They are heiresess, actresses, models and even a few girls next door who married some of the world's most powerful Princes – and the latest to join their ranks is California native Meghan Markle, who became the Duchess of Sussex after marrying Prince Charles and Princess Diana's son Prince Harry on May 19, 2018.
Click through to discover the stories of these American women who became royals, including Wallis Simpson, Kendra Spears and Grace Kelly.
Words by Heather Galloway
Photos: Getty Images
MEGHAN MARKLE, THE DUCHESS OF SUSSEX
After spending years as a struggling actress who even appeared as a briefcase model on Deal or No Deal, Los Angeles native Rachel Meghan Markle finally got her big break on the Toronto-based legal drama Suits in 2011. In addition to playing the role as sharp and ambitious beauty Rachel Zane, over the next six years Meghan also launched her own successful lifestyle blog The Tig and designed a fashion collection for Canadian high street store Reitmans.
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In 2017, it emerged that Meghan was dating Prince Harry, and by the end of the year the two – who'd met on a blind date in 2016 – were engaged. In preparation for her new role as a royal, the actress had announced the closure of her lifestyle website as well as the end of her acting career.
On May 19, 2018, a host of royals and celebrity guests, including Oprah Winfrey, George and Amal Clooney, Serena Williams and Meghan's Suits co-stars watched as Meghan and Prince Harry tied the knot at St George's Chapel in Windsor. After the one-hour ceremony, for which the bride wore Givenchy and Harry was dashing in his military uniform, the couple took a carriage ride around Windsor as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, ready to start their new life together.
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KENDRA SPEARS, PRINCESS SALWA AGA KHAN
Her beauty mark and long legs earned Seattle-born Kendra Spears the moniker "Little Cindy" (a reference to supermodel Cindy Crawford) and helped her sashay from the international catwalk into the arms of Prince Rahim, the eldest son of the Aga Khan – billionaire spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Shia Muslim community.
Once a fan of thrift shops and grunge, Kendra broke onto the fashion circuit aged 19 in the 2008 Ford Supermodel of the World competition and was often baffled by hectic nature of her new life. "Sometimes it's hard to understand all the chaos that goes along with this business," she told Spanish Vogue.
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She subsequently graced the covers of French Elle and Chinese Vogue and went on to do campaigns for Diane von Fürstenberg and Prada as well as catwalk shows for Dolce & Gabbana and Marc Jacobs. Her story took an even more fairytale turn when she was introduced to Prince Rahim at a party by her friend Naomi Campbell, fell in love and became Princess Salwa Aga Khan.
Prince Rahim, 44, was, of course, following a dyed-in-the-wool family tradition when he asked the catwalk queen to marry him. Not only did his father marry British-born model Sally Crocker-Poole but his grandfather married Rita Hayworth and his great-grandfather took Miss France as his fourth wife.
Photo: Gary Otte/ The Ismaili via Getty Images
GRACE KELLY, PRINCESS OF MONACO
The most famous American princess of all, Hollywood star Grace Kelly truly looked the part when she married Prince Rainier II of Monaco in a wedding that was hailed as "A Fairytale of Modern Times".
From an affluent Philadelphia family, Grace was part ice queen, part passionate romantic, a contradiction which was exploited by Alfred Hitchcock, who described her as "a snow-covered volcano". That could be exactly what captivated Prince Rainier when they met in 1954, during a Paris Match shoot at the Pink Palace in Monaco.
Following the meeting, Rainier proclaimed himself charmed by Grace's freshness, maturity, sensitivity and culture.
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Grace and Rainier began to exchange letters and soon the Prince was organizing a U.S. tour during which he spent a week with Grace and her family in Philadelphia. The Prince was a huge hit with Grace's family and by the end of the week, he proposed and she accepted.
The wedding was, of course, a grand affair with MGM studios producing a half-hour documentary of the event entitled, 'The Wedding in Monaco'. To any who doubted her motives, Grace was to say, "When I married Prince Rainier, I married the man and not what he represented or what he was. I fell in love with him without giving a thought to anything else."
