabeth II chose to use controversial wedding vows

When Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, married Prince Philip in 1947, her wedding vows caused a bit of a stir. Although the Church of England had revised its official marital vows almost two decades earlier in 1928, Elizabeth's vows included part of the traditional version that caught people's attention.

Previously, the official Anglican wedding vows included the words "to obey" as part of the promise a bride would make to her husband-to-be. After this revision was made, women were no longer required to pledge their obedience to their spouses during their wedding ceremonies. Yet, as reported by People, the royal bride insisted on including it anyway (via YouTube).

The queen's controversial vows were heard around the world, as millions of people tuned in to BBC Radio to listen to the ceremony. Many people felt that an heir to the throne shouldn't be obligated to vow obedience to anyone, including her husband. But while Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's marriage did have its fair share of ups and downs, the union proved to be successful and lasted an impressive 73 years until Philip's death in 2021.

When King Charles III and Princess Diana got divorced

In the days when the current king was still known as Prince Charles, he married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. Although the glamorous wedding appeared to be something out of a fairy tale, Prince Charles and Princess Diana's marriage quickly began to unravel before the eyes of the world. Over the years, allegations of infidelity from both parties emerged, and tension rose between the couple. Constitutional expert Lord St. John of Fawsley told CBC that to prevent the drama from continuing, Queen Elizabeth II herself finally suggested the couple divorce (via YouTube).

While it wasn't completely unheard of for royals to divorce before Charles and Diana, it was certainly rare. And although the princess had already attracted a high level of media attention before her separation from the prince, the harassment from the press reached new levels of intensity post-divorce. On August 31, 1997, the princess tragically died in a car accident while attempting to flee from the paparazzi.

The drama surrounding the former Prince and Princess of Wales' marriage and her death is still regarded as one of the most heartbreaking ordeals in the history of the royal family.

When Princess Diana wore the revenge dress

Women in the royal family are expected to maintain a certain level of modesty. But the night the world learned of then-Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Princess Diana threw protocol out the window. The princess attended an event at London's Serpentine Gallery on the same night a documentary premiered on national television that unveiled Charles' infidelity.

In light of the scandalous revelations, Diana's revenge dress violated many royal attire rules. It was short, black, form-fitting, and dare we say it — sexy. All eyes were on the princess that night, and it was immediately evident that the purpose of the dress was to send a clear message to Charles: She didn't need him, anyway.

The dress may have stirred the pot among traditionalists who would prefer that royal women maintain their modest image, but there's no denying that the revenge dress became one of the most famous garments of the 20th century. The Christina Stambolian dress was included in a collection of Diana's gowns that were auctioned off by Christie's for charity in 1997. The Stambolian dress alone sold for $74,000, while the entire lot of 79 dresses sold for a whopping $3,258,750 (per Newsweek).

When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson

If you were forced to choose between your life of luxury and the person you loved, which would you choose? The former King Edward VIII was faced with that exact dilemma. When he was a prince in the 1930s, Edward met two-time divorcée Wallis Simpson. Simpson was an American socialite, and Edward fell madly in love with her. After Edward was proclaimed king on January 20, 1936, he attempted to get approval to marry Wallis. Unfortunately, the Church of England vehemently opposed a marriage between the king and a divorced woman. In the eyes of the church, marriage was a holy sacrament that couldn't be severed while both parties were still alive, therefore it couldn't recognize a marriage between King Edward and Wallis since her ex-spouses were still living.

That left Edward with only two options: Either leave Wallis and fulfill his destiny as the King of England or abdicate the throne and forfeit his role within the royal family. On December 11, 1936, just 11 months after he took the throne, Edward officially announced that he would be discharging his duties as king in order to marry the woman he loved. As a result, the kingship fell to the next heir in line, Edward's younger brother, King George VI.

Of course, this unprecedented stray from protocol caused a worldwide uproar. Edward and Wallis were married in France in 1937, and the former king's new title became the Duke of Windsor. And while the duke was still referred to as "royal highness," the same rank was not extended to Wallis.

When Prince Harry began speaking out against the royal family

Prince Harry has developed a bit of a reputation for breaking royal protocol over the years. Although he's no longer making headlines for the same mischief of his youth, he's still getting plenty of publicity for other royal no-nos. Now a husband and father of two, Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have been very outspoken about the issues they've faced as part of the royal family.

The first upset was when the couple sat down with Oprah in March 2021, giving their first interview with details of potential racism within the royal family (via YouTube). Then, in December 2022, the couple released their self-titled docuseries on Netflix, "Harry & Meghan," which gave the pair a platform to describe the controversy surrounding their relationship in their own words.

And in January 2023, perhaps the largest bombshell of all was dropped when Harry published a tell-all memoir titled "Spare." It features many astonishing details about the prince's personal life, including the death of his mother Princess Diana, his time in the British Army, and his relationship with Meghan. While opening up and speaking their truths must be incredibly cathartic for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it certainly goes against royal protocol to willingly publicize such private matters.

When King Charles III walked Meghan Markle down the aisle

Even royal weddings are susceptible to their fair share of family drama. Unfortunately, that was the case surrounding the wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Just days before the couple was set to wed on May 19, 2018, Meghan's father, Thomas Markle, publicly pulled out of the wedding.

On May 12, 2018, The Daily Mail obtained exclusive footage of Thomas Markle meeting with a paparazzi photographer to stage photos of himself to sell to the press. He was spotted entering an internet cafe with the photographer in order to plan out the shots, then could be seen nonchalantly posing for photos. Some of the final photos show Thomas sitting at a computer, looking at an image of his daughter and Prince Harry, while another staged scenario shows Thomas getting fitted in a suit.

