The Truth About Princess Anne's Marriage

Royal watchers have long known Princess Anne to be a dutiful daughter. According to British Heritage, she regularly tops the list of hardest-working royals in terms of her number of official engagements (in 2017 alone, she attended 455 official events domestically and 85 more abroad). As the publication noted, this is more than the combined number of events attended by her more-famous nephews, Prince Harry and Prince William, and niece by marriage, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.

In the public eye, however, Anne's work ethic has been overshadowed by her sometimes-tumultuous love life. Her first marriage, to Mark Phillips, was unhappy and plagued by infidelity — including the revelation that Phillips had fathered a daughter out of wedlock — which led to their divorce, according to Express. And, as Oprah Daily reports, her other romances — with Andrew Parker Bowles (first husband of Camilla Parker Bowles) and Richard Meade, a gold medal-winning Olympic equestrian — also earned her plentiful tabloid coverage. Her courtship with her second husband, naval officer Timothy Laurence, likewise, made her serious gossip fodder. 

But while her marriage to Laurence started with a scandal (the two were romantically linked before she and Phillips were officially divorced), it seems to have mellowed into an agreeable and relatively drama-free partnership — which is as close to happily ever after as even royals can get.

Their romance began during Princess Anne's first marriage

Princess Anne's second marriage started with a scandal. As People reported, by 1989, the deterioration of her first marriage was an open secret — she and Mark Phillips tended to travel separately and, when they did travel together, stayed in separate rooms. Around that time, rumors began to swirl that she had become romantically attached to someone else —Timothy Laurence, a naval officer serving the royal family as an equerry (another name for a military officer serving as a special assistant). When the British tabloid The Sun (via People) reported that year that the publication had received four handwritten letters addressed to Anne, royal watchers were intrigued — was this the evidence they'd been waiting for? It was: As People noted, Buckingham Palace itself revealed that Laurence, in fact, had sent the letters to her.

While the exact content of the letters has never been made public, an inside source told People that, while the letters were openly romantic, they weren't sexual — but they were endearingly dorky. "They are very boring and ramble on," the source told People. "They are the sort of letters 18-or 19-year-olds write to one another, thoughts about life and rather philosophical, discussing how beautiful a field is in the sunshine with a stream running through it."

Princess Anne's engagement ring was unique

While brides typically go out of their way to choose a unique and memorable wedding dress, most lean toward fairly generic engagement rings — unless a bride receives a family heirloom, she's likely to choose a simple diamond solitaire. But the engagement ring Princess Anne received for her second marriage — like her marriage itself — was unusual. According to Hello!, it wasn't a diamond, but, rather, a dramatic oval sapphire cabochon framed by three diamonds on either side.

While not common, engagement rings featuring colored gemstones are popular among the royal family, according to Elle. For her 1960 engagement, Princess Margaret chose a ring featuring a cluster of rubies in a flower-like design, and Princess Diana, like Princess Anne, chose a ring featuring a sapphire surrounded by diamonds. (Some within the royal household allegedly even took offense to the fact that Diana had chosen it from a catalog, since it meant that mere commoners could buy the exact same ring.) And Anne's fondness for sapphires apparently goes back a long way — her first engagement ring, likewise, featured a sapphire, but a traditional square-cut gem instead.

Only 30 people attended their wedding

Princess Anne's first wedding, to Mark Phillips, was a blowout by any standard: According to Brides, about 1,500 people attended the Westminster Abbey ceremony, while another another 500 million watched on television. In contrast, according to Oprah Daily, her second wedding, to Timothy Laurence, was an intimate and discreet celebration that featured 30 guests, mostly family members.

While it's common for second weddings to be smaller and more relaxed than first weddings, Oprah Daily noted that public awareness of their scandalous romance — which was known to have started as an extramarital affair — may have prompted them to keep an intentionally low profile. Instead of Westminster Abbey, they held their ceremony in Scotland at the modest Crathie Kirk church near Balmoral Estate, one of the royal homes, according to Hello!. Modest as it was, it was still a royal wedding, which means it attracted a lot of curiosity — as noted by Hello!, there were plenty of onlookers and well-wishers waiting outside the church to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds.

They chose to marry in Scotland for a reason

Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence had a more pressing reason to marry in Scotland than just to get away from London-based paparazzi and pearl clutchers: They weren't allowed to marry at any of the usual royal wedding spots, since, at the time, the Church of England banned divorced people with former spouses who were still living from remarrying, according to Tatler. Thus, if they wanted to marry at all, they had to marry outside the Church of England — hence, the destination wedding in Scotland.

It is ironic that the Church of England posed this obstacle, given its origins: According to, the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII to facilitate his split from his wife at the time, Catherine of Aragon. (The Catholic Church, which held sway in England up until then, did not allow divorce and only rarely granted annulments.) But while notes that royal divorces became more common over time, Anne was the first divorced royal to remarry in nearly a century — the last divorced royal to remarry was Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Victoria, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, whose second marriage took place in 1905.

