The untold truth of American women who became royals

When you think of American women who became royals, Meghan Markle likely comes to mind. When she married Prince Harry at Windsor in May 2018, women all over the world swooned at the idea of a royal romance. And perhaps no one swooned more so than American royal wedding watchers, who were thrilled to see a true blue California girl welcomed into the fold of the British royal family and elevated to the status of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex, as noted by The New York Times.

Of course, the former Suits actress was neither the first American to marry into a royal family nor the first American actress to become a princess. In fact, several American women have become royalty over the years, marrying into royal families as diverse as the the Greek Monarchy to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Here, we take a look at the untold truth of American women who became royals.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were set up by a mysterious matchmaker

Although many details of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's relationship have been made public, there's at least one thing the couple has kept private: their matchmaker's identity.

During an interview with BBC News after their engagement, Harry confirmed that he and Meghan had been introduced by a "mutual friend." E! News reported the royal matchmaker could likely be Violet Von Westenholz, who works in public relations for Ralph Lauren and whose father is a baron. However, fashion designer Misha Nonoo and Markus Anderson, a consultant for Soho House, have also been thought to be the secret matchmaker.

"It was definitely a set-up," Meghan said, discussing the start of her relationship with Harry. "It was a blind date." Meghan and Harry, who are just one of several celebrity couples who met on blind dates, met for a drink in London and decided to make plans again for the very next day. A few weeks later, Harry managed to "persuade" Meghan to join him in Botswana. "We camped out with each other under the stars. We managed to enjoy it for five days out there, which was absolutely fantastic," he said. And thus a fairy tale love story was born, leading one American woman to become a royal (via Newsweek).

Before she became a royal, American Grace Kelly declined meeting Prince Rainier

While it's frequently asserted that Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco while she was filming To Catch a Thief (via History), a People interview with Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland shed more light on their first meeting. As it turned out, Kelly was on a train to Cannes when de Havilland and her husband saw the actress. During dinner, the couple and Gaston Bonheur, the editor-in-chief of Paris-Match, talked about how Kelly should meet Rainier. "...I overtook her to ask if she would agree to a meeting," de Havilland said.

Kelly agreed but said that the studio sponsoring her visit would need to give permission. But after permission was secured, schedules clashed. The prince invited Kelly to his palace at 4 p.m, but she had an event at 5:30. Fortunately, Rainier agreed to meet earlier.

Interestingly, Kelly almost didn't make it. First, the electricity went out. Then a non-working elevator and fender-bender caused further delays. And when Kelly eventually arrived at the palace, Rainier wasn't there. However, the fateful first meeting between Kelly and Rainier finally did take place, and the rest is history, with Kelly becoming one of a few American women who became royals.

Queen Noor of Jordan, born Lisa Halaby, was a cheerleader at Princeton before becoming a royal

A member of the first co-ed class at Princeton, Elizabeth Halaby — known then as Lisa — made her mark at the university in the early '70s. Not only did her days as a Tiger include time as one of Princeton's first female cheerleaders, but she also studied architecture and was elected to the Architecture School's Committee of Student Representatives, according to Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Her classmate and fellow cheerleader Rose "Podie" Lynch told People of their decision to cheer, "We said we'd only do it if we didn't have to wear those funny little skirts and bobby sox." Lynch noted, "She and I wore sailor pants instead. But after about four games Lisa and I decided it was ridiculous and dropped out. We felt dumb."

Though Halaby's architectural career took her all over the world, including Sydney and Tehran, it was through work in Amman that she met Jordan's King Hussein. Their relationship progressed quickly, and Halaby soon devoted herself to becoming the king's partner. "My career," said Halaby before taking the Arabic name Noor al-Hussein (via Princeton Alumni Weekly), "is my life with His Majesty the King." And just like that, Halaby went down in history as one of the few American women who became royals.

Lee Radziwill, an American woman who became a royal, was this famous figure's sister

An icon in her own right, Lee Radziwill led a colorful life, as she revealed to T, a magazine of The New York Times. She was a muse to Truman Capote, went on tour with the Rolling Stones, was friends with Andy Warhol, and married three times. However, it's two biographical notations Radziwill is most remembered for: Her second husband, Prince Stanislas Radziwill, elevated her to royalty, and her sister was Jackie Kennedy.

Radziwill, one of a few American women who became royals, found her sister's fame amusing. "When you are closely related to someone so in the public eye, you tend to think the interest is dumb or trivial because you know the person, and the truth," she shared. "But I certainly understand people's fascination. After all, as the young wife of the youngest elected president, she was fascinating."

Jackie's marriage to John F. Kennedy changed the trajectory of Radziwill's life. "My life could certainly have been different," she told T. "Not so much because Jackie married a Kennedy, but because he became president." Radziwill mused that she would have likely spent most of her life in England with her husband if Kennedy had lost the election.

Marie-Chantal, an American who became a royal, lives in New York City with her five children

Born to American father Robert Miller, a duty-free shipping magnate, Marie-Chantal Miller was introduced to Prince Pavlos of Greece in 1985, as a high school student with an internship for Andy Warhol, according to The New York Times.

Though the Greek Monarchy ended in the 1970s, the jet-setting royals enjoy a life that's equal parts glamorous and ordinary, living in a townhouse in New York City with their five children and two dogs. "On Sunday, we'll make something special. Either we'll order bagels from H & H Bagels or make pancakes," Marie-Chantal told The New York Times. While social distancing in March 2020, Marie-Chantal revealed to the paper that she and her family played copious amounts of foosball — which they call "baby foot" — and spent much time reading, watching movies, and ordering takeout. "Now, we're doing a lot of family cooking, ordering in, and I'm sharing recipes with my daughter, Olympia," she said.