Following the release of the images, Thomas Markle spoke with TMZ about why he would be unable to walk his daughter down the aisle. He claimed he was scheduled for surgery just days before the wedding due to a heart attack. But luckily King Charles III chose to break protocol and volunteered to walk his future daughter-in-law down the aisle. According to Vogue, Charles was happy to accompany Meghan, and on the big day, Meghan ended up walking the first half of the aisle by herself before being met by Charles to walk with her the rest of the way.

When Princess Diana hugged and shook hands with AIDS patients

One of the reasons Princess Diana was loved by so many was because she was unafraid to stand up for her beliefs, even if those beliefs happened to break royal protocol. That was certainly the case in the late 1980s when the world was paralyzed with fear over the AIDS epidemic, and harmful stigmas associated with the disease were rampant. People falsely believed that AIDS was transmissible by touch, which caused patients to be unnecessarily ostracized.

Knowing the facts, Diana sought to change this narrative. In April 1987, the princess opened the first HIV/AIDS ward in London Middlesex Hospital (per BBC). It was there that she famously shook the hand of a patient, and began to break down the incorrect beliefs that surrounded the disease. Changing the circumstances for those affected by the disease was an important cause to Diana, even if some members of the royal family may have been opposed to it.

As reported by Newsweek, Queen Elizabeth II may not have been a fan of Diana's work surrounding the AIDS crisis. According to Diana's former police protection officer Ken Wharfe, one day after Diana had visited the queen, she seemed somewhat upset. When he asked her what was wrong, she said that the queen told her she should "get involved with something more pleasant." But although Diana may have been disappointed by the queen's reaction, she continued to make an impact and was involved in many more campaigns to assist in the AIDS crisis.

When Princess Margaret was engaged to the previously divorced Peter Townsend

A decade after Princess Margaret's uncle Edward abdicated the throne to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson, Margaret was faced with a similar dilemma. The young princess met Captain Peter Townsend in 1947, and their affair reportedly began soon after, according to Harper's Bazaar. This was even though the Royal Air Force pilot was still married to another woman until his divorce in 1952. It was at this point that the couple decided they wanted to marry, but unfortunately, neither was prepared for the backlash they would face.

As was the case with Edward and Wallis, in those days the Church of England didn't allow people who had been previously divorced and whose spouses were still living to remarry. And regarding Margaret and Townsend, the church still refused to make an exception. This left the princess with the same two options her uncle had previously faced. She could either forfeit her royal position and salary in order to marry the man she loved, or sever her relationship with him. In the end, she chose the latter, and on October 31, 1955, she publicly announced that she would end her relationship with Townsend to keep her duty to the Commonwealth.

When King Charles III was caught underage drinking at 14 years old

Prince Harry isn't the only royal who was partaking in mischief at a young age. In 1963, when King Charles III was a 14-year-old prince, a tabloid reporter overheard him ordering a drink at a pub in Scotland. The young student reportedly ordered a cherry brandy from the bar. News of the incident spread quickly, with details of Charles' underage drinking even making the front page of The New York Times.

Initially, the palace attempted to deny the whole story. But in the end, they backtracked and admitted that the prince really had enjoyed a cocktail that day — and as it turns out, it wasn't the first time. According to the BBC, the only reason he ordered a cherry brandy is because he had tried it before while on shooting trips. It seems even royals are susceptible to having a little too much fun!

When Meghan postponed her postpartum photo shoot

Traditionally, royal women used to have their babies at home within royal palaces. As reported by The New York Times, that changed when Princess Anne chose to give birth at St. Mary's Hospital in London. This created a new tradition for women within the royal family, with Princess Diana, Princess Catherine, and Meghan Markle all following suit by giving birth in hospitals as well. But Meghan chose to break protocol in her own way following the birth of her two children.

It has become customary within the royal family for new parents to pose for photos with their baby just hours after the birth. But Meghan chose to forgo this tradition, choosing to postpone the official photo shoot until days later (per Vanity Fair). Reportedly, the new mother had to negotiate with royal officials in order to be allowed this extra privacy. Her sister-in-law Princess Catherine never got the same luxury and was seen posing for photos while wearing high heels just hours after the births of all three of her children.

When Princess Diana attempted to give her kids normal lives

Members of the royal family have always been expected to maintain a certain image, and they have often avoided engaging in many of the same activities as common folk. This expectation even extends to children of the royal family — but Princess Diana had other plans for her kids.

The mother of two was deeply committed to giving her two sons as normal a childhood as possible, even despite all of the paparazzi attention they had to endure. Prince William and Prince Harry were among the earliest children in the royal family to be sent to public school, the first being Mrs. Mynors' nursery in Notting Hill. Before that, children in the royal family usually received a private education at home.

Princess Diana also went to great lengths to make memories with her sons, taking them on many trips and fun outings. The three of them were pictured together enjoying beach vacations, ski trips, and visiting theme parks. It's reported that they even had a tradition of sneaking off to McDonald's to get burgers and chips, much to their private chef's dismay (per Marie Claire). While all of this may have been against royal protocol, we're sure that it was appreciated by the young princes.

When Meghan Markle voted in the United States midterm election

Members of the royal family are traditionally expected to steer clear of politics, as they are meant to be unbiased. But it appears that Meghan Markle has chosen to override that protocol in favor of letting her voice be heard. A California native, Markle shared a photo on the Archewell website encouraging her followers to vote in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections.

This caused many people to be outraged, including Piers Morgan, who wrote on Twitter about how it was inappropriate for royals to express partisan views in foreign elections.

Although many celebrities are celebrated for standing up for their beliefs, others don't believe that royals should speak up in the same way. But it appears that the duchess shares the same desire to speak her truth as her husband does, as they both continue to talk very openly about their opinions.