Timothy Laurence did not receive a title upon marriage

Marrying into the royal family comes with a lot of perks, but a royal title isn't always one of them. According to the Independent, bestowal of titles isn't always automatic. While children born to sons of reigning monarchs are by law given the titles "prince" and "princess," other family members are given titles by courtesy and at the discretion of the reigning monarch. And, very often, tradition and popular opinion play a role in who gets what title, especially among those who marry into the royal family. For example, Express notes that, due to popular opinion, it's unlikely that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will become Queen Camilla once her husband, Prince Charles, ascends to the throne. Instead, she has agreed to adopt the title "princess consort."

Similarly, Timothy Laurence did not receive a peerage upon marriage, according to Express. This, however, was not intended as a personal snub: As royal expert Marlene Koenig explained to Express, titles are bestowed stingily to men who marry into the royal family. She compared Laurence's situation to that of Anthony Armstrong-Jones, the now-former husband of Princess Margaret, who did not receive the title of Earl of Snowden until just before the birth of their son. "Look at the history," she said. But while he never received a title, in 2011, Laurence was knighted Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, according to Royal Central.

He continued to serve in the Navy after his marriage to Princess Anne

Timothy Laurence, like his wife, is known for his work ethic. According to Royal Central, he steadily worked his way up the ranks of the Royal Navy, leading him to be appointed equerry to the queen. This was an honor, as equerries are typically high-ranking (and, according to People, well-bred and charming) military officers charged with supporting the queen during formal events and appearances. It was through this position, which put him in close contact with the royal family, that he met his future wife.

But the option of trading the rigors of military life for a glamorous life of ribbon-cuttings wasn't for him. Even after marrying Princess Anne in 1992, he continued his naval service. According to iNews, he served in the Ministry of Defen[s]e in London from 1992 to 1994 before being appointed military assistant to Malcolm Rifkind, the secretary of state for defen[s]e. In this capacity, he served as Rifkind's private military advisor. Though he retired from the Navy in 2010, he didn't stop working — instead, he's played an active role in managing charities such as English Heritage, according to The Telegraph.

He was pleasantly surprised by the royal family's cheerfulness

Marrying into the royal family can be a fraught proposition. Along with its privileges comes great responsibility, not to mention relentless public scrutiny. Even worse, the pressure does not come only from the press and the public: Some of the most brutal pressure can come from one's royal in-laws and their handlers. As Biography notes, despite being raised in a noble family with close ties to the royal household, the late Princess Diana soon found herself stifled and overwhelmed by the royal family's expectations.

Timothy Laurence, fortunately, had a much smoother transition into royal family life, according to Tatler. The fact that he had worked in the royal household for years, was trusted and well-liked by the royal family (according to People), and had plenty of professional experience navigating high-pressure social situations no doubt helped him. Thus, he entered into his marriage with Princess Anne with realistic expectations — and was pleasantly surprised by what he discovered. "One of the great surprises for me, when I first went to Balmoral and to Sandringham and Windsor was that these places are full of laughter," he said in an ITV documentary (per Tatler).

Timothy Laurence revealed his wife is much like the queen

Royal watchers have long chatted about the close relationship between Princess Anne and her late father, Prince Philip, as well as the similarities between them. According to Hello!, she was allegedly his favorite child and shared many of his personal traits, including a passion for sports and a strong sense of duty. As a family friend told the magazine, Prince Philip "always had more fun with Anne. Charles is more like the queen, while Anne is very like Prince Philip."

Timothy Laurence, however, sees things a little differently. As equerry to the queen, he spent his working days in direct contact with the royal family and likely got to observe their character quirks more closely than most people. And having worked with the queen in an official capacity, he sees some striking similarities between her and her daughter. As he told ITV (via Tatler), "The similarities with her father are much talked about, but what is less spoken about is the similarities with her mother, the queen... the common theme is hum[or], fun." And Anne's wit is indeed well known in royal circles, according to Vogue: In a 1980 TV interview, she was even able to joke about an armed kidnapping attempt several years earlier. "He said I had to go with him — can't remember why," she deadpanned. "I said I didn't think I wanted to go, thank you very much."

They're both big fans of Scotland's rugby team

A common piece of advice for those seeking love is to look for someone who shares your interests. Princess Anne tried this: She and her first husband, Mark Phillips, were brought together by their common love of horses — they met at a party for horse lovers, according to the Chicago Tribune, and both were Olympic equestrians, according to Harper's Bazaar. Their shared passion, however, was not enough to keep their marriage from deteriorating.

In contrast, Anne's second husband, Timothy Laurence, admits to knowing nothing about horses. "It's not something I share with her. Sadly I've never been bitten by the horse bug," he told Tatler. What they do have in common, Laurence told the publication, is a shared fondness for the Scottish rugby team. "We both follow, with great enthusiasm, the Scottish rugby team ... as you may have noticed, they don't always win." They also share their love for the team on the royal family's official Instagram account, such as this post in which the caption read: "The Princess Royal often supports the team from the stands. Her Royal Highness and Vice Admiral Sir Tim cheered Scotland on from home today as they played England for the Calcutta Cup, 150 years since their first match. Well played, Scotland!"