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WALLIS SIMPSON, THE DUCHESS OF WINDSOR
American socialite Wallis Simpson was famously referred to as "That woman" by the British royal family in the 1930s. The rest of the country accused her of being a gold digger and of "setting out to steal the throne of England", as she herself puts it in 'Wallis Simpson's Diary', edited by Helen Batting.
Though she would eventually marry the Prince of Wales, her life wasn't exactly a fairytale. Due to her father's death when she was still very young, Pennsylvania-born Wallis and her mother were dependent on her uncle. However, he was generous enough to send her to the most expensive school in Maryland where she made sure she was top of the class and immaculately dressed.
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By the time Wallis first met the then Prince of Wales, she was married to her second husband, London-based shipping executive Ernest Simpson. The occasion was a hunting weekend, hosted by his mistress Lady Furness. Due to a bad cold, Wallis and the Prince hardly spoke, but there were other house parties and soon Wallis' wit won her a place in the Prince of Wales' heart.
On the death of his father George V, the Prince of Wales was crowned Edward VIII, but his reign was to last all of ten months. Choosing Wallis over the throne, he abdicated in 1936 and went to France where Wallis had taken refuge. There they lived in what they called Windsor Villa in Bois de Boulogne.
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MARIE-CHANTAL MILLER, CROWN PRINCESS OF GREECE
With boarding school in Gstaad and a stint working for Andy Warhol as a 16-year-old intern in New York, Marie-Chantal Miller's world was one of opportunity. The daughter of an American tycoon and an Ecuadorian beauty, she dipped into art history, singing and breeding horses – and then she met her match, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece.
Their first encounter was engineered by a mutual friend – a blind date that had been in the cards for a year and a half. As it approached, Marie-Chantal got cold feet but, unable to call it off, she had no choice but to take her seat next to the handsome Pavlos at dinner. “It was love at first sight,” she told Vanity Fair. "I knew that he was the person I would marry.”
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Pavlos, it turned out, felt the same and two years later he proposed to his Princess-to-be on a ski lift in Gstaad. Their London wedding boasted the largest congregation of royals in the city since Queen Elizabeth's 1947 wedding to Prince Philip.
"I bring all this energy and he gives me all this calm," she said, explaining the successful dynamics of their partnership.
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LISA HALABY, QUEEN NOOR OF JORDAN
The first American to become Queen of an Arab country, Lisa Halaby was a preppy Princeton architecture graduate, remembered by her classmates for standing out from the crowd and also for her eclectic taste in men.
This certainly proved true when Lisa fell in love with with King Hussein of Jordan, 16 years her senior, after they met at a reception in Amman. At the time, she was working on design for Jordan's national airline and the King, an experienced jet pilot with a love of anything to do with aviation, was to cross her path again and again. A friendship developed and soon Lisa was invited to lunch in the king's Aqaba Palace, a business meeting that was to last eight hours!
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Outspoken and unorthodox by nature, Lisa surprised few of her family and friends when she became Queen Noor of Jordan in 1978 but they worried she would struggle with the Jordanian lifestyle and her role at the palace. She quickly adapted, however, declaring before the wedding that, "My career is my life with His Majesty the King."
As Queen, she won the hearts of the Jordanian people, showing great loyalty to her husband until his death from cancer in February 1999. She even left his bedside to comfort the grieving Jordanians keeping a vigil outside the hospital.
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RITA HAYWORTH, CONSORT TO PRINCE ALY AGA KHAN
Brooklyn girl Rita Hayworth's life was a rollercoaster ride that at one point threw her from arms of famed director Orson Welles into the territory of kings.
Born to Latino showbiz parents in 1918, she became Columbia Studios' favorite star after they had transformed her into a raven-haired seductress. In the 1940s, she became a fave pin-up girl for WWII soldiers. But though she may have been portrayed as a 'good time gal', it was just a veneer. In 1941, she revealed, "I naturally am very shy and suffer from an inferiority complex."
