Nearing his mid-thirties, Charles, Prince of Wales, was under increasing pressure to marry. 19 year old Lady Diana Spencer, who had played with Princes Andrew and Edward as a child, seemed to have all the necessary qualities of a future Queen, and their romance blossomed in 1980. In less than a year, Prince Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery of Windsor Castle. In Diana’s own words,
“He said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and I laughed. I remember thinking, ‘This is a joke,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, okay,’ and laughed. He was deadly serious. He said, ‘You do realize that one day you will be queen.’ And a voice said to me inside, ‘You won’t be queen, but you’ll have a tough role.’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I love you so much, I love you so much.’ He said, ‘Whatever love means.’”
Their engagement was announced in the gardens of Buckingham Palace on February 24th, 1981, and Diana showed off her white gold engagement ring, which was dominated by an oval sapphire embraced by fourteen diamonds.
The marriage ceremony took place at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981 before 3500 guests, and an estimated television audience of 750 million people. Britons enjoyed a national holiday to mark the occasion. The ceremony was described as “the stuff of which fairy tales is made” by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne in over 300 years. Her sumptuous wedding dress, designed by the Emmanuels, featured a 25-foot train. The story behind the creation of her dress has been revealed in the book, A Dress for Diana.
Following the ceremony, the new Prince and Princess of Wales appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and appeased the crowd with a kiss. A traditional royal wedding breakfast followed for 120 family guests after which the Prince and Princess of Wales departed for their honeymoon. Their honeymoon was spent at the Mountbatten family home at Broadlands, Hampshire, on a 12 day cruise through the Mediterranean and at the Queen’s Balmoral Estate.
In less than a year, the couple had their first child, Prince William, who was born on 21 June 1982. Their second son, Prince Harry, was born on 15 September 1984.
By this time however, their marriage was in trouble, most notably because of Prince Charles continued relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, who would eventually become his wife. By the late 1980’s, the couple had effectively separated, however the separation was not announced until 9th December 1992. Around this time, Diana spoke publicly about their troubled marriage, causing a worldwide media sensation. Prince Charles spoke out about the marriage in 1994. They were formally divorced on 28th August 1996.
Tragically, on August 31st 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash. Despite being divorced, Prince Charles over-ruled palace protocol by insisting that Diana be given a formal royal funeral, even accompanying his ex-wife’s body home from Paris, and subsequently was praised by many for his handling of the events and their aftermath.