Royal scandals are nothing new. A crown does not buy immunity from trials of love, loss, and infidelity, though in many cases, it bought immunity from consequences. Most of the kings and queens of Europe claimed rule by divine right, but their very human faults cracked the mystique surrounding the monarchy… while giving their subjects something to talk about. Below are eight royal scandals that undermined the credibility of monarchies across Europe.

1. The Suspicious Death of Amy Robsart, 1560

Queen Elizabeth I of England never married, though she did have a favorite at court: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her Master of Horse... and a married man. “Robert Dudley’s fame in Europe rested on his power and influence with the Queen of England,” says Christine Hartweg, author of Amy Robsart: A Life and its End.

Rumors of their alleged affair intensified when Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, was found dead on September 8, 1560 at the foot of the stairs in her mansion with a broken neck. She was just 28 years old. The coroner’s report ruled her cause of death to be “misadventure.” Dudley did not attend his wife’s funeral, fanning speculation of foul play, especially after the Spanish ambassador to the English court claimed that in a conversation just months before his wife’s death, Dudley had said he would be “in a new position” in a year—a claim that seemed to substantiate rumors that he killed his wife to free himself to marry Queen Elizabeth. If this was his plan, it backfired. “It is often argued that the scandal surrounding Amy's death prevented Elizabeth from marrying Robert Dudley,” says Hartweg. “Dudley himself seems to have hoped for many, many years that she would eventually marry him.”

2. Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark Disappears After Royal Affair, 1694

Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle married her cousin, King George I of England, in 1682. Their marriage was not a happy one, and she soon ran afoul of her powerful mother-in-law and husband. Princess Sophia took a lover, Swedish Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark, and made plans to run away with him. But on the scheduled day, the count disappeared and was never seen again. George divorced Sophia and she lived out the rest of her days in prison. The count’s body was never found and rumors persist that King George had his wife’s lover executed.

3. The Diamond Necklace Affair, 1784-5

A missing necklace cost Marie Antoinette of France her head. The 2,000,000-livres necklace was designed for Madame du Barry, mistress of former king Louis XV. The king died before it was paid for, sending the jewelers into debt.

Enter Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, a social climber who called herself the “Comtesse de la Motte” and claimed to be descended from the royal Valois family. She became mistress to Cardinal de Rohan, who had fallen out of Marie-Antoinette’s favor and desperately wanted to regain it. La Motte pretended to be close with the queen and offered to pass letters between the cardinal and her majesty. The “replies” she passed to the cardinal were forgeries. In them, she asked the cardinal to lend her the money to buy the infamous necklace. She even arranged a late-night meeting between the cardinal and the queen at Versailles, hiring a prostitute to pose as Marie Antoinette.

When the cardinal bought the necklace on an installment plan, La Motte had her husband sell the diamonds in London. After a missing payment, the jewelers complained to Marie Antoinette, who revealed she had no knowledge of the purchase.

King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette prosecuted La Motte and her conspirators, but La Motte escaped from prison and spread rumors that Marie Antoinette was to blame. It would be the final grievance in a long list that led Marie Antoinette to the guillotine in 1793.

4. The Mayerling Incident, 1889

On January 30, 1889, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was found dead in his hunting lodge in Mayerling alongside the body of his teenage lover. Crown Prince Rudolf had shot Baroness Maria Vetsera before turning the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Rudolf’s father, Emperor Franz Joseph I, concealed documents related to the case, though Rudolf’s wife, Crown Princess Stephanie, published Rudolf’s alleged last letter to her: “You are relieved of my presence and vexations; be happy in your own way…I go calmly to my death.”

5. The Kotze Scandal, 1891

Within two years, another royal hunting lodge became the scene of a sex scandal that would make even the fictional Lady Whistledown blush. The court of the last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was rocked in 1891 when the Kaiser’s sister, Princess Charlotte, invited members of the aristocracy to Jagdschloss Grunewald to indulge in orgies. Private details about partygoers and the sex acts they performed were made public in a series of anonymous letters that included graphic drawings. Outed individuals subject to this blackmail included the king’s own master of ceremonies, Leberecht von Kotze.

Kotze was briefly imprisoned by the emperor. Upon his release, he began to challenge the men who had been at the private parties to duels, hoping to root out who had betrayed him to the public. He eventually died in one of the duels. Historians point to Princess Charlotte as the likely whistleblower, though the true author has never been confirmed.

6. Edward VIII’s Abdication, 1936

Edward VIII was the first English monarch to abdicate the throne voluntarily. He gave up the crown in 1936 after his choice of bride-to-be caused a national scandal.

Wallis Simpson, an American heiress, had been divorced twice and was technically still married to her second husband when she began her affair with the heir to the British throne. The Church of England condemned remarriage after divorce, and when Edward became king in January of 1936, he also became the Head of the Church of England, prompting then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to threaten to have his cabinet resign if Edward married Simpson.

The King’s choice of partner was debated in Parliament and made front page news across Britain. Edward VIII abdicated the British throne on December 10, 1936. In a radio broadcast a day later, he explained his choice to his subjects: “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”

Some scholars have contested that the marriage scandal was a front for a more troubling trait in the king: His Nazi sympathies. After marrying Simpson on June 3, 1937, the former king spent part of his honeymoon in Nazi Germany, where he met with Gestapo founder Hermann Göring, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and even Hitler himself.

Did you know? Winston Churchill was so concerned about Edward’s loyalties during World War II that he named him governor of the Bahamas and kept Edward there for the duration of the war.

7. Juan Carlos I of Spain Shoots His 14-Year-Old Brother Dead, 1956

On March 29, 1956, the 14-year-old Infante [Prince] Alfonso of Spain was shot in the forehead with a .22-caliber revolver. Several accounts of what happened that night exist, but one thing is clear: The shooter was the prince’s own brother, 18-year-old Juan Carlos. The boys’ father, Infante Juan, rushed into the room and attempted to revive his son, but the teenager died in his arms. The death was ruled accidental and no autopsy was performed. After his burial, the exiled king threw the pistol that had fired the fatal shot into the ocean.

This was far from the last controversy to plague Juan Carlos. He abdicated the throne in 2014 and left Spain in 2020 following a series of financial scandals.

8. Queen Elizabeth’s 'Annus Horribilis,' 1992

Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 her “Annus Horribilis” after a series of misfortunes plagued the royal family. Prince Andrew, Princess Anne, and Prince Charles announced their divorces; Windsor Castle caught fire; and leaked phone calls and an explosive book intensified the “War of the Waleses” between heir to the throne Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story named Camilla Parker Bowles as Prince Charles’s lover and divulged details about Princess Diana’s mental health struggles. “Morton’s book effectively shattered the mystique of the monarchy,” says Carly Ledbetter, a senior reporter at HuffPost who covers the royal family. “One could easily conclude that The Firm was messy, it was human, and it wasn’t as impenetrable as everyone thought.”

Scrutiny intensified when phone conversations between Diana and her lover, James Gilbey, were released, followed by a private conversation between Charles and Camilla. The media had a field day, nicknaming the scandals “Squidgeygate” and Tampongate” based on intimate details from the calls. “Tampongate and Squidgeygate had an enormous impact on the credibility of the royal family,” says Ledbetter. “The recorded phone calls greatly impacted the public perception of the heir to the throne and called into question Charles’ ability to one day be king.”

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