6 Regular People Who Married Into Royal Families Throughout History

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The love story and upcoming marriage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry has, like Prince William and now-Duchess Kate before them, played into a long-running public fantasy: marrying a prince or princess. It's all very Disney. But the realities of marrying into a royal family as a regular person are hardly fairytales. The history of romances and marriages between non-royals and royals are fraught with difficulty, rebellions, culture clashes, and disapproving relatives, and that's just at the wedding ceremony. Of course, it doesn't always work out — no marriage is easy — but these six people captured the public imagination (in both good and not-so-good ways) with their literal Cinderella stories.

There are, of course, happy stories in the modern era. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who is originally from Australia, has been happily married to Crown Prince Frederick for nearly 15 years. And these days acceptance of non-regal partners has become more widespread; back in the 1950s and 1960s, couples from prominent royal families still had to battle to be allowed to marry their chosen partners, but the upcoming wedding of soon-to-be Duchess Meghan represents a more relaxed attitude. Which is good for everybody involved, because history reveals that disapproval of non-royal husbands and wives has led to imprisonment, murder, exile and many other kinds of nastiness. Here are seven other now-royals who came from non-royal origins.

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1Crown Princess Mary of Denmark

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The former Mary Donaldson was born in Tasmania, and famously met Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark in Sydney at the Slip Inn during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Donaldson and Prince Frederick announced their engagement in 2003 and were married in 2004 in an ceremony in which her bouquet included Australian native flowers. They now have four kids, and when Margrethe II of Denmark leaves the throne, Crown Princess Mary will become Queen alongside her husband.

2Empress Michiko Shōda of Japan

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Michiko Shōda, born in 1934 as the daughter of a wealthy flour producer, met the future Emperor Akihito at a tennis match and would marry him in 1959 after a protracted struggle within the royal family about their relationship; Michiko, who has a degree in literature, was the first non-royal to marry into Japan's imperial family in history. But Empress Michiko has not had an easy time of it: She gave an extensive speech in 2007 in which she revealed the difficulty of adapting to life as an imperial wife, including her wish to have an invisibility cloak. She turned 83 in 2017 and expressed relief that her husband, under new law, was allowed to abdicate from his imperial position.

3Queen Sonja of Norway

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When then-Prince Harald of Norway met Sonja Haraldsen at a dinner in 1959 and started a relationship with her, it caused a major scandal. Haraldsen was the daughter of a clothing retailer, and they had to keep the relationship secret for nine years while the Norwegian court and politicians battled over whether marrying a non-royal would cause a constitutional crisis. Eventually King Olav, Harald's father, gave his consent to their marriage, and they married in 1968 and became King and Queen when Harald took the throne in 1991. In 2018 they'll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

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4Rita Hayworth

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It was, frankly, too glamorous to last: the marriage of Hollywood star Rita Hayworth to Prince Aly Khan, son of His Highness Aga Khan III, was dubbed the union of the "Goddess And The Playboy" by Vanity Fair. Hayworth, who had recently divorced Orson Welles, would become involved with the hugely wealthy Khan in a whirlwind romance in 1948 and marry him in 1949. They had a daughter, Princess Yasmin, but would divorce in 1951, with Hayworth alleging "extreme mental cruelty." The ensuing custody battle over Yasmin made headlines, but Hayworth won.

5Queen Karin of Sweden

National Museum of Sweden/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most famous queens with non-royal origins in Swedish history, Karin Månsdotter became first the mistress of Sweden's King Eric XIV, then his wife and consort. Månsdotter came from a family of peasants and soldiers, and became involved with Eric in 1565 when she was the 17-year-old personal maid to his sister. Her life is referred to as a "Cinderella story," but it's hardly got an edifying end: when Eric married her (first secretly in 1567, and then publicly in 1568), he appears to have set off a political crisis. The King's brothers rebelled and Karin was imprisoned, first with Eric and their children and then, from 1573, separately. She never saw her husband again, but after his death in 1577 was accepted back into court life and rose to be an important figure in Swedish politics.

6Elizabeth Woodville, "The White Queen"

Queen's College Cambridge/Wikimedia Commons

The English have their own precedents for regular people-turned-queens. Elizabeth Woodville, known as "the white queen," was very unpopular when King Edward IV of England married her in 1464, for three reasons: she was a "commoner," a widow, and a descendant of the house of Lancaster, the traditional enemies of the Yorks, who held power in Edward IV's court. (She's called the "white queen" because the York symbol is a white rose.) She led an apparently happy life with Edward, but after his death, was pulled from power. She is the mother of the famous "princes in the tower", the two young boys who were allegedly murdered by her husband's successor Richard III.

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