- Letizia of Spain was a news journalist and Maxima of the Netherlands a banker
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There’s an actress, a financier, a TV news reader and even a model. One or two did nothing at all.
Today these royal wives are notable not only because some of them once had independent lives, but because none of them were aristocrats.
They were, not to put too fine a point on it, mere commoners, a state of affairs that once thinkable.
Here we take a look at the women who today are living proof that monarchies right across Europe are truly changing with the times…
Queen Letizia of Spain
Before marrying King Felipe of Spain, 55, Queen Letizia, 50, worked as a journalist and did not come from a line of heirs or aristocrats – but was instead, an everyday working woman.
Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano was born on September 15, 1972, in Oviedo, northern Spain, where she grew up in a middle-class family.
While her mother, Maria Rodriguez, was a nurse and hospital union representative, Letizia took after her father, Jesús José Ortiz Álvarez and stepmother Ana Togores, who are both journalists.
Letizia met her husband-to-be, Prince Felipe in 2002 while she was working for popular TV channel 24 Horas, where along with anchoring the popular Telediario 2 evening news bulletin she reported breaking news events.
The royal couple met at the site of an oil spillage in Northern Spain.
Just a year after first meeting Felipe, Letizia quit her job and a few days later their engagement was announced.
Reports claim that the then Prince of Asturias proposed to her with a 16-baguette diamond engagement ring with white gold trim, while she marked the occasion by giving him white gold and sapphire cufflinks and a classic book.
Her engagement to Felipe came as a surprise to many throughout Spain as the couple had maintained a low-profile romance for several months before announcing their news.
Not only did Letizia’s engagement to Felipe grab attention for her being a ‘commoner’ from a middle-class family, but also her status as a divorcée.
In August 1998, she had tied the knot with Alonso Guerrero Perez, a writer and high school literature teacher in a civil ceremony after ten years together.
But the pair divorced just a year later.
Her previous marriage caused controversy in the country but because it was a civil ceremony she did not require an annulment before her Roman-Catholic marriage to the Prince.
A book titled The Court of Felipe VI, published in 2015 alleged that former King Juan Carlos saw Letizia as a threat to the country’s royal household and ‘never liked the arrival of a journalist in a place that had traditionally been an opaque haven from the fourth estate’.
Written by two journalists, Daniel Forcada of El Confidencial and Alberto Lardies of El Espanol, the pair claimed Juan Carlos would entertain his friends with jokes that Letizia’s arrival would devastate the royals, referring to her as ‘la chacha’, meaning the maid.
On May 22, 2004, Felipe and Letizia were officially married at the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena in Madrid.
Letizia wore a wedding gown designed by Spanish designer Manuel Pertegaz for the special occasion. She wore it with a 15-foot train and she displayed the same diamond and platinum tiara that Queen Sofia wore at her wedding to King Juan Carlos.
The pair have since welcomed two daughters, Leonor, Princess of Asturias, 17, in 2005 and Infanta Sofia, 16, in 2007.
After ten years of marriage, the royal couple became King and Queen of Spain when Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos, abdicated in 2014.
Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales
Kate Middleton, 41, now the Princess of Wales, met her future husband Prince William, 41, while the pair were studying in at the University of St. Andrews.
The Princess grew up in a village near Berkshire, the middle-class daughter of Michael Middleton and his wife, Carole, a former flight dispatcher and flight attendant respectively.
It was reported that Kate caught William’s eye when she took part in a charity fashion show, stunning in a bikini and a sheer dress – and their friendship soon turned into romance, with the pair even sharing the same flat in their second year.
In May 2006, Kate attended the wedding of Queen Camilla’s daughter Laura Parker Bowles and Harry Lopes. This was William and Catherine’s first appearance together at a family wedding, a sign that Kate was going to be a permanent figure in William’s life.
Kate and William announced their engagement in November 2010, a month after he popped the question during a trip to Kenya with the sapphire and diamond ring that had once belonged to his late mother, Diana.
After nearly a decade together, they married at Westminster Abbey in April 2011.
The ceremony, performed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was watched by 36.7 million people worldwide as Kate wore a £250,000 gown by Alexander McQueen, which included a lace bodice hand-stitched by the world’s best seamstresses at the Royal School of Needlework.
They went on to welcome their son and heir, Prince George, ten, in 2013, along with their daughter Princess Charlotte, eight, in 2015 and youngest son, Prince Louis, five, in 2018.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex
Meghan Markle was born in Los Angeles, California, to Doria Ragland, a social worker and former makeup artist, and Thomas Markle, a director. Before meeting Prince Harry, Meghan worked as an actress – and became known for her role on Suits.
