As any tyke who knows the Cinderella story will tell you, when there are princes involved, stepmothers can be problematic.
Britain's Prince William and Prince Harry have said they are "delighted" by their father's plans to marry Camilla Parker Bowles. Privately, Harry is said to be a little less than enthusiastic. But given the depth of their mother's dislike of "The Rottweiler," as Princess Diana was wont to call her archrival, they'd be less than human if they didn't feel a twinge or two when their father says "I do" to his longtime mistress.
Camilla has been a fixture at Clarence House since Charles took over the palace following his grandmother's death, and thus far she's shown no inclination to meddle in the young princes' lives. In fact, over the years, Mrs. Parker Bowles has demonstrated a commendable ability to keep her mouth shut and ride out the storm.
She also comes with two ready-made stepsiblings for Wills and Harry -- Tom and Laura Parker Bowles. But don't expect a "Brady Bunch"-style blended family, with kids fighting over the bathroom and who made off with Kitty Karry-All.
Tom made headlines in the past due to alleged drug dabbling, and Prince Charles -- who is his godfather as well as his future stepfather -- reportedly banned young Parker Bowles from hanging out with Prince William for a while.
Now 30, Tom seems to have gotten his act together. He has published a cookbook, "E Is for Eating: An Alphabet of Greed," and plans to walk down the aisle in September with his long-term girlfriend, Sara Buys.
Laura Parker Bowles, 26, has always kept a low profile. She works for a London art gallery and is in a long-term relationship with Harry Lopes, a former Calvin Klein model with an aristocratic background
So cheer up, Wills and Harry -- when it comes to royal stepmums, you're really not getting a bad deal in the Rottweiler. It could be far worse -- as your mother, for one, could have told you.
The future Princess Diana was 6 years old when her mother left her father for another man, and subsequently lost custody of all four Spencer children. Though bitter over his divorce, Earl Spencer eventually became enamored of the Countess of Dartmouth -- née Raine McCorquodale, the daughter of famed romance novelist Barbara Cartland.
A divorce from the Earl of Dartmouth freed up Raine for a future with Earl Spencer -- to the horror of his offspring. All four took an instant dislike to Raine and her bizarre bouffant. They called her "Acid Raine" and took to shouting, "Raine, Raine, go away!"
This chilly reception did not discourage Raine, who married the earl in 1976. The Spencer children felt she was selling off too many possessions from Althorp, the family estate; she felt the children were unbearably rude, especially Charles Spencer, Diana's younger brother. Raine nursed her husband back to health after he suffered a devastating stroke, but his children weren't mollified; they felt she prevented them from seeing their father in the hospital.
When the earl died in 1992, Raine was given short shrift. She had to move out of Althorp right away. Charles Spencer, the new earl, reportedly had his stepmother's possessions stuffed into garbage bags.
Diana would later patch things up with her stepmother and the two developed a civil, if not completely warm, relationship. A year after her husband's death, Raine embarked on a third marriage after a whirlwind romance with a French count, but the union lasted less than two years.
My Stepmother's a Witch
As Raine Spencer found, there's nothing fun about being a dowager with a hostile stepson in power.
Joanna of Navarre was the widow of the Duke of Brittany when she married King Henry IV of England in 1403. At first she got along well enough with Henry's sons by his first marriage. When he died 10 years later, and her eldest stepson became King Henry V, Joanna probably thought she had no reason to worry.
She thought wrong, however. Joanna was accused of trying to poison the new king through witchcraft.
Although there was no real basis for the charge, it gave the younger Henry the perfect excuse to lock his stepmother in a castle for a few years and help himself to her property.
When it comes to stepmothers in the royal family, however, no one puts the dys- in dysfunction like the Tudors. Henry VIII married six times, which meant his elder daughter, Mary Tudor, had to deal with five stepmothers.
The first was undoubtedly the worst. In 1533, Henry set aside Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, and the Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn. Mary was demoted from being a princess, the heir apparent, to an illegitimate daughter of the king.
Insecure in her position, Anne bullied Mary, taking away all her servants and forcing her to wait upon her baby half-sister, the future Elizabeth I. There were rumors that Anne considered poisoning her stepdaughter, and certainly she ordered that the girl's ears be boxed "for the cursed bastard she is."
Anne didn't last long, though, and three years after her marriage she was beheaded, having failed to produce a son. Mary's next stepmother, Jane Seymour, brought her back into favor, but Jane stuck around long enough only to produce the long-awaited son before dying of childbed fever.
Stepmother No. 3, Anne of Cleves, was of a kindly disposition, but Henry divorced her within six months and provided Mary with her fourth stepmother, Katherine Howard, a giddy girl who was about five years younger than Mary herself.
Mary couldn't have been happy about this marriage, but she didn't have to put up with the new queen for very long. Henry sent his young bride to the block for adultery, and subsequently married a scholarly widow named Katherine Parr, who was not only kind to all three of her stepchildren, but managed to survive Henry.
Mary herself went on to become queen in her own right, but she never recovered from the trauma of her family life, and her reign was not a success. She has gone down in history as Bloody Mary. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, had a much more successful career on the throne, but mindful of what happened to her mother and stepmothers, decided it was safer to stay single.
Dad Does It Again
No matter what reservations Prince William and Prince Harry may harbor about their father's second marriage, at least Camilla is presentable. Sure, there are people who make unkind comments about home wreckers, and in the past her looks were widely lampooned. Certainly, Camilla looked a little weathered next to the beauteous Diana.
But over the past few years she has undergone a makeover, exchanging her outdoorsy look for designer clothes in flattering colors. Beaming as she showed off her engagement ring -- a square-cut diamond set in platinum and with baguette-cut stones on either side -- Camilla looked downright pretty. And face it -- she certainly looks much more age-appropriate than Diana for the middle-aged Charles.
Age-appropriate wasn't the first word that came to mind when the Norwegian press reported that Crown Princess Mette-Marit's father had said "I do" to a former stripper.
Since marrying Crown Prince Haakon in 2001, Mette-Marit has worked hard to fit in with the royal family. And it wasn't easy. When she met Haakon, Mette-Marit was a single mother. She had something of a party-girl past, and her son's father had been convicted of drug possession.
There were some eyebrows raised when Mette-Marit joined the royal family, but she has for the most part been accepted. Besides her son, Marius, she and Haakon now have a young daughter, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, the first female in direct line to inherit the throne in Norway's history.
Mette-Marit's father, Sven O. Hoiby, has embarrassed his daughter before by making rather outspoken comments. Their estrangement deepened when Hoiby announced he was writing a book about young Marius.
But it must have been particularly galling for the crown princess when her 68-year-old dad married Renate Barsgard last month. Hoiby, who was divorced from Mette-Marit's mother several years ago, met his 34-year-old bride at a strip show in southern Norway.
But like Camilla Parker Bowles, Mette-Marit's new stepmother is apparently undergoing a makeover -- at least as far as her career is concerned. She's decided to give up stripping and reportedly is studying to be a nurse's aide.