The Royal Family’s “Other Women”: A Brief History of Affairs

Is Prince William’s Royal Affair actually real – or could it be totally invented by gossip and the media? The press and Internet won’t let rumors of a secret affair between Prince William and Rose Hanbury die (even though there’s no concrete evidence.) The history of the Royal Family is full of juicy affairs and beloved mistresses, so the press is highly aware of how magnetically we’re drawn to this story arc of the royal “other woman.” And the Royals are a very carefully managed industry — they have the money and influence to pour cold water on any stories before they gain credibility. So will we ever be able to know the truth? And why does anyone care to begin with?


Is Prince William’s Royal Affair actually real – or could it be totally invented by gossip and the media?

Right now, the press and Internet won’t let rumors of a secret affair between Prince William and Rose Hanbury die. There’s even talk that they spent 2023 Valentine’s Day together. There’s basically no true evidence of anything, while certain insiders claim it’s a known fact, or give indirect fuel to the fire. So will we ever be able to know? The Royals are a very carefully managed industry — a closed shop to all but the very few, with a delicate symbiotic relationship with the press. They have the money and influence to pour cold water on any stories before they gain credibility.

Let me give you some background on William that The Firm has tried very hard to scrub from existence. - @matta_of_fact/TikTok

Meanwhile the history of the Royal Family is full of juicy affairs and beloved mistresses, so the press is highly aware of how magnetically we’re drawn to this story arc of the royal “other woman”. Here’s our take on William’s supposed royal affair, and the seemingly never ending arms race to find out what’s really going on behind the doors of the palaces.

What was the spark that lit the fire of these Prince William rumors? Interestingly the affair rumors didn’t start out as affair rumors, but focused on an alleged feud between Kate Middleton and Rose Hanbury, her so-called “rural rival”. This then escalated when American tabloid In Touch suggested that the root of this feud was an affair between Rose and Will. So far, so spurious, but when British journalist Giles Coren tweeted that everyone knew about the affair, a tweet which the Palace reportedly pressured him to delete, that almost became the smoking gun. And when a shady rumor about a Prince whose wife was allowing him to have an affair floated on gossip channel Deux Moi, people quickly put two and two together, and the #PrinceOfPegging hashtag was born.

No shame, if that’s your thing, but it does mean that somebody’s had to explain it to the Queen. - @tibblesworth/TikTok

Throughout this, no sources were named, and no evidence was given. But we see how lots of individual rumors clustered together to form this bigger scandal. The feud between William and Harry, which was pretty public knowledge by this point, was now said not to be about their wives not getting along (as many long assumed), but actually due to William’s affair. Strangest was the fact that writer Nicole Cliffe — who by her own admission is not a royal source, but simply a lover of royal gossip — was cited as evidence that Harry disapproved of William’s behavior given how similar it was to what their father did to Princess Diana.

Perhaps the strongest seeming evidence seemed to come in Harry and Meghan’s documentary when Harry said “They were happy to lie to protect my brother”, which does seem like an actual insider confirming that the palace covered up something big for William. But it’s still not stated these lies were about an affair. So looking at this sequence of events, we can see either a conspiracy unraveling, or a snowball of off-base gossip and the press trying to construct a Royal narrative.

The biggest reason we’re all so prime to believe this story is familial history. From Henry VIII’s six wives, to Captain Mark Phillips’ illegitimate child, to the breakdowns of both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew’s marriages in the 90s, this desire for scandal seems born out of a belief that “well…it runs in the family!” At the same time, these affairs are big business for the tabloids. If you think about the Charles and Diana affair, it provided so many historic moments: The revenge dress. Charles’ leaked phone call. Diana’s interview.

Princess Diana: There were three of us in that marriage, so it was a bit crowded. - Panorama

And maybe the other reason why stories of Royal affairs are so believable is because of the history of Royal marriages; rather than being the great, glamorous fairy tales promised by royal weddings, the reality is often far less romantic than meets the eye.

Royal marriages simply aren’t like normal marriages. A lot of the time, love doesn’t really come into the equation. Instead, it has to be what’s right for The Firm. Edward VII famously abdicated over not being able to marry the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. And Princess Margaret too was never able to marry who she wanted. With Kate Middleton, much was made of her meeting William at university and William falling for her after seeing her in a fashion show. But there were just as many stories that suggested she effectively campaigned for the role of his wife: having a picture of William on her wall as a teenager, going to St Andrew’s specifically to be close to him, and being dubbed “Waity Katie” because of how willing she was to bide her time for their romance to become an official engagement.