The pair met for the first time at Soho House’s Dean Street Townhouse London in the summer of 2016 after being set up by a mutual friend after Harry saw the actress in one of their Instagram posts.
A mere months later in August, Harry whisked Meghan away for their third date to Botswana, where the pair camped under the stars.
The couple’s relationship became official on November 8 of the same year when Harry issued a lengthy appeal to the media on behalf of his girlfriend.
In September 2017, Meghan spoke openly about her relationship with Harry for the first time in an interview with Vanity Fair. She told the magazine that the couple are ‘very happy and in love’.
Their royal engagement was announced on November 27, 2017, when Kensington Palace announced the couple were engaged to be married. Harry proposed to Meghan with a custom design featuring a diamond from Botswana and two stones from his late mother Princess Diana’s collection.
The announcement was followed by an interview with the BBC, where Harry revealed he proposed at home over a roast chicken dinner. Meghan revealed she had been introduced to ‘wonderful’ Kate, while Harry said Meghan and Diana would have been ‘thick as thieves’.
On May 19, 2018, Harry and Meghan tied the knot in a fairytale wedding at St George’s Chapel, where the former actress wore a satin gown designed by Givenchy, along with Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau tiara.
The pair soon welcomed their firstborn, Archie Harrison in May 2019, and two years later, their daughter Lilibet Diana was born in June.
A year later in January 2020, the couple shared their decision to be ‘financially independent’ and take a ‘step back’ from the royal family.
Today Harry, Meghan and their two children live in Montecito, California.
Princess Sofia Hellqvist, Duchess of Värmland
Sofia Hellqvist was born in the affluent enclave of Danderyd north of Stockholm to a Swedish mother, who worked in marketing, and a Danish-Swedish father who worked at a Swedish employment agency.
After finishing school, she went on to complete an arts programme at Vansbro Education Centre, modelling to earn money while a student in Stockholm.
It saw her posing topless wearing a pair of camouflage print bikini bottoms, holding a live boa constrictor to preserve her modesty.
Following on from her modelling, Sofia was offered the opportunity to go on the Swedish reality show Paradise Hotel. After the show, however, she moved to New York where she became a yoga teacher and studied accountancy.
When she returned to Sweden, she continued her studies taking up courses at Stockholm University and in July 2010, her relationship with Prince Carl Philip was announced by the palace.
It is not entirely known how the pair met, but it is understood Sofia crossed paths with the Prince, whose oldest sister Crown Princess Victoria is heir to the throne, in a nightclub in Stockholm.
Nine months after their relationship was made public, the couple moved into the Djurgården of Stockholm, where they still live in the Villa Solbacken.
After their relationship was announced, however, Sofia faced a public backlash because of her past life working as a glamour model.
She has spoken openly about her struggle from life in the showbiz industry to life in the royal family, as she received an onslaught of online abuse from members of the public.
Sofia’s engagement to Prince Carl was announced on June 27 2014, and the couple were married at the Royal Chapel on June 13, 2015.
Since then she has become a valuable member of the royal family and in 2016, the couple’s first son Prince Alexander, six, was born followed by their second son Prince Gabriel, five, in 2017 and their youngest Prince Julian.
Following their wedding, the newlywed royal couple set up the Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia’s Foundation.
Princess Sofia spends much of her time at the charity, which mainly focuses on issues relating to younger people being safer online and as well as having a greater understanding and respect for those with dyslexia.
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
Maxima Zorreguieta was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerruti de Zorreguieta.
Her father was an established politician, serving as the Minister of Agriculture under the regime of General Jorge Rafael Videla, commander in chief of the army and a member of the right-wing junta that ran Argentina.
After graduating, she had a brief stint working in Buenos Aires before relocating to the United States where she took on a series of high-flying roles.
These included being vice president of Latin American Institutional Sales for the finance house HSBC James Capel Inc. in New York before moving to Deutsche Bank, where she became vice president of Institutional Sales.
In April 1999, while on holiday in Seville, she met future husband Prince Willem-Alexander.
The pair had both been attending a party at the annual Seville Spring Fair.
During their chance encounter, the future King decided to keep his royalty a secret, not disclosing to Maxima he was a prince until later on. When he declared his royal status, she thought it was a joke.
Although they were in a serious relationship, Maxima did her best to keep the prince’s identity secret.
The next year, in May 2000, Maxima relocated to work at at Deutsche Bank in Brussels.
Soon after the move, in 2001, Willem proposed to Maxima while ice-skating on a pond near Huis ten Bosch Palace.
