Princess Anne proved a popular addition to Netflix royal biopic The Crown last season, whether singing along to David Bowie while driving down The Mall, London, or marching about Buckingham Pace in riding boots.
The Crown season four, however, shows a different, more vulnerable side to Princess Anne (played once more by Erin Doherty in The Crown cast), as her marriage to her first husband, cavalry officer Mark Phillips (Geoffrey Breton), breaks down irretrievably and she has an affair with her bodyguard.
But what was the true-life story behind the couple’s marriage, and did Princess Anne really have an affair?
Who is Mark Phillips and when did he marry Princess Anne?
Mark Phillips was the first husband of Princess Anne, whom he married 14th November 1973 at Westminster Abbey. The previous year he won a gold Olympic medal as part of the British Equestrian team at the Munich Olympics, and he would go on to add to his trophy haul with a silver medal at the next Olympic Games.
The couple had reportedly met at a social event following the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. Both shared a love of horse riding and equestrian sports. He also introduced her to the bloodsport fox hunting, which would later cause controversy for the princess.
Philips has two children with Princess Anne, Peter (born 1977) and Zara (born 1981). Prior to their separation, Philips and Anne lived at Gatcombe Park, the Gloucester country residence that the Queen bought in 1976 for an undisclosed sum (estimated at £750,000) as a wedding gift for the couple.
As a young man Philips attended royal military training centre Sandhurst from the age of 19, before he was commissioned into the Queen’s Dragoon Guards two years later.
Did Princess Anne have an affair?
According to The Crown season four episode ‘Favourites’, Princess Anne allegedly had an affair with Sergeant Peter Cross, her then police bodyguard and member of the Royal Protection Squad.
In the Netflix series, the Queen gently tells Anne that it’s been decided that Cross would resume desk duties. “He’s the only thing that makes me happy,” Anne replies, trying to persuade her mother to change her mind.
Cross began working for the princess in 1979, and was reportedly removed from his duties a year later. He would later sell his ‘kiss-and-tell’ story to the tabloids, claiming that Anne had used the code name ‘Mrs Wallis’ (presumed to be a reference to her great-uncle’s American wife, Wallis Simpson) whenever she phoned him.
Princess Anne also later allegedly had an affair with royal favourite Commander Timothy Laurence, an equerry to the Queen and the man who would go on to become Anne’s second husband (they married in a private ceremony in 1992).
In March 1989 four of Laurence’s private love letters to Princess Anne were stolen (variously reported as taken either from her desk or briefcase) and handed over to British tabloid newspaper The Sun, who then passed them on to Scotland Yard.
“PALACE THIEF STEALS ANNE’S LETTERS…SUN TO THE RESCUE,” ran the headline in The Sun. The paper’s article didn’t reveal the author of the letter or the recipient for risk of being sued, instead only describing the letters’ appearance (all four written in black ink).
The Palace responded by issuing an unprecedented statement: “The stolen letters were addressed to the Princess Royal by Commander Timothy Laurence, the Queen’s Equerry. We have nothing to say about the contents of personal letters sent to Her Royal Highness by a friend which were stolen and which are the subject of a police investigation.”
“It’s quite clear that he is potty about her,” one source who had seen the letters told People Weekly that April. “But they are very boring and ramble on. They are the sort of letters 18-or 19-year-olds write to one another, thoughts about life and rather philosophical, discussing how beautiful a field is in the sunshine with a stream running through it.”
Only the previous September, Laurence had been selected to be an advisor to Anne’s Charities Trust.
When did Princess Anne and Mark Philips divorce?
The couple officially separated in August 1989. “Terse statement notes the end of a royal marriage,” ran The Times headline; “‘Separate lives’ but there are no plans for a divorce, says Palace spokesman.”
The “long expected” statement was issued at noon on the 31st of August, when Princess Anne was safely out of the country attending the International Olympic Committee in Puerto Rico.
However, despite initial palace assertions that there were no plans for divorce, the couple did eventually divorce in April 1992, eight months before Anne wedded Timothy Laurence in Scotland, near Balmoral Castle.
What happened to Princess Anne’s showjumping career?
Princess Anne was an accomplished horsewoman and show jumper, and represented Britain in Eventing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Horse riding was a passion she shared with her first husband Mark Philips, and the pair were both members of the winning British team at the 1971 European Championships – the same year Anne was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
When the couple separated, the director-general of the British Equestrian Federation, Major Malcolm Wallace, told The Times that he didn’t believe the separation would impact their equestrian careers, expecting them to continue attending equestrian events as a couple and to also continue fundraising for the federation.
Anne remained president of the Fédération Équestre Internationale (the international governing body of equestrian sports) from 1986 to 1994.