Of the world’s 26 reigning royal families, it is more difficult to find one without scandal attached to its monarchy than one with. And, though the British Royal Family may be the most-watched globally, they are hardly – unfortunately – the worst of the pack.
Strangely, for all of the British Royal Family’s scandals, there seems to be another monarchy that mirrors them: The infamous “battle of the brothers” between Prince William and Prince Harry is somehow even less dramatic than a former crown prince of Jordan’s plot to destabilize the kingdom with foreign support. Earlier this year, Princess Marie of Denmark, wife of the younger of the two Danish princes, Prince Joachim, implied she and her husband had been exiled out of the country “amidst suggestions they were exasperated with Joachim’s elder brother’s dismissive attitude towards them.” Sound familiar? And sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s link to royal families doesn’t stop with the House of Windsor – Norwegian Crown Princess Mette-Marit, married to the heir to the Norwegian throne Crown Prince Haakon, had met Epstein on multiple occasions, prompting her to release a statement saying “I never would have associated with Mr. Epstein if I had been aware of the seriousness of the crimes he committed. I should have investigated his past more thoroughly, and I am sorry that I didn’t.”
In February 2019, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex met King Mohammed VI while on a royal tour of Morocco, but his wife, Princess Salma, was nowhere to be seen – and had not been seen in public since 2017, amidst rumors that the royal couple secretly divorced. The Moroccan media never reported on the missing princess, nor did the palace ever release any details as to her whereabouts.
Last year, Spain’s former king Juan Carlos left the country he once ruled because of investigations related to his wealth. (He abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Felipe, in 2014 after other personal scandals came to light.) On the tamer side of the scandal continuum, the Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima drew controversy last fall for jetting off on a government plane to a private Grecian villa as the Netherlands was still in the midst of a partial COVID-19 lockdown, with cases doubling in the country over the previous two weeks. The king and queen were only abroad for a day before flying back home, and two days later apologized publicly.
From rampant affairs to crimes as serious as ordering a murder, read on to learn about just a handful of the royal scandals that shook the world.
Thailand’s king imprisons mistress for being disloyal
In July 2019, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi – the longtime mistress of Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn – was elevated to the high-ranking position of “royal consort,” two months after the king married his fourth wife. The appointment was given “in hopes of relieving the pressure and a problem that could affect the monarchy,” meaning that the king hoped, by giving her this title, she would quietly accept her designation as mistress and not cause a stir. It didn’t work. Two months later, she fell from grace, and the king stripped her royal consort title for “misbehavior and disloyalty against the monarch,” with an official announcement claiming Wongvajirapakdi had been “ambitious” and tried to “elevate herself to the same state as the queen,” and that Wongvajirapakdi “neither was grateful to the title bestowed upon her, nor did she behave appropriately according to her status.” King Vajiralongkorn imprisoned Wongvajirapakdi in Bangkok for 10 months, and, after her release in September 2020, was expected to rejoin the king’s life with all of her royal titles and privileges restored, “untainted.” But, by the end of the year, more than 1,400 selfies – many of them sexually explicit – were stolen and anonymously leaked in a revenge porn cyberattack in an attempt to sabotage her return.
Belgium’s king finally admits to fathering a love child – 51 years after her birth
Writer Mario Danneels – working on a biography of Belgium’s Queen Paola in 1999 – found, through his research, that the then reigning King Albert II had fathered an illegitimate daughter during an affair that lasted 18 years. Though apparently an open secret in royal circles and the reason for marital troubles between the King and Queen, it was only in 2020 – after DNA tests proved irrefutably that the former monarch was the father of artist Delphine Boël – that Albert acknowledged he had fathered a child out of wedlock 51 years prior.
Ostentatious Brunei prince accused of embezzlement, running a harem
Brunei’s Prince Jefri Bolkiah – the brother of the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah – is perhaps one of the most infamous global royals, displaying his enormous wealth gaudily and garishly, including million-dollar yachts, custom-made luxury cars, and life-sized erotic statues of himself and his fiancée. In 1997, former Miss USA Shannon Marketic accused Prince Jefri and the Sultan of flying her and many others to Brunei under false pretenses to become a part of a harem – but he was spared charges due to diplomatic immunity. In 2000, Jefri’s brother Hassanal sued him for embezzling $14.8 million from the Brunei Investment Agency – which manages Brunei’s vast oil revenues – and, in the case’s settlement, Jefri agreed to turn over assets including over 2,000 cars, 600 properties, 100 paintings, and nine aircrafts.
Monaco’s royal family longtime love curse
According to legend, the House of Grimaldi – the royal family of Monaco – is victim to a 700-year-old curse that says “Never will a Grimaldi find true happiness in marriage.” Though the family came to power in the 13th century, only in 1956 – when ruling Prince Ranier III married American actress Grace Kelly – did the family catapult into worldwide notoriety. Princess Grace died in 1982 after suffering injuries in a car accident in Monaco; since then, public heartache, scandal, and tragedy have followed the family, especially when it comes to their love lives. Ranier and Grace’s eldest child, Caroline, lost her husband in a speedboating accident in 1990. Their youngest child, Stephanie, has never been able to find marriage with stability. And their middle child, heir to the throne Albert, fathered two children out of wedlock before marrying South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock in 2011. After allegedly learning of a third child born out of wedlock – conceived during the course of their then five-year relationship – the palace denied rumors that Wittstock was calling off the wedding, booking a one-way ticket to South Africa after learning of the alleged dalliance. The wedding went ahead as planned, but Princess Charlene was captured in video footage crying throughout the wedding ceremony.
The King of Sweden’s Alleged Strip Club Habit
Before 2010, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf enjoyed a squeaky-clean reputation as one of the world’s most well-behaved royals (the bar is low, if you haven’t noticed). But a tell-all book, The Reluctant Monarch, ended the king’s reign of innocence, accusing the monarch of being a philanderer who frequented strip clubs and imbibed in sex parties regularly. What’s worse, Sweden’s secret police, Sapo, was alleged to be concealing the king’s lascivious activities. Though, Carl managed to survive the scandal and remains on the ceremonial throne.
Saudi crown prince accused of ordering journalist’s killing
Earlier this year, a U.S. intelligence report found that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. And, somehow, in a strange royal scandal crossover, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, landed in hot water in March for wearing a pair of chandelier Chopard earrings at a formal state dinner in Fiji in October 2018 – not long after Khashoggi’s murder – that were gifted to her as a wedding present by the crown prince. (The Duchess has never met bin Salman, and the earrings were given to the Queen during a three-day visit to London in March 2018, two months prior to Harry and Meghan’s wedding on May 19.)