The lifestyle of Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence is cozy and relaxed

When picturing a royal residence, most people conjure up images of marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and gold-plated everything. But a rare peek into the home of Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence reveals a much-less glamorous (and, probably, much more comfortable) reality. An Instagram post shared by the royal family shows the pair comfortably relaxing on an overstuffed couch in their living room while watching a rugby match. Their attire is distinctively un-royal: He's wearing a plaid flannel shirt and dad jeans, while she's wearing a red knitted pullover topped with a thermal vest—and they both look delighted.

As for the room itself, there's not a marble column or crystal chandelier in sight. Instead, there's a couch and floral-printed armchair facing a good-sized flat-screen TV. There's a Persian rug as well as side tables and coffee tables covered with random books and papers (relatable!). There's also a glass-fronted hutch filled with knickknacks and, what appears to be, a dog bed by the TV stand. In other words, it's the kind of place where you can easily picture your aunt and uncle hosting Thanksgiving. It's unclear which of their residences this is, but Country Living hypothesizes it's their estate in Gloucestershire, since Anne is known to spend much of her time there.

They live on a historic working farm

Princess Anne's passion for horses is well known, as is Timothy Laurence's interest in historic preservation and English history, according to The Telegraph. So it's not surprising their primary home, Gatcombe Park, is a historic country home and working farm in Gloucestershire, England, according to Country Living. Built in 1771, the home maintains most of its original character — according to Historic England, no significant alterations have been made to the structure since the 1820s. The royal family's presence in Gatcombe Park, however, is fairly recent: As Country Living reports, the queen bought the property in 1976 for Anne and her first husband as a wedding present.

Anne's first marriage may not have lasted, but her dedication to her home and to country living persists. As Country Living reports, Gatcombe Park's 730 acres allow her plenty of room to breed horses, raise cattle, and host riding and equestrian events, such as the annual Festival of British Eventing, from the comfort of home. But, as she told the BBC (via Daily Motion), Gatcombe Park is not just a rural hideaway — the hard work of farming and hosting events also enables the sprawling estate to be self-sustaining. "Being able to take on a place like this – for me, I've got to make it work," she said. "This is not something that comes free, this has got to pay its way, otherwise I can't stay here."

Timothy Laurence has a lot in common with Princess Anne's first husband

Admit it: If you've never looked up your significant other's exes to see how you measure up, you've been tempted to. But if your special someone is a member of the royal family, you won't have any choice: Unless you've lived your entire life under a rock, there's no way you could have avoided seeing your predecessor on your beloved's arm on TV or elsewhere in the media.

Timothy Laurence understands this better than anyone. As an equerry to the royal family, he no doubt saw snippets of Princess Anne's first marriage firsthand and knew very well he wouldn't be the first man in her life. And, to his credit, he's secure enough about himself to be able to joke about it. In a 2020 ITV documentary celebrating Anne's 70th birthday (per Express), he observed, "It's quite amusing that she married first an Army officer and then a Naval officer. So there must be something about the military that attracts her." 

Express also reported another notable similarity between the two men: In contrast to the strong-willed, outspoken Anne, both her husband and her ex-husband are known to be soft-spoken and quiet.

Princess Anne's marriage to Timothy Laurence was rumored to have rough patches

All marriages have occasional stormy moments, but if you're part of a royal couple, the slightest hint of marital strife will be enough to get tongues wagging and tabloids speculating — whether or not there's anything of substance to speculate about. In 2014, Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence had their turn under the media microscope as rumors swirled that their marriage was on the rocks. An unsigned article in the Daily Mail hinted that the couple had been living separate lives and that Laurence had to be ordered by the royal family to attend his wife's investiture as Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Thistle, an honor accorded to her for her charity work. The Daily Mail also claimed — without offering any supporting evidence — that the couple was only staying together to protect the reputation of the royal family.

An Independent article from the same time period also acknowledged these rumors, suggesting any awkwardness in their marriage may have stemmed from Laurence's inability to shed his old role as a royal retainer. "Once you've been an equerry it's difficult to get out of the mold," royal watcher and author Theo Aronson told the Independent. "I suspect he was an equerry in public, at home, and in the bedroom." Still, the publication ultimately asserted that rumors that Anne's second divorce was on the horizon were "ill informed."

Nevertheless, their marriage has endured

As the Independent noted, Princess Anne has always been more focused on getting things done than worrying about what anyone thinks of her. Still, she must be pleased that those who are gossiping about her failing marriage and waiting for the other shoe to drop are still waiting — in 2017, she and Timothy Laurence celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, according to Royal Central. And the pair continue to celebrate special milestones together — in March 2021, they celebrated Laurence's 66th birthday at their country home, Gatcombe Park, according to Hello!.

So, despite their relationship's scandal-ridden beginnings, the couple seems to be going strong. Rumors of the demise of their marriage could have stemmed from the fact that Laurence continued to have his own career and philanthropic interests after marriage and that he may not have shown up at royal events with his wife as much as some spectators would have liked — as Royal Central noted, he makes few public appearances. No one can really know what's going on inside someone else's marriage — but, in this case, it seems that one way to keep a marriage going is to ensure that each party has room to live life on their terms.