18 Things You Never Knew About Princess Anne, England’s Princess Royal
From Princess Anne's royal sense of duty to the ways in which she breaks with tradition, Queen Elizabeth's only daughter is a princess like no other
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Princess Anne, the under-the-radar royal
The royal family isn’t just known for the priceless jewels in its collection, the palaces scattered around the United Kingdom or the long-lasting love story of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (nearly eight decades!). Before Queen Elizabeth’s death, she reigned for more than 60 years and did her best to pass on a strong work ethic to her children. Although her sons may get most of the attention, England’s hardest-working member of the royal family tree is actually the princess royal, Princess Anne. Despite being the queen’s only daughter and second-eldest child (she’s just two years behind King Charles), Princess Anne has stayed out of the spotlight for most of her life.
Most recently seen at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, walking in the procession in a neat Royal Navy ceremonial uniform, the princess royal’s wish for privacy is a well-known royal family fact. She’s so reserved that Princess Anne doesn’t shake hands with the public—although handshakes have apparently dropped off in pandemic times, so perhaps she was simply ahead of the curve. But behind that stiff upper lip, the princess royal is hiding some fascinating facts. Here are the most interesting things you never knew about Princess Anne.
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She’s an accomplished horsewoman—and an Olympian!
The royal family has a long tradition of enjoying equestrian sports, from hunting and polo to eventing and racing. But Princess Anne takes “horse girl” to a whole new level. In 1976, she became the first member of the royal family to compete in the Olympic Games, taking the queen’s horse Goodwill to Montreal for the three-day equestrian event. “She completed her round after sustaining a concussion during a bad fall,” says royal expert and historian Nicoletta Gullace, a professor at the University of New Hampshire. If that’s not bravery worthy of a fairy-tale princess, we don’t know what is.
The princess royal was appointed to the International Olympic Committee in 1988, and her daughter—Zara Phillips, one of Queen Elizabeth’s lesser-known grandchildren—went on to compete in the same three-day event at the 2012 Olympics in London. The Great Britain equestrian team won silver, and Princess Anne had the honor of presenting the medals.
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She has been married twice
The world loves a royal wedding, and the one that took place on Nov. 13, 1973, was historic. Princess Anne married army officer Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in a televised event that about 500 million people worldwide tuned in to watch. It was only the second time in 200 years that a royal had married a commoner.
The princess royal met Phillips through a shared love of equestrian sports—they competed on the same European eventing team in 1971. They had two children together, Peter and Zara, before divorcing after nearly 20 years of marriage in April 1992.
In December of that same year, Princess Anne married Timothy Laurence, a naval officer (now a vice admiral) and one of Queen Elizabeth’s former aides. There was a hint of royal scandal surrounding her second wedding, and not only because it came so soon after her divorce. In 1989, The Sun apparently obtained personal letters from Laurence to Princess Anne, and although the tabloid never published them, there has been considerable speculation about their contents over the years. After three decades of marriage, however, the couple is still rock solid. In fact, Princess Anne’s husband was most recently seen alongside Princess Anne and Prince William in Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession.
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She didn’t give her children royal titles
Princess Anne has a bit of a reputation as a royal rebel, and she broke with royal tradition when it came to her children as well. Peter and Zara took their father’s surname to become Peter Phillips and Zara Phillips—and that’s it. Princess Anne chose not to give them the titles of His or Her Royal Highness, though the queen offered. It seems that the princess wanted her children to have ordinary childhoods—as much as is possible for members of the royal family.
“I think it was probably easier for them,” she told Vanity Fair in 2020. “And I think most people would argue that there are downsides to having titles.” The children certainly haven’t suffered any ill effects: Peter runs a successful sports and entertainment agency, and Zara has forged a successful career as an equestrian and even won an Olympic medal.