The couple were married on February 1, 2002, at Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk.
The lead-up had not been straightforward, however. There was considerable public disquiet as her father had played a role in Argentina’s repressive military junta.
Maxima and Willem were only allowed to marry after the Dutch parliament investigating her father’s past concluded that the future Queen had known nothing the atrocities carried out by the regime.
The Dutch royal family backed Maxima in the months leading to their wedding, with Queen Beatrix famously defending her future daughter-in-law when questions were raised about whether Maxima was suitable for the royal family.
Maxima overcame the controversy surrounding their marriage amazingly, winning over the Dutch people with her smile, charisma and intelligence.
The couple have three children together, Princesses Amelia, 19, Princess Alexia, 17 and Princess Ariane, 15.
In 2013, Queen Beatrix stepped down, making way for Williem and Maxima to take her place.
Prince Daniel of Sweden
Daniel Westling was raised in the countryside, in a small Swedish town called Ockelbo where most of his ancestors were farmers.
He met his future bride when Victoria returned to Sweden from the United States after studying for a few years at Yale University, having recently ended her relationship with long-term boyfriend, Daniel Collert.
She met Daniel, 49, after joining a gym, which was co-founded by the future prince, after he took it upon himself to be the Crown Princess’ personal trainer – and the two had an instant connection.
However, it was not love at first sight for the royal, who instead built a friendship with her trainer before sparks began to fly.
During a press conference in 2009, she said, ‘Daniel and I had a great and well-founded friendship. It was a friendship that grew and turned into love.’
Daniel agreed, adding ‘Our friendship developed into love. It is the perfect personal chemistry.’
On 24 February 2009, Daniel and Crown Princess Victoria received the required consent of King Carl XVI Gustaf and the Government of Sweden for marriage.
However, the future was not plain sailing for the pair, as Daniel admitted that he had struggled with the media attention and pressure that came with dating a royal.
It was said that because Daniel did not hold the elite accent of the royals and their associates, Victoria’s friends mocked him, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
Additionally, King Gustav had reportedly wanted Victoria to marry a certain well-heeled Danish prince while Johan T. Lindwall, a Swedish journalist claimed Queen Silvia had confided to friends that she didn’t expect Victoria to stay with Daniel.
The king and the queen were sceptical of whether Daniel would be able to fulfil the duties of a prince and that he would be capable of supporting Victoria in her role as the future queen.
However, their love overcame the odds and in 2010, Victoria and Daniel were married at Stockholm Cathedral on June 19.
Victoria and Daniel, who share two children, Princess Estelle, 11, and Prince Oscar, seven, have since celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary this year.
He recently denounced mean-spirited rumours that their marriage was in trouble.
Princess Mary of Denmark
Before she became the Crown Princess of Denmark, she was Mary Donaldson, the daughter of two Scottish immigrants and marketing manager at an advertising company.
The Australian was a graduate of the University of Tasmania with a degree in Commerce and Law and had gone to the pub with her flatmate, Andrew Miles and friend, Beatrice Tarnawski.
It was here she met Crown Prince Frederik on September 16 at the Slip Inn pub in Sydney during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Mary revealed said she ‘never dreamed of becoming a princess, I wanted to be a veterinarian,’ and did not know who the man who introduced himself as ‘Fred’ was at first.
The Prince was with his brother, Prince Joachim, his cousin, Prince Nikolaos of Greece, and Princess Märtha Louise of Norway after the opening ceremony and had no idea that it would be the day he met his future wife.
Shortly into their conversation, Mary found out that she was talking to the Crown Prince of Denmark, heir to the 1,000-year-old Danish throne.
‘Something clicked,’ Princess Mary said in a 2005 interview. ‘It wasn’t the fireworks in the sky or anything like that, but there was a sense of excitement.’
The couple embarked upon a long-distance relationship, something which in the pre-smartphone app era was confined to emails, phone calls and letters.
Despite being spotted together several times in both Denmark and Australia, and Mary moving to Europe in 2001, it was not until April 2003 that Queen Margrethe publicly acknowledged their relationship.
The couple’s engagement was made official with a press conference in Copenhagen in October 2003.
On May 14, 2004, Mary married her Prince in a lavish ceremony attended by royals – and media – from across the globe in Copenhagen Cathedral in the Danish capital.
It was described as the ultimate happy fairytale ending with the prince marrying the beautiful commoner, and the guestlist included the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Norway, Spain, Belgium and The Netherlands.