Their couple-physicality in public has always been stiff and formal more than affectionate – to a degree that when she recently grazed his bottom with her hand (whether on purpose or not) this was huge news, unpacked in headlines for days. And HBO satire The Prince imagines that, secretly, the couple can’t stand each other.

Going back, royal marriages have often been political arrangements. Historically, members of royal families would marry members off to each other as a way to stave off conflicts and strengthen influence — Victoria and Albert were cousins, as were Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. In The Crown, Philip frames the whole idea of marriage in this way – as a public commitment, separate from private happiness.

Prince Phillip: You can make whatever arrangement you need to find your own happiness, as long as you remember the one condition… You remain loyal to your husband and loyal to this family in public. - The Crown

As The Crown also covers, Philip contended with his own affair rumors during his lifetime. The show depicts his connection with Penny Knatchbull, and he was also linked with actor Pat Kirkwood, The Birds’ author Daphne Du Maurier, and even the Queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra. In many respects, Harry and Meghan’s relationship bucks the trend of the Royals, given that it’s clearly based on attraction and started…well, kind of the way a normal relationship would.

Prince Harry: Meghan and I met over Instagram… - Harry & Meghan

So maybe because most of these marriages feel like political arrangements rather than grand love stories, we’re primed to look for the one-that-got-away lurking in the background. We may fill in the blanks. And history would tell us that, usually, we’re right. But gossip, rumor and scandal has another function too, and one that, when it comes to the Royals, might not actually be so bad.

In detailing the horrific treatment he and Meghan received from the press, Prince Harry drew attention to the symbiotic relationship the Press have with the Royal Family– a relationship that’s, for the most part, mutually beneficial. The Press get good access to feed the gossip machine and sell papers, and in return the Royals get, for the most part, favorable coverage – as well as a spotlight that gives them relevance. Once you’re part of the celebrity circus, gossip just becomes par for the course. And you can see how, despite the Palace’s protestations and threats of legal action when things cross a line – and their attempts to cover up certain stories to protect some members what the press does to maintain public interest is important for the royal family. Those who aren’t usually interested in the royals become sucked into the drama and the intrigue, unable to tear themselves away from the story. And for those who are staunch Royalists, these rumors act almost as a call to arms, or a signal for them to rush to the monarchy’s defense.

Both of these reactions accomplish what the Royals have set out to do in recent years, which is up their relatability. The royal scandal coverage invites us to look at them as real people. Some of us enjoy how it makes them seem like real people who make mistakes and aren’t so special after all; some of us want to rise about it and argue that they’re real people who don’t deserve this kind of invasive treatment.

This tactic has, yes, turned the Royals into a bit of a public soap opera. But the upshot of that is: it’s kept them relevant, for better or worse.

When it comes to online gossip, we are pretty easily fooled.

Simone Umba: It’s been around for a while, but it’s making the rounds again. Hoo this family ain’t catching no breaks this year. - @simplysimone/TikTok

Think of how quickly the wild stories from subreddits like Am I The Asshole? Or r/Relationships go viral, despite the fact that there’s no proof that any of these stories are true — and in fact, it’s pretty commonly known that lots are fake.

We already know that we find it hard to cope with misinformation, and it seems pretty likely that royal columnists are playing on this to stoke some interest in these people about whom we really don’t know very much. But does the truth actually matter? Do we even care? What we do know is that, throughout history, there’s nothing more Royal than an affair. And judging by the current stories, that narrative isn’t going anywhere any time soon.


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Bonner, Mehera. “Who Is Kate Middleton’s (Sigh) “Rural Rival,” Rose Hanbury?.” Cosmopolitan, 16 Apr. 2019

Sykes, Tom. “Prince William’s Lawyer Tries to Suppress Rumors of Affair.” The Daily Beast, 9 Apr. 2019

Arissen, Robert. “Is Prince Harry’s Feud With Prince William Over the Rumored Rose Hanbury Affair?” CheatSheet, 1 May 2019

Cliffe, Nicole. “ROYAL NONSENSE TIME.” Nicole Knows, 25 Apr. 2019

Johnson, Lily. “10 Facts About Queen Victoria’s Marriage to Prince Albert.” History Hit, 18 Jan. 2021

Biggs, Jade. “Did Prince Philip actually have an affair, as season 5 of The Crown suggests?” Yahoo, 12 Nov. 2022,eighth%20wonder%20of%20the%20world%22

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