She just wanted to be with the man she loved. Instead, all she got was just 40 days with him a year, for the first five years of her marriage.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 12, 2021. It has since been updated.
While many are aware of and empathize with Princess Diana's pain when she divorced Prince Charles, they might not know just how devastating it was for her sister-in-law, the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson to have to divorce her husband, Prince Andrew. But to understand how it affected "Fergie", we have to start at the beginning.
...though the two of them actually met as children, according to Express UK. Fergie revealed in her autobiography, My Story, that she would steal away from her father’s polo matches to "play tag with like-minded truants – including Prince Andrew, who was just my age”. However, they lost touch with each other and it wasn't until years later that they would meet again.
During an event at the Windsor Palace in 1985, the Princess of Wales invited Ferguson to join her and it was there that Diana re-introduced Fergie to Prince Andrew. Before they knew it, sparks were flying and the couple had what seemed to be a whirlwind romance. Just a year later, Fergie and Prince Andrew were married in a fairytale wedding at the Westminster Abbey in 1986. The young couple looked completely besotted with each other as they shared a kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
They may have been in love, but Prince Andrew's true love was his career in the navy. They were beginning to spend months apart. While the Prince would be enjoying his duties, Fergie was left alone with nothing to do, especially because the royal family did not allow for members to hold jobs at the time. Though she had become pregnant, courtesy of the few times her husband did come home, the young royal was on her own. Fergie even seemingly attested to her loneliness in an interview with Harper's Bazaar. Her broken heart could be heard in her words.
"I married my boy, who happened to be a prince and a sailor, because I loved him — my only condition being, 'I have to be with you,'" she told the magazine in 2011. "And two weeks after the wedding, the courtiers told Andrew, who thought he'd be stationed in London, 'You have to go to sea.' I spent my entire first pregnancy alone. When Beatrice was born, Andrew got 10 days of shore leave and when he left I cried."
Prince Andrew's naval career was overriding everything that the couple shared and Fergie was lonelier than ever. The couple could only see each other for just 40 days each year, for the first five years of their marriage. But it wasn't until 1996, a mere decade after they promised to love each other, that their divorce was finalized.
The brokenhearted Duchess didn't actually want the divorce but had no choice but to take that course of action. "I didn't want a divorce but had to because of circumstance," she told Harper's Bazaar and it was "the most painful time of my life." But she had one more motive for going through with it — she wanted to work.
This split from the royal family meant the mother-of-two would finally be able to work and earn money from doing what she liked. "I wanted to work; it's not right for a princess of the royal house to be commercial, so Andrew and I decided to make the divorce official so I could go off and get a job," she told the outlet.
Additionally, being under such scrutiny was exhausting. “From early on that year, Andrew and I had been discussing a separation. Not because we’d stopped caring for one another, but because I had reached the end of my royal rope," the now-59-year-old said in her 1996 autobiography, according to Express UK.
“For six years I had shouldered the demands of Palace life. I’d endured the constant scrutiny of the British press and the barely veiled hostility of the Royal Household, the courtiers who run the show. Gradually, relentlessly, they had beaten me down. They were killing me by inches. It was time to save my life.”
As difficult as it must've been, one thing Ferguson didn't want to leave on a sour note, was her relationship with her mother-in-law, the Queen. "The queen and I always got on well, still do; I uphold everything Her Majesty represents, has given up her life for," she said. "It's her duty. For her country, she's selfless to the grave."
As for how Her Majesty was as a mother, the former daughter-in-law immediately took to her defense. "I believe Her Majesty's done the best job she can. For me, she's been extraordinary."
But when time came for the divorce settlement, the Queen "asked, 'What do you require, Sarah?' and I said, 'Your friendship,' which I think amazed her because everyone said I would demand a big settlement. But I wanted to be able to say, 'Her Majesty is my friend'— not fight her nor have lawyers saying, 'Look, she is greedy.' I left my marriage knowing I'd have to work. I have."
With a company under her name and two beautiful daughters she raised on her own funds, Fergie certainly bounced back. She may have been in intense pain during her marriage, but she truly blossomed on her own. And while she is still close to her ex-husband, despite his recent scandal with the Jeffrey Epstein case, she is in a place where she has control over her own life and work.
Sarah Ferguson is proof that the heartbreak a strong woman endures only helps her shine on her own.
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photos by (L) Julian Herbert / Staff, (R) Jeff Spicer / Stringer