The Truth About Queen Elizabeth's Relationship With Princess Diana

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana had a notoriously rocky relationship that went far beyond the bounds of the typical mother and daughter-in-law disagreements. After all, Diana married into one of the most famous and culturally significant families of her time, and had to navigate that reality alongside a woman who was both her mother-in-law and her queen.

Despite the fact that Diana had ties to the royal family that dated back to before she was born, things between her and Elizabeth were never quite what they could have been. Diana was known for being too emotional for Elizabeth, with the latter unsure of how to handle the former's outbursts as her marriage to King Charles began to unravel (via Glamour).

Despite their ups and downs, the few written records we have indicate that Elizabeth thought highly of her daughter-in-law, even after she and Charles divorced. In a letter to her aide Lady Henriette Abel Smith, Elizabeth explained that Diana's loss was a heavy one for both the family and the United Kingdom (via Reader's Digest). Here is a look at the complex relationship between two of the most consequential women of the 20th century, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

Queen Elizabeth met Princess Diana when she was a child

The relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana goes back all the way to Diana's childhood, years before she met and became engaged to King Charles. In fact, Elizabeth was named as one of Diana's younger brother's godmothers, and Diana's father served as personal assistant to Queen Elizabeth's father (per The New York Post). 

As history professor Arianne Chernock told Reader's Digest, Diana's family had many ties to the royal family that dated back decades. The family was well-known and well connected, and Chernock explained, "The Spencers were a prominent family with close royal ties." Diana was born and grew up at Park House, which is on the grounds of the royal family's estate Sandringham. As many fans and followers of the family know, Charles even dated Diana's older sister Sarah before his relationship with Diana began.

Charles and Diana were properly introduced in 1977, when the former was invited to Diana's family's home. Despite those ties, getting married wasn't a sure bet when Diana and Charles began their relationship. 

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana were formally introduced in 1980

While Queen Elizabeth was certainly aware of Princess Diana and her family, the two weren't formally introduced as potential mother and daughter-in-law until 1980, when Diana was invited to the royal family's home, Balmoral. As British history professor Arianne Chernock explained to Reader's Digest, this meeting was a test for the young woman who would go on to marry the future king. Chernock said, "The most sustained early interaction with the royal family came when she was invited to [royal Scottish country estate] Balmoral."

Diana opened up about how she felt about the meeting in conversations with Andrew Morton for his book "Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words." As she explained, the build-up to the visit at Balmoral was far more stressful than anything that happened once she arrived. Diana said, "I was frightened because I had never stayed at Balmoral and I wanted to get it right. The anticipation was worse than actually being there" (via CheatSheet).

Queen Elizabeth thought Princess Diana was a good match for Prince Charles

Despite the stories that insist Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth ultimately didn't get along with one another, the former monarch was actually very supportive of her son's relationship with Diana. As historian and British royal expert Arianne Chernock told Reader's Digest, Diana was popular in the beginning of her days with the family. She said, "She was very much a hit with the royal family — they really warmed to her. Diana worked very, very hard to ingratiate herself and to model what she thought being a princess would entail, and she did it very successfully."

It's important to note that Queen Elizabeth never offered a public statement on her feelings about King Charles' wife, and as Chernock pointed out in another statement, the only real evidence is the behavior of Elizabeth herself. Chernock said of Queen Elizabeth, "She's very tight-lipped. So we don't know. We can't access her diaries or her private thoughts. We can look at her actions and her behaviors; those are the clues we have" (per Reader's Digest). But despite that closed-off stance, Chernock has insisted that both Elizabeth and Prince Philip were encouraged by how the visit to Balmoral went, and they were happy with the relationship as it developed.

Queen Elizabeth told King Charles to propose to Princess Diana

As many of us know now, King Charles was in a relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Queen Consort, before he and Princess Diana met. By all accounts, Charles and Camilla were in love, but she wasn't considered an appropriate match for the royal heir. With this in mind, it's difficult to understand why Charles went ahead and proposed to Diana if he loved someone else, though it seems that the real reason might have come down to Queen Elizabeth herself.

As Reader's Digest related, Queen Elizabeth pressed Charles to propose to Diana before the public lost interest in the relationship. The outlet noted that Time reported that Elizabeth once commented, "The idea of this romance going on for another year is intolerable to everyone concerned," which indicated that she was definitely ready for the two to make things official.

It also seems that Elizabeth's sense of urgency was shared by her husband, Prince Philip. In his book "Charles At 70: Thoughts, Hopes, and Dreams," royal author Robert Jobson explained that Diana described Charles' proposal as "hysterical," and that Philip himself ultimately came to the conclusion that the two weren't a good match but that Charles should essentially get married to get it over with (via Reader's Digest).

Queen Elizabeth might have ignored Princess Diana's unhappiness

Some royal sources believe that the dynamic between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana shifted following Diana's wedding to King Charles. As royal biographer Ingrid Seward wrote in her book "The Queen & Di," the monarch reportedly wrote a letter to a friend that included a telling sentence. She said, "I trust that Diana will find living here less of a burden than is expected" (per Reader's Digest). In other words, Elizabeth recognized that before her marriage Diana had reservations about royal life, but she didn't seem to think that her daughter-in-law should carry those reservations into the next chapter. 

However, multiple sources indicated over the years that Diana was less than happy in her marriage. Seward claimed in her book that Elizabeth and her staff believed that she simply suffered from "a bad case of nerves." Despite these apparent ups and downs, Seward also wrote that Diana once told her, "I have the best mother-in-law in the world" (via Reader's Digest).

