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What did the women of the British Royal Family do before marrying in?

Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall
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The women who married into the British Royal Family all led varied lives before joining in. Let’s take a look at who they were before they were royal!

The Duchess of Cornwall

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The Duchess of Cornwall, born Camilla Shand, was born in London and raised in the Shand family homes in East Sussex and South Kensington. She sat for O-levels in 1964 at Queen’s Gate School in South Kensington but did not return the following year for A-levels.

Camilla furthered her education at the Mon Fertile Finishing School in Tolochenaz, Switzerland and studied French and French literature for a period of six months at the University of London Institute in Paris. She held a series of jobs as a secretary and receptionist and spent her spare time with equestrian events and other hobbies.

She met Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, in the early 1970s but married Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973 and subsequently had two children with him: Tom and Laura. She picked up her relationship with Prince Charles again, and it continued throughout both of their marriages. Camilla and Andrew divorced in 1995; Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales divorced in 1996. The couple continued their relationship, but it wasn’t until 1999 that they made their first public appearance. She joined Prince Charles on official engagements in Scotland in 2000 and further fueled rumours that they might marry.

Charles and Camilla became engaged on 10 February 2005 and married later that spring on 9 April. Camilla became The Duchess of Cornwall, a lesser title used by the spouse of the Prince of Wales, due to the history with Diana. The couple celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

Diana, Princess of Wales

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Lady Diana Spencer was born into an aristocratic family and had a traditional aristocratic upbringing. She was educated first at home, then attended boarding schools but discontinued her formal education at West Heath Girls’ School in Kent after failing her O-levels twice.

She attended the Institut Alpin Videmanette, a finishing school in Switzerland, for a term and then moved back to London where she held a variety of jobs while living with her friends. She was a dance instructor, a party hostess, a pre-school assistant, a nanny and a nursery teacher’s assistant.

In 1980, Diana and Prince Charles began to see each other, and they were engaged in February 1981, marrying later that summer on 29 July. She and Prince Charles had two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, and separated in 1992. Their divorce was finalised in 1996, and Diana was tragically killed in a car accident in Paris on 31 August 1997.

The Duchess of Cambridge

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Catherine Middleton was born on 6 January 1982 in Reading, Berkshire, and spent her early years in Amman, Jordan, while her father worked for British Airways there.

The Middleton family returned to Berkshire in 1986, and Kate continued her education there, studying at Downe House School, then boarded at Malborough College. She studied art history at the University of St. Andrew’s from 2002 to 2005, where she met her future husband, Prince William.

Prior to attending the University of St. Andrew’s, Kate spent a gap year split in Chile with Raleigh International and in Italy with the British Institute of Florence. After graduating from university with a 2:1 in art history, Kate worked as an accessories buyer with Jigsaw and then with Party Pieces, the family business, in catalogue design, photography, marketing and other design work.

William and Kate became engaged in November 2010 and were married the following year on 29 April 2011.

The Duchess of Sussex

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Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 1981 in Los Angeles, California, and lived there throughout her early life. She attended the Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse before graduating from the Immaculate Heart High School in 1999.

Meghan continued her education at Northwestern University and joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority there. She studied theatre and international relations and graduated with a double major from the Northwestern University School of Communication in 2003. During her studies there, she interned at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and completed a three-month study abroad program in Spain in 2002.

After she graduated from Northwestern, Meghan moved back to California to pursue her acting career, appearing in bit parts on television series and appeared as a model on Deal or No Deal during its 2006-07 season. Meghan’s big break came with Suits, a legal drama that premiered on USA network in 2011. She played the popular paralegal Rachel Zane for seven seasons, leaving the show in 2017 shortly before she became engaged to Prince Harry.

Meghan met Prince Harry on a blind date in the summer of 2016, and the couple continued to date under the radar until that autumn when the UK newspapers learned of their relationship. Meghan continued to live in Toronto while filming Suits throughout 2017, though she moved to the UK later that year. Her first public appearance with Harry took place at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2017.

Meghan and Harry’s engagement was announced on 27 November of that year, and they were married on 19 May 2018.

Countess of Wessex

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Sophie Rhys-Jones was born on 20 January 1965 in Oxford. She was later raised in Kent and attended the Dulwich Preparatory School and Kent College.

After studying at West Kent College in secretarial work, Sophie held a variety of public relations jobs. She was a ski representative in Switzerland, then spent a year travelling and working in Australia. She also spent four years working at Capital Radio in press and promotions; she also worked with The Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media.

In 1997, Sophie founded her own public relations firm, RJH Public Relations, with a business partner, Murray Harkin. She would stay with the firm for five years, stepping down after a scandal erupted with accusations that she was using her royal connections to cash in on deals.

Sophie met her future husband, Prince Edward, the youngest son of The Queen, in 1993 while working on a strategy session for a Real Tennis event. Prince Edward is a patron of the organisation, and the two started a relationship shortly after. Their engagement was announced in January 1999, and they were married later that year on 19 June.

The couple became The Earl and Countess of Wessex and continued to work outside of official royal duties. During The Queen’s Golden Jubilee year, they made the decision to step down from their respective careers and to devote themselves full time to royal duties.

The Duchess of Gloucester

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Birgitte van Deurs, the future Duchess of Gloucester, was born in Odense, Denmark, on 20 June 1946.

Birgitte studied at schools in three countries: Odense, Denmark; then attended finishing schools in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

She met her future husband, Prince Richard, while she lived in Cambridge, as he was reading architecture at Cambridge University at the time. She returned to Denmark to take a three-year course in Commercial and Economic Studies at a school in Copenhagen, then moved back to London to take a job at the Royal Danish Embassy beginning in 1971.

Prince Richard proposed to Birgitte in early 1972, and the couple were married on 8 July that year in a very quiet, decidedly un-royal wedding without much fanfare. At that time, the couple were not expected to have any official royal role, as Prince Richard had an older brother, Prince William, who would inherit the family dukedom.

When Prince William was killed in a plane crash in a few weeks later, the couple altered their plans and knew that they would have to take on official royal duties when Prince Richard’s father passed away. Prince Richard and then-Princess Richard became The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1974.

The Duchess of Kent

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The Duchess of Kent was born Katharine Worsley on 22 February 1933 and was raised in Yorkshire. She did not have formal schooling until she turned 10 but began study at Queen Margaret’s School in York and Runton Hill School in North Norfolk, where she excelled at music.

Prior to her marriage to The Duke of York, Katharine worked with children at a nursery school and a children’s home and later attended Miss Hubler’s Finishing School at Oxford to focus on music. While at the school, she also learned French literature, painting, history, and cooking.

Katharine married The Duke of Kent on 8 June 1961, becoming The Duchess of Kent.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.