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This didn't stop her from moving into the society's highest echelons. Emerging from the ruins of her marriage to Welles in 1948, Rita met her Prince, Aly Salman Agha Khan at a party on the French Riviera.
Abandoning Hollywood, Rita married Aly in 1949, but once again happiness eluded her. Not long after their daughter Princess Yasmin was born, the marriage was falling apart; by 1953, it was over – and Rita was back on the silver screen.
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DIANE VON FÜRSTENBERG, FORMERLY PRINCESS DIANE OF FÜRSTENBERG
Famed designer Diane von Furstenberg has said that her mother, a Holocaust survivor, "taught me that fear is not an option, and no matter what happens, never be a victim". Which probably explains why, at 18, she didn't shy from the attentions of German-born Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, whose parents disapproved of her Jewish origins and whose father boycotted the wedding.
Diane was studying economics at the University of Geneva when they met, and was swept off her feet by a lifestyle entailing exotic travels across Europe and Asia which she compared to Hemingway's "moveable feast" in an interview with the Daily Mail.
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An engagement followed but before they could get to the altar, Diane found she was pregnant and they were married two months later in 1969 when she was just 22.
Living in New York, they enjoyed a whirlwind of parties and glamorous social events. But though they appeared on the cover of New York Magazine, headlined "The Couple that has Everything", he moved out just four years after they wed.
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HOPE COOKE, HER HIGHNESS HOPE LA OF SIKKIM
She was a New York debutante and he was the widowed King of Sikkim. It seemed an unlikely match, but when Hope Cooke's eyes met those of Palden Thondup Namgyal across the bar of Darjeeling's Windamere Hotel, they recognized in the other a sadness that drew them together and decided her fate as Her Highness Hope La, the Queen consort to the head of Asia's smallest Kingdom.
Sikkim was, in Hope's own words, “very harmonious” and undoubtedly offered her the kind of safe haven she had missed out on as a child. In the absence of both parents, she was brought up in New York by grandparents who offered little in the way of affection. So searching for meaning in her life, she travelled East. "I've never been so happy… India!" she writes in her autobiography, Time Change. "My heart explodes… The East is my home… I must stay near India somehow"
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When Hope met Palden Thondup Namgyal, she was taking a typing course in Darjeeling. In her book, she remarks on his "Chaplinesque loneliness" which seduces her into marrying him in 1963. After the wedding, Hope threw herself into the role of mother to the King's three orphaned children, reasoning, "These children will be happy. The wheel of unhappiness that both my husband and I grew up on will not go to this generation."
But while Hope found solace in her new family, the King did not. His behavior grew erratic and the marriage disintegrated. When India finally claimed the tiny kingdom as its own in the early 1970s, Hope took her two birth children and one stepchild back to New York. She finally divorced the King in 1980, just two years before his death from cancer.
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AUTUMN KELLY, MARRIED TO QUEEN ELIZABETH II'S GRANDSON PETER PHILLPS
Our bonus North American royal is Canada-born Autumn Kelly, who, when she found out that the man she was falling in love with was effectively a Prince, she had to pinch herself. "It kind of scared me actually," the daughter of a company executive told HELLO!, "because I have a normal life and just get on with things."
The bombshell came six weeks after Autumn met Queen Elizabeth's grandson Peter Phillips at Canada's Grand Prix where she had a student job. While Peter was delivering Ralph Schumacher to the suite, Autumn approached him for a chat. Of course, she had no idea who he was – "I'd never heard of Peter or Zara Phillips" – and nearly didn't accept his invitation to the after-race party, Sunday night being a "school night".
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But, won over by his smile, Autumn gathered together a few girlfriends and went along. They had "a fun evening" and the next day, she and Peter grabbed a cup of coffee and decided to keep in touch. There followed a flurry of mails between London and Montreal and a relationship developed. Then, as she was watching TV with her mother, footage of William's 21st birthday celebrations flashed across the screen, featuring someone who looked like Peter. After some frantic Googling, his secret was out.
Fortunately, the revelation didn't come between the pair. Autumn moved to England to work with an American computer company and five years later, she and Prince William's cousin were walking up the aisle of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
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