In his youth, Charles was linked to a number of women. His great-uncle Lord Mountbatten advised him: “In a case like yours, the man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down, but for a wife he should choose a suitable, attractive, and sweet-charactered girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for … It is disturbing for women to have experiences if they have to remain on a pedestal after marriage.”
Charles’s girlfriends included Georgiana Russell, daughter of the British Ambassador to Spain; Lady Jane Wellesley, daughter of the 8th Duke of Wellington; Davina Sheffield; Lady Sarah Spencer; and Camilla Shand, who later became his second wife and Duchess of Cornwall.
Early in 1974, Mountbatten began corresponding with Charles about a potential marriage to Amanda Knatchbull, Mountbatten’s granddaughter. Charles wrote to Amanda’s mother, Lady Brabourne (who was also his godmother), expressing interest in her daughter, to which she replied approvingly, though suggesting that a courtship with the not yet 17-year-old girl was premature. Four years later Mountbatten arranged for himself and Amanda to accompany Charles on his 1980 tour of India. Both fathers, however, objected; Philip feared that Charles would be eclipsed by his famous uncle (who had served as the last British Viceroy and first Governor-General of India), while Lord Brabourne warned that a joint visit would concentrate media attention on the cousins before they could decide on becoming a couple. However, in August 1979, before Charles would depart alone for India, Mountbatten was killed by the IRA. When Charles returned, he proposed to Amanda, but in addition to her grandfather, she had lost her paternal grandmother and youngest brother Nicholas in the bomb attack and was now reluctant to join the Royal Family. In June 1980, Charles officially turned down Chevening House, placed at his disposal since 1974, as his future residence. Chevening, a stately home in Kent, was bequeathed, along with an endowment, to the Crown by the last Earl Stanhope, Amanda’s childless great-uncle, in the hope that Charles would eventually occupy it. In 1977, a newspaper report mistakenly announced his engagement to Princess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg.
Although Charles first met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977—while visiting her home, Althorp, as the companion of her elder sister, Sarah—he did not consider her romantically until mid-1980. While sitting together on a bale of hay at a friend’s barbecue in July, he mentioned Mountbatten’s death, to which Diana replied that Charles had looked forlorn and in need of care during his uncle’s funeral. Soon, according to Charles’s chosen biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, “without any apparent surge in feeling, he began to think seriously of her as a potential bride”, and she accompanied Charles on visits to Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House.
Charles’s cousin, Norton Knatchbull (Amanda’s eldest brother), and his wife told Charles that Diana appeared awestruck by his position and that he did not seem to be in love with her. Meanwhile, the couple’s continued courtship attracted intense press and paparazzi attention. When Prince Philip told him that the media speculation would injure Diana’s reputation if Charles did not come to a decision about marrying her soon, and realizing that she was a suitable royal bride (according to Mountbatten’s criteria), Charles construed his father’s advice as a warning to proceed without further delay.
Prince Charles proposed to Diana in February 1981 and they married in St Paul’s Cathedral on 29 July. Upon his marriage, Charles reduced his voluntary tax contribution from the profits generated by the Duchy of Cornwall from 50% to 25%. The couple made their homes at Kensington Palace and at Highgrove House, near Tetbury, and had two children: Princes William (born 21 June 1982) and Henry (known as “Harry”) (born 15 September 1984). Charles set precedent by being the first royal father to be present at his children’s births. Persistent suggestions that Harry’s father is not Charles but James Hewitt, with whom Diana had an affair, have been based on a physical similarity between Hewitt and Harry. However, Harry had already been born by the time the affair between Hewitt and Diana began.
Within five years, the couple’s incompatibility and near thirteen-year age difference, as well as Diana’s concern about Charles’s previous girlfriend, Camilla Shand (later Camilla Parker Bowles), became visible and damaging to their marriage. Their evident discomfort in each other’s company led to them being dubbed “The Glums” in the press. Diana exposed Charles’s affair with Camilla in a book by Andrew Morton, Diana, Her True Story. Tapes of her own extramarital flirtations also surfaced.
In December 1992, the British Prime Minister, John Major, announced their formal separation in Parliament. That same year, the British press published bugged recordings of a passionate private 1989 telephone conversation between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Charles and Diana divorced on 28 August 1996. When Diana died in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997, Charles flew there, with Diana’s sisters, to accompany her body back to Britain.