Princess Anne’s children may be untitled, but she’s been the princess royal since 1987. The eldest daughter of the monarch traditionally carries the title, and she holds it for life. So even if Prince William becomes king, his daughter, Princess Charlotte, can only receive the title of princess royal if Princess Anne has passed away.
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She faced down a kidnapper
It was early 1974, and Princess Anne was returning home to Buckingham Palace with her new husband after attending a charity event when her chauffeur stopped the Rolls-Royce on the Mall in London. Another car was blocking the way. A man named Ian Ball got out of his car, shot the chauffeur and a security officer, and demanded Princess Anne get out of the car. With her characteristic sharp tongue, she replied, “Not bloody likely!”
She relived the incident for a 2020 documentary, crediting her equestrian training for her cool-as-a-cucumber response. “One thing about horses and sport is you have to prepare for the unexpected,” she said. “I suppose that was the discipline which, to some extent, colored my thought processes.”
In the end, Ball injured four people in his attempt to ransom the princess for a reported £2 million before a passer-by overpowered the would-be kidnapper by punching him in the head. He can count himself lucky that the daughter of Prince Philip (who once killed a tiger in a single shot) didn’t have him stuffed and mounted!
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She has a criminal record
The sovereign can’t be tried in court—the last monarch who became the subject of a court hearing was Charles I, who was tried for treason in 1649 and executed—but other members of the royal family can. Case in point: Princess Anne, who became the first member of the British royal family with a criminal record—at least in the modern age.
In 2002, Princess Anne and her husband took their bull terrier, Dotty, out for a walk in Windsor Great Park. Dotty got loose and attacked two children, leaving them with bites and scratches. When the case went to court, Princess Anne admitted to violating the Dangerous Dogs Act. The judge ruled that Dotty’s life should be spared but ordered the princess to pay a fine of around $785 and leash Dotty in public for the rest of the dog’s life. Here’s hoping King Charles’s dogs are a bit better behaved.
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That wasn’t the first time Princess Anne appeared in court
According to some accounts, Queen Elizabeth liked to floor it in her Land Rover on occasion, and it seems her lead foot was hereditary. In 2001, Princess Anne appeared in court on charges of speeding. She admitted to driving her Bentley at 93 mph in a 70-mph zone near her home in Gloucestershire and had to pay a fine of about $437 and around $33 in costs. This wasn’t her first speeding incident: She received a written police warning in 1972 and fines in 1977 and 1990, after which she was banned from driving for a month.
Just like horsewomanship, the princess seems to have passed a love for speed down to her daughter. Zara overturned a Land Rover when she was 19 (without injury) and was reportedly banned from driving for six months in 2020 after driving 91 mph in a 70-mph zone in Gloucestershire. Sound familiar?
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She earns her reputation as the hardest-working royal
As Gullace explains, Princess Anne is known as the hardest-working royal, and she has the numbers to back it up. Between 2016 and 2019, she carried out a total of 1,945 engagements, with a packed schedule sometimes totaling four or five events a day. “If I’m going to be in London, I don’t want to be hanging about,” she told Vanity Fair in 2020.
The princess is the patron of more than 300 charities and military organizations, including various equine charities. With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, removing themselves from royal duties, some of the pressure to serve has fallen on the older royals. Fortunately, Princess Anne seems up to the challenge. In 2021, she carried out more engagements than any other royal—and two more than her brother King Charles III.
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She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize
For her decades of work with Save the Children, Princess Anne earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. She had served as president of the organization since 1970 and took over as royal patron from the queen in 2017.
The job involves a lot of travel, visiting Save the Children’s projects in countries like Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as throughout the United Kingdom. President Kaunda of Zambia nominated the princess for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. But the prize that year went to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in changing East-West relations. Of course, Anne isn’t the only princess to accomplish significant charity work. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, was legendary for her kindness and charity efforts, and the new Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, will no doubt find a way to make the role her own as well.