Today, the Crown Prince couple are focusing on their family and are parents to Prince Christian, 17, Princess Isabella, 16, and 12-year-old twins, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
While she was not royalty, Sarah Ferguson was far from a commoner as the second daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson, the late Duke of Edinburgh’s polo manager.
Fergie and her future husband Prince Andrew first met when they were around three-years-old on the sidelines of a polo field, where they would play as children.
The pair met again in 1985 when Princess Diana, who was Sarah’s close friend, was the one to officially introduce her to Prince Andrew at a party hosted by the late Queen during the week of the Royal Ascot.
‘We were made to sit next to each other,’ Prince Andrew said in their engagement interview. ‘It was at Ascot, as it were, that the whole thing took off,’ he added.
Less than a year later, Andrew proposed to Fergie with a stunning ruby ring – to match her fiery red hair – at Floors Castle in Scotland in February 1986.
They announced their engagement to the public in March and were married just four months later on July 23, 1986, at Westminster Abbey in London.
The new Duke and Duchess of York welcomed their first child, Princess Beatrice, in August 1988, and their second child, Princess Eugenie, just 19 months later in March 1990.
However, in the early 1990s, reports claimed that their relationship was on the rocks and, according to Fergie, the couple’s frequent separations were the reason for their eventual split.
The Prince and his wife announced their separation on March 19, 1992, but their divorce was not finalised until May 30, 1996.
The pair remained close friends over the years and she continues to live for much of the time in the family home, Royal Lodge at Windsor.
Sophie Rhys Jones, Duchess of Edinburgh
The youngest son of the late Queen, Prince Edward, met his wife-to-be Sophie Rhys-Jones at Capital Radio in 1987 where she was working at the time in public relations.
At the time, the Prince was dating Sophie’s friend.
Six years later, the Prince and Sophie met again at a charity event, where Sophie worked as a public relations executive and was in charge of the publicity for Edward’s Real Tennis Challenge.
Having bonded over their shared love of sports, the outdoors and the arts, they soon started dating – with their first date reportedly being a tennis match and dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Amidst news of their growing romance, Edward took the uncommon choice to release a statement to the press regarding Sophie’s privacy,
It read: ‘I am taking this unusual step of writing to you directly in the hopes of stopping your reporters and photographers from destroying that part of my life that I am entitled to regard as private and more importantly, Sophie’s life.’
Rumours of the seriousness of their relationship circulated after the royal brought Sophie as his date to the wedding of Lord Ivar Mountbatten in 1994.
It was the same year that it was first reported that Sophie had also moved into Buckingham Palace – a place typically reserved for fiancées only.
But with no engagement on the horizon, a frustrated Edward told a reporter from the Radio Times, ‘If you shut up, mind your own business and let me do it when I want, it’s much more likely to happen.’
It was alleged that the late Diana, Princess of Wales’s interview on Panorama the year before had stalled any previous engagement attempts and the Prince had decided to wait, instead.
During a holiday to the Bahamas in December 1998, Prince Edward proposed to his long-term girlfriend and they announced their engagement the following month in January 1999 when they were both 34 years old.
Prince Edward proposed to Sophie with an engagement ring made by Asprey and
On 19 June 1999, the Queen’s youngest son married his bride in a low-key nuptials which saw just 500 guests invited to St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
Upon their marriage, Prince Edward was awarded the title of the Earl of Wessex, with Sophie becoming a Countess.
While Sophie worked in public relations for the earlier part of her career, she eventually ceased her role and became a full-time working royal three years after her wedding.
Having suffered from an ectopic pregnancy in 2001, Sophie welcomed her first child, Lady Louise Windsor, on November 8, 2003. Four years later, the couple went on to have a son, who they called James.
Both Edward and Sophie are regulars on the royal engagement calendar and have affirmed their place at the forefront of King Charles’ ‘slimmed down’ Monarchy.
Princess Charlene of Monaco
It would be in 2000 that Albert first met Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock in Monaco where she was representing South Africa and would go on to win gold. But no one was expecting a romance to blossom.
Their lives were very different. Sports-mad Charlene was 20 years his junior. Her father Michael was a photocopier salesman, and her mother Lynette a competitive diver.
However, the pair allowed their relationship to develop slowly outside the public eye, and they did not make a public appearance until February 2006 at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Then, in June 2010, their engagement was announced. Albert proposed with a pear-cut diamond flanked by smaller diamonds designed by Paris-based Italian jeweller Repossi
At the time of their wedding, Charlene was dubbed the ‘Runaway Bride’ by the French media after allegedly trying to flee before the ceremony, but the reports were always denied.
