In 1981 when Lady Diana Spencer was about to marry Prince Charles and become Princess Diana, her virginity was a huge issue. Several magazines and newspapers reported at the time that the soon-to-be Princess Di was examined by Dr. Pinker, surgeon-gynaecologist to the Queen, to ensure that she had an intact hymen (which, btw, isn't always a sign of virginity). In fact, many theorise that Queen Elizabeth chose Diana for Prince Charles because she was as "innocent" as can be. Princess Diana's uncle Lord Fermoy, even took to the press to uphold her good name. “Purity seems to be at a premium when it comes to discussing a possible bride for Prince Charles at the moment... Diana, I can assure you, has never had a lover,” he told The Daily Star, according to Tina Brown's book, The Diana Chronicles.
If the idea of a woman having to "prove" her purity in order to get married sounds messed up, that's because it was. But, Princess Diana's experience sadly wasn't an anomaly for women wishing to marry into the royal family. "The number one rule before the looks or the breeding of a potential royal spouse, was that she be a virgin first and foremost," says royal historian Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills. "This rule has always been strictly observed for women marrying senior royals (aka, royals who carry out duties on behalf of the crown) — it was a condition of marriage." Royal men, however, weren't held to the same restrictions. (Totally unfair, amiright?)
The motivation behind the "purity test" for potential royal wives, according to Leslie Carroll, author of Royal Affairs, was to make sure royal babies were actually royal babies, and not the children of men someone slept with before she married a prince. Yet, the stigma of being a non-virginal woman went deeper than worries about pregnancy and parentage. "Prince Charles had dated the love of his life, Camilla Shand, when they were in their early 20s, and she was no longer a virgin by the time Charles was finally ready to pop the question to anyone," Carroll says. "So she was ineligible — 'damaged goods.'"
But of course, non-virginal men weren't considered "damaged," so it seems this antiquated thinking applied only to women. And the tradition had a strong grip. Princess Diana faced the same scrutiny in the 1980s as Anne Boleyn did in the Tudor era. Many people know of Henry VIII's infatuation with Anne Boleyn, but he also had an affair with her older sister, Mary. And it was Henry VIII's treatment of Mary that made Anne Boleyn refuse to have sex with him until they were married. "Anne feared that if she slept with Henry in advance of marriage, the king would discard her for not being a virgin, just like he had done with her sister Mary," Carroll says.
Luckily for the latest generation of royals, virginity rules and expectations have softened with the rise of feminism, medical science (a DNA test could easily tell if a royal baby was someone else's child), and frankly, a lack of eligible virgins. Meghan Markle, who has been married once before, is certainly not a virgin. And only the truly clueless would believe that Kate Middleton was a virgin when she walked down the aisle in 2011 to wed Prince William, Carroll says. After all, she and the prince lived together for several years before their wedding. But Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle's virginity doesn't matter anymore. (Neither does the fact that Markle is divorced, which also used to be an issue.) And we're absolutely the better for it. "The notion of a woman having to submit herself to a doctor’s examination to 'prove' her virginity is offensive nowadays," Carroll says.
Unfortunately for Princess Diana, the crown hadn't yet caught up to the times when she and Prince Charles were engaged. But she seems to be the last royal hopeful to have to "prove" her virginity before her wedding day. And thank god for that, or else the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Royal Wedding wouldn't exist.
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