Marie-Chantal, one of a small number of American women who became royals, notably has an eponymous children's clothing line, which she promotes on Instagram to 180,000 followers, and she penned an illustrated etiquette book for children called Manners Begin at Breakfast.

Old Hollywood star Rita Hayworth became a royal when she married the son of the Aga Khan

It was a glamorous union: Hollywood star Rita Hayworth — who was known for movies like Gilda, as noted by The New York Times – and Aly Khan, the son of the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims who was considered by his followers to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, according to Time. When the two married in 1949, Hayworth went from a popular pin-up and Hollywood's so-called "Love Goddess," according to Vanity Fair, to a real-life royal. However, the road there wasn't so smooth.

When Hayworth first met Khan, she wasn't initially persuaded by the royal's charms. "The prince was immediately smitten, but Miss Hayworth definitely was not," Hayworth's secretary Shifra Haran recalled, as reported by Vanity Fair. However, once a fortune-teller predicted that she was "about to embark on the greatest romance of her life" with somebody she already knew, it was the push she needed.

Ultimately, the union didn't last, though it resulted in a child: daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.

American Ariana Austin became a royal after meeting an Ethiopian prince in a nightclub

When Ariana Austin went to Pearl nightclub in Washington, D.C. one night in her 20s, she had no idea that she'd be meeting her future husband — let alone one who was secretly a prince. Though he didn't share his lineage with her upon first meeting, Joel Makonnen is Prince Yoel, the great-grandson of Haile Selassie, Ethiopia's last emperor, as noted by The New York Times.

Even princes, it seems, aren't immune to cheesy pickup lines. While at the nightclub, Makonnen reportedly approached Austin and her friend and said, "You guys look like an ad for Bombay Sapphire." Despite the line, Austin fell for Makonnen. Eventually, she learned the truth and was impressed by her husband's lineage. She told The New York Times, "It's unbeatable heritage and history," adding, "It combines sheer black power and ancient Christian tradition."

On their wedding website, according to the Times, Makonnen and Austin, one of a select few American women who became royals, described their relationship as what happened when "Old World aristocracy met New World charm," with Austin enjoying an illustrious lineage of her own: Her mother's father was lord mayor of Georgetown, Guyana.

American Wallis Simpson enjoyed living in the Bahamas with her exiled husband, the Duke of Windsor

Often considered one of the great love stories of the 20th century, Britain's King Edward VIII wished to marry American Wallis Simpson but was discouraged from doing so because of her divorcée status. As a result, Edward decided to abdicate rather than "carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love," he announced, according to Time. Vogue noted that Edward, who then became the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis were "essentially" exiled.

During an interview with the BBC, Edward and Wallis spoke frankly of their life together, with Wallis revealing that she "liked it very much" living in the Bahamas when he was governor there and disclosing that she enjoyed a surprisingly normal work duty. "I ran the canteen — two canteens there — for the RAF [Royal Air Force]," she shared.

When asked if she had any regrets while looking back on her life, Wallis replied, "Oh, about certain things, yes, I wish it could have been different." However, Simpson also asserted that she'd been happy. "We've had some hard times, but who hasn't? You'll just have to learn to live with that," she stated.

American Kendra Spears was a model before becoming a royal

Born in Seattle as Kendra Spears, the former model became Princess Salwa Aga Khan when she married Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the son of His Highness Aga Khan IV, in 2013, according to Hello! magazine.

Back when Princess Salwa was still going by Kendra Spears and modeling, she maintained an active Twitter account, which is still visible and mentioned jobs for companies like Dior and for outlets like Vogue Russia. Updates stopped in 2013, the same year she and Prince Rahim married. The couple has two children: Prince Irfan, born in Geneva in 2015, and Prince Sinan, born in London in 2017.

On her Twitter account, tweets between Princess Salwa and supermodel Naomi Campbell remain visible, with the royal thanking Campbell for the introduction to fashion designer Manav Gangwani and displaying a photo of her in a white sari. The princess, one of only a few American women who became royals, said, "Thank you @ManavGangwani for the beyond-gorgeous sari! And thank you @NaomiCampbell for the introduction." Campbell replied, "[You're] welcome baby Girl Mrs Aga khan. Congratulations to you and Rahim."

Before marrying Prince Hubertus and becoming a royal, American Kelly Rondestvedt was an investment banker

Kelly Rondestvedt, an investment banker born in Florida, lived a real-life fairy tale when she met Hereditary Prince Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in a New York restaurant, according to Hello! magazineIt wouldn't be long before she joined the club of American women who became royals.

The two married in 2009, with Rondestvedt becoming Her Highness Hereditary Princess Kelly of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The wedding took place at Schloss Callenberg in Coburg, Germany, home of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family. Hubertus' royal relatives King Carl Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden were among those in attendance, according to CBS News. Notably, the European House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is distantly related to the House of Windsor, as Prince Albert — Queen Victoria's husband — was known as Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. During World War I, George V changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor, trying to avoid association with Germans given anti-German sentiment of the time, according to Britannica.

Kelly and Hubertus live in Coburg, raising three children who can count Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Prince Ernst of Hanover, and King Philippe of Belgium as godparents.