This week, a divorced former journalist, Letizia Ortiz, officially became Spain’s first-ever commoner queen, as her husband, Felipe VI, was sworn in as king.
While the ascent of an ordinary commoner to one of the most visible monarchies in Europe may seem like a one-in-a-million, fairytale kind of story, it’s actually becoming increasingly common as rules around marrying into monarchy. In fact, many view Letizia and Felipe’s marriage—as well as other commoner-royal marriages like Kate Middleton and Prince William’s—as a reinvigorating force in monarchies worldwide.
Ordinary folks, it can be argued, bring a certain down-to-earth quality to the monarchy, and are also usually have a broader public appeal. Kate Middleton, for instance, has been credited as being a breath of fresh air for the British monarchy, which had been perceived as rather stoic and unapproachable. The U.K. public seems to absolutely adore her, and even the press has been fairly protective of her. Then there’s the iconic Grace Kelly, who won over Monaco with her poise and, well, grace.
Of course, there are the many recent commoners who married into royalty—Middleton, Charlene Wittstock, and Marie-Chantal Miller, to name a few—but the trend actually stretches back a century or more, including an American socialite who went to India on vacation and wound up a Sikkim queen, a Welsh-born model who waited more than 30 years to marry her royal love, and more.
Click through our gallery to see 25 ordinary commoners who became royal through marriage. Sometimes fairytales come true!
Grace Kelly (Princess of Monaco)
Everyone knows this fairytale story—and its tragic ending. Grace Kelly was the toast of Hollywood and one of the most iconic beauties of all time when she met Prince Rainier on a photo shoot. The two married in 1956 and had three children before Kelly died in a tragic car accