Long History of Royal Scandal Has Plagued the Queen

The very proper Queen Elizabeth has had to endure her share of public scandal -- from the exploits of her grandchildren to the very public breakups of her children's marriages.

But the Windsor legacy of scandal predated Elizabeth's reign.

"People forget that she came to the throne because of a scandal," said royal biographer Robert Lacey.

Queen Elizabeth is, after all, an accidental queen, following the most memorable royal upheaval in modern history.

Edward VIII gave up the throne in 1936 to marry an American woman, Wallis Simpson. His brother, Elizabeth's father, King George the VI, reluctantly took his place.

Thrust into the spotlight in her teenage years after her father's death, Elizabeth's coronation was one of the most watched events in British history, and she quickly won the love and respect of the British people.

But another scandal soon hit close to home.

"Her own sister, Princess Margaret, fell in love with a divorced man, which was considered absolutely scandalous at the time," said Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty Magazine.

Royal Relationships Gone Wrong

There was more turbulence to come for the next generation. The world watched and initially celebrated when Queen Elizabeth's son, Prince Charles, picked a bride, the shy Diana Spencer.

But the couple's blissful exterior hid a deeply troubled union. Within months after the marriage, whispers surfaced that Charles was still in love with another woman, the married Camilla Parker Bowles.

Diana was well aware of the relationship.

"Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," Diana told Martin Bashir in an interview.

In 1992, Prince Andrew's marriage to spunky redhead Sarah Ferguson was crumbling as well, making that year one of the lowest points for the queen.

When Charles and Diana spoke publicly about their marriage and Charles confessed to his affair, it was unlike anything the monarchy had ever seen.

And then in 1997 came a tragedy no one could have predicted. Diana, among the most famous women in the world and perhaps the most beloved woman in England, died in a car accident.

The wave of public grief caught the family by surprise, especially the queen, who was criticized for being distant, out of touch and even unsympathetic.

She sought to correct that impression by making a rare public statement: "This is also an opportunity for me on behalf of my family, and especially Prince Charles and William and Harry to thank all of you who have brought flowers, sent messages and paid your respects in so many ways to a remarkable person."

What About Her Grandchildren?

But those who know her say that despite her reserve and her disappointment in her children, she was never, on the inside, judgmental.

"She has the humility to put herself in other people's shoes and realize it's not so easy for everybody else and not so easy for her children," Lacey said.

Perhaps that is why, years after Diana's death, when Charles started to spend more time in public with his longtime love Parker Bowles, the queen eventually seemed to understand.

It seems that her grandsons won't escape the troubles and heartbreak that plagued their elders.

Prince Harry, for a time the rebel child who was arrested for marijuana use and seen brawling at bars, has grown up. But he's endeared himself to the public with his military service and his willingness to head to Iraq.

Prince William, who will one day be king, recently broke up with his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton.

Family friends say the queen especially urged him not to settle down too young, fearing he might suffer the same fate as his father and his aunt and uncle.

"For both these boys, the idea of the royal wedding that thrills us so much, that's something they see on every news package about their mother," Lacey said. "Royal weddings lead to unhappiness and calamity."

While today's Windsors seem to have weathered scandal for now, the queen has learned that she may be the person best suited to help them break the pattern.