A Parisian news magazine reported that Charlene had been stopped at Nice airport after allegedly learning a ‘distressing’ revelation about her future husband’s private life.
A senior Monaco detective claimed at the time: ‘Charlene had her passport confiscated so that the Prince’s entourage could persuade her to stay’.
On June 30, 2011, Charlene, then 33, and 53-year-old Albert’s three-day wedding, thought to cost around £53million, went underway.
But Charlene appeared serious and in floods of tears during the ceremony prompting much speculation.
Speaking about her big day, Charlene said later in an interview: ‘Everything was just so overwhelming and there were all the mixed emotions because of the rumours, and obviously the tension built up and I burst into tears [immediately after the ceremony].’
A day after their civil ceremony, Charlene and Albert were married in a Roman-Catholic ceremony in the presence of global celebrities and various heads of state.
In 2014, the couple announced their ‘immense joy’ that Charlene was pregnant. Twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella were born on December 10, 2014.
Gabriella Thérèse Marie was born at 5:04pm and Jacques Honoré Rainier was two minutes later.
In the early days of marriage, the royal was often spotted showing off her dazzling wedding ring, but since 2017 she’s seldom been seen pictured wearing the rings – even at formal events.
Rumours of the state of the couple’s marriage have swirled for years, even more so when Charlene spent most of 2021 from her husband after returning to her native South Africa for what was supposed to be a month-long trip.
She wasn’t pictured in Monaco from January 2021 until March 2022, citing a sinus issue that stopped her from flying.
The royal couple have recently been at the centre of speculation after reports in the European media suggested that Charlene was living in Switzerland and only saw husband Albert ‘by appointment’.
Photos from earlier this month show the couple relaxed while on a yacht in the Mediterranean.
The couple, who have been at the centre of split rumours for years, have always denied there’s an issue with their marriage.
Lilian Davies, Duchess of Halland
Princess Lilian was born on August 30 1915, to William Davies, a miner turned market stall holder, and a shop assistant, Gladys Mary Curran.
Lilian spent her childhood growing up in a terraced house in a slum district of the city, later demolished in the 1930s
As a child, she would help her father with his stall and worked at a launderette to earn extra money for her family. When she was 16, Lilian moved to London to work as a model and actress before the Second World War began.
She began working as a maid to save up money for elegant outfits. This soon led to her being featured in adverts and even fashion magazines including Vogue.
Lilian had a number of minor film roles, which is how she met her first husband, the Scottish actor Ian Craig, whom she married at the height of the blitz in 1940.
But shortly after their wedding, he was called into the military.
Just before she turned 28, Lilian’s life changed course. It was 1943 and she had been hosting a cocktail party to celebrate her birthday.
One of the guests was a handsome Swedish naval attaché working at the Swedish embassy in London, who happened to be the third son of the King of Sweden, Gustaf VI Adolph.
There was an immediate spark between the pair, but as Lilian was already married, nothing could be done.
When her husband finally returned from service in 1945, he declared he was in love with an Italian woman. Ian and Lilian decided to divorce amicably.
Not long afterwards, she moved to Sweden to be reunited with her true love, Prince Bertil. But the pair were not allowed to marry for more than three decades, until 1976 when Lilian was 61 and Prince Bertil 64.
At the time, his father, King Gustav VI, refused to give his blessing to a marriage with Lilian, worrying it would jeopardise the future of the Swedish monarchy.
For the next 33 years, Lilian lived away from the royal spotlight with very few members of the public even knowing she existed. The Swedish royal family made a deal with the press to ensure they would not mention her name.
Lilian was never allowed to accompany Prince Bertil on any official duties even though he never became King.
Bertil’s father Gustaf VI Adolf died in 1973 and King Carl XVI Gustaf, who still reigns, ascended the throne.
1976 brought a surprise turn of events as the King himself decided to marry a commoner, Silvia Sommerlath. Times had changed and this made way for Lilian and Bertil to officially become a couple.
Just months after the King’s wedding, the star-crossed lovers, too, finally married in December 1976.
Prince Bertil kept his title and the miner’s daughter became Princess Lilian. Speaking at their wedding, the Prince said: ‘We only regret one thing. And that is that were not able to get married sooner and have children.’
Princess Lilian became a very active and ‘much loved’ member of the Swedish royal family, even after the sad death of her husband. He died aged 84 in 1997 with Lilian by his side.
The Princess went on to live 16 years without her husband, continuing royal duties until 2010 when Alzheimer’s began to take hold.
When she died in 2013, a state funeral was held. The King said at the time: ‘She was a true bringer of happiness and had the ability always to create around her a warm and kind atmosphere.’