Queen Elizabeth didn't know how to handle Princess Diana's emotions

Ingrid Seward has written about the relationship between Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth several times over the years. In her book "The Queen's Speech: An Intimate Portrait of the Queen in Her Own Words," Seward explained that Diana was quite a bit more emotional than her mother-in-law, and it became tough for Elizabeth to know how to handle outbursts. In one example, Seward claimed that Diana told the queen, "Oh, Mama' — because that's what Diana used to call the Queen — 'Everybody hates me! Your son hates me" (via Glamour).

According to Seward, Elizabeth was genuinely unsure of how to respond. As the author detailed, Elizabeth was raised during a time when women were not allowed to have emotional outbursts, and the full weight of the agony Diana felt was almost too much for her. Seward added, "The Queen was not prepared for it and simply didn't know how to deal with it. She had no idea."

Princess Diana sought advice from Queen Elizabeth as her marriage fell apart

As her marriage to King Charles began to crumble, Princess Diana turned to her mother-in-law for advice and reassurance. By 1986, King Charles had completely resumed his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana was desperate for some kind of help or information that could change things for her. According to the documentary "Diana: In Her Own Words," after telling her mother-in-law that her marriage was loveless, Diana asked for help. She explained, "I went to the top lady and said: 'I don't know what I should do.' She said: 'I don't know what you should do.' And that was it. That was 'help'" (per CheatSheet).

Diana went on to add that Elizabeth had little to offer when she revealed that her husband was having an affair. Ultimately, Queen Elizabeth advised Diana and Charles to divorce, which was a decision they ultimately agreed with (per The Daily Express).

Diana also asked Prince Philip for advice, and the two even wrote letters back and forth in which Diana's father-in-law appeared to feel badly for her. However, it seems that even Philip was soon at a loss, and in one letter he wrote, "I will always do my utmost to help you and Charles to the best of my ability ... but I am quite ready to concede that I have no talent as a marriage counselor" (via PopSugar).

Andrew Morton's 1992 book drove a wedge between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana

In 1992, Andrew Morton released his book "Diana: Her True Story." The book immediately made an impact, especially as Diana and some of her friends and allies contributed directly to its content by way of interviews with the author. While no one directly confirmed that Diana herself participated in the book until after her death in 1997, its release and the implication that she had been part of putting the book together devastated the relationship Diana had with Queen Elizabeth (via Good Housekeeping).

Following her death, Morton released a new, longer version of the book that included an 18,000 word transcript of the interviews that Diana had participated in. In addition to accusations of attempting to profit off Diana's passing, Buckingham Palace almost banned the book entirely. In this one moment, Diana's family was united with Queen Elizabeth and her family, as the Spencers attempted to get ownership of the tapes used to put the book together (per PBS).

Queen Elizabeth wanted Princess Diana to keep her HRH signature

Despite the fact that she wrote a letter to Princess Diana calling for her and King Charles to divorce, Queen Elizabeth still appeared to want to be kind and courteous to Princess Diana following the end of the marriage. As The Los Angeles Times reported at the time, despite the fact that Charles was openly conducting an affair, it was Diana's admission that she had an affair of her own that prompted Elizabeth to tell the couple it was time to split up.

Simon McCoy of Sky TV told the outlet, "One cannot underestimate how angry the queen has been. At the palace there's a huge sigh of relief. The queen has decided that enough is enough." In addition to being angry, McCoy added that Elizabeth was worried about the future of the monarchy as a whole in the wake of the mess Diana and Charles created together. 

Ultimately, the divorce between Charles and Diana was handled well. In July 1996, the New York Times reported that the two had agreed on divorce terms. Despite Elizabeth's willingness to let Diana keep her "Her Royal Highness" styling, Charles insisted that it be dropped. One consequence of this action meant Diana had to curtsy to each member of the family who retained their HRH status, including her own children (per PopSugar).

Queen Elizabeth believed Princess Diana still had potential for the royal family

Getting divorced didn't have to mean the end of Princess Diana's involvement in the royal family, and it seems that Queen Elizabeth certainly hoped that Diana could continue to be an asset to the Crown. In the days that followed Diana's unexpected death in 1997, Elizabeth wrote a letter to her aide Lady Henriette Abel Smith that detailed many of the feelings the monarch had.

In the letter, Elizabeth explained that it was clear Diana's passing had impacted people around the nation, the Commonwealth, and the world. She explained, "It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country. But the public reaction to her death, and the service in the Abbey, seem to have united people round the world in a rather inspiring way" (via Reader's Digest). Elizabeth went on to admit that while Princes William and Harry were being "so brave," the entire family was understandably emotional and unsteady. 

Queen Elizabeth's reaction to Princess Diana's death was criticized

The days that followed the death of Princess Diana in 1997 were intense for everyone in the United Kingdom and beyond. It's safe to assume that Queen Elizabeth and the royal family also experienced huge waves of sadness and emotion following the news that Diana had passed, but for reasons that have not been fully explained, the monarch and her family chose to retreat from public view.

This reaction was heavily criticized in the days, weeks, months, and even years that followed. In the 2017 documentary "Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors," royal author Tina Brown explained that King Charles had a major reaction to Diana's death, but not necessarily for reasons you might expect. Brown said, "He was absolutely distraught. He fell apart. He knew, instantly, that this was going to be a terrible thing, that ... he will be blamed, that they will be blamed, for the death of Diana" (via E! News).

While Prime Minister Tony Blair nearly immediately gave a heartfelt speech in the wake of Diana's death, Elizabeth stayed quiet for days. She and the royal family retreated to Balmoral, eventually sending her press officer to defend the family to the public, who demanded to know why they weren't visible. Eventually, Elizabeth brought the family back to London the day before Diana's funeral.