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She has several honorary military titles
Many members of the royal family have served in various branches of the military (even a young Queen Elizabeth!), but Princess Anne is not among them. She has, however, been awarded a few honorary military titles. “Princess Anne is breaking the mold of what it means to be a female royal,” says Gullace. “She was the first woman to walk in a royal funeral cortege, and she did so in a naval uniform, breeches and all.”
That’s an outfit that few royal women have ever worn. In 1993, the Royal Navy made her a rear admiral. And in 2009, she was promoted to vice admiral, a title her husband also holds. She now outranks him, though; in 2012, she was promoted to admiral.
It’s not all about the sea either. The princess also holds the rank of general in the British Army and air chief marshal in the Royal Air Force, among other titles across the British Commonwealth. So if you ever meet the princess royal, don’t forget to salute.
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She lives in Gloucestershire
We all know that the British royals have a slew of palaces to choose from. As befits her penchant for privacy, however, the princess royal’s home base is far away from the hustle and bustle of London’s Buckingham Palace. Her preferred residence is Gatcombe Park, an 18th-century manor house set on 730 acres of parkland in Gloucestershire in the southwest of England. When she’s not speeding along the quiet country lanes in her Bentley, Princess Anne reportedly goes riding every day. She also breeds her own horses and has been teaching her four young granddaughters to ride as well. Gatcombe Park is part of Princess Anne’s personal property. (She’s not the only royal living in the country. Part of Queen Elizabeth’s net worth came from country estates, including her beloved Balmoral Castle.)
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She’s a firm believer in boarding school
Although in many ways a royal rebel, there’s one tradition Princess Anne is more than happy to uphold: boarding school. Charles reportedly had a terrible time at the prestigious Gordonstoun school in Scotland (which Prince Philip also attended), but she has nothing but fond memories of boarding at Benenden School in Kent. When Princess Anne was younger, she became the first princess to receive schooling outside the home (or palace). “I was ready to go to school,” she told Vanity Fair. “I had a governess and two friends, and that was never going to be enough, really, so I was only too pleased to be sent off somewhere else.”
Despite her good experience at Benenden, she sent her children to Gordonstoun, perhaps to uphold the family tradition. Princess Anne is also a patron of the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, which takes children from what she calls “chaotic homes” and sends them to boarding school. “You only have to listen to them to realize that it’s absolutely transformed their lives,” she has said.
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She hasn’t seen The Crown
We may still be reeling over that episode in the fourth season of The Crown in which Tobias Menzies, playing Prince Philip, casually informs his children that Anne is his favorite, but the princess herself hasn’t been watching. She did have one thing to say about Netflix’s hit show, however. Actress Erin Doherty, who plays Princess Anne, said in an interview that it took around two hours to get her hair just right to portray the royal. In a 2020 documentary produced for her 70th birthday, the princess royal expressed disbelief, saying, “How could you possibly take that long? I mean, it takes me 10 or 15 minutes.”
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She’s a style icon
Always timeless and chic, the princess royal has been a style icon since the 1970s. And it turns out she was ahead of her time in another way as well: She’s been recycling for decades, well before the recent secondhand clothing trend. Apparently Princess Anne still wears outfits she’s owned since the 1980s, which makes her the queen of sustainable fashion in our eyes.
Considering she often attends multiple events in one day, she has a preference for hard-wearing fabrics like Harris tweed (from Scotland) and prefers to work with natural, British-made materials. In fact, she often has clothing made for her at home rather than buying from abroad. The current editor of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, says that she “wears a tailored suit better than anyone else I can think of.” He may have been thinking of her second wedding—she reportedly wore a chic white suit to marry Timothy Laurence in Scotland.
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Prince Philip gave her a sweet nickname
In one hilarious episode of The Crown, Prince Philip uses the Buckingham Palace tannoy system to call “Sweetie” to his office. But it’s not the queen he’s looking for; it’s his daughter.
Apparently the scene was rooted in truth: Princess Anne’s father really did call her Sweetie. Given that Prince Philip’s other nicknames for his family included things like Cabbage, the princess got off easy with the adorable moniker. Speaking of nicknames, you won’t believe Prince William’s flirty nickname from Kate Middleton.
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Some think she would’ve made a better monarch than Charles
Princess Anne was “reputedly Philip’s favorite child, sharing his sharp tongue, irreverent wit and athletic talent,” says Gullace. She needed his favor to survive in a patriarchal system based on male primogeniture. In fact, Gullace adds, “some rather unkind commentators have speculated that it would have ‘been better for the monarchy had Anne been born a boy, and Charles a girl,’ meaning that she had more of her parents’ grit and strength and would have been a stronger monarch than her brother.”
Though he’s now taken the throne, many Britons didn’t want Charles to become king—and not just because they object to the crown’s history of colonialism and the continuation of the monarchy overall. Thankfully for Charles, he has his sister’s help in shining a positive light on the royal family. The princess royal’s strength and calm are legendary, and there’s no doubt that she is “a major source of strength behind the throne,” Gullace says. “Her profile will undoubtedly rise as she takes a leading role advising her brother and acting on his behalf in Charles’s new ‘slimmed down’ monarchy.”
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She’s a huge rugby fan
When it comes to sports, galloping through the countryside isn’t the only activity that gets Princess Anne’s heart racing. She has been the royal patron of the Scottish Rugby Union since 1986. And she almost never misses a home game at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium, where fellow rugby lovers can hear her singing “Flower of Scotland,” the country’s unofficial national anthem.
Rugby fandom might even run in the royal family: Queen Elizabeth was the patron of the Rugby Football Union for 64 years, while Prince William has been the Welsh Rugby Union patron since 2007. Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara, married former English rugby player Mike Tindall, and her son, Peter, played internationally on the Scottish under-18 team in 1985.
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Her favorite food is … unusual
For her 70th birthday, the princess royal guest edited an edition of the British magazine Country Life. In it, she revealed her favorite game recipe: deviled pheasant. She swears it makes for an easy, delicious supper, but the combination of ingredients sounds questionable at best. (It’s certainly not a patch on Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon tea.) The magazine showcased John Williams, the executive chef at London’s famous Ritz hotel, making the recipe, but even he couldn’t make it sound good.
Step 1: Grab your pheasants. Step 2: Poach. Step 3: Shred the meat in the poaching juice. Step 4: Cover the pheasant with whipped cream mixed with mango chutney and Worcestershire sauce. Heat and eat!
She’s a knight
In her 2020 interview with Vanity Fair, Princess Anne declined to identify as a feminist. But actions speak louder than words, and the princess royal has insisted on equality on more than one occasion, particularly between her and her three brothers. In 1994, the queen appointed Princess Anne to the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most highly ranked order of chivalry in Britain (it dates back 700 years or so).
Knights and ladies of the Order of the Garter are usually recognized for their public service. But when Princess Anne’s turn came, she requested to be installed as a royal knight in order to rank equally with her brothers. She became a knight twice over when the queen knighted her to the Order of the Thistle (the highest order of chivalry in Scotland) in 2000. Thanks to Anne’s trailblazing request (and the queen’s approval), regular women can now be knights of the order, not just royals.
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- Nicoletta Gullace, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire
- Vanity Fair: “Princess Anne Opens Up About Her Lifetime as a Royal”
- The Royal Family: “The Princess Royal and the Olympics”
- Yahoo! News: “On This Day: Princess Anne’s wedding watching by 500 million worldwide”
- Independent: “Princess Anne recalls surviving kidnap attempt and telling kidnapper: ‘Not bloody likely'”
- The Washington Post: “Princess Anne Is Fined Court for Dog Attack”
- The Guardian: “Princess Anne fined £400 for speeding”
- BBC News: “Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall banned from driving”
- Country Life: “How to make Princess Anne’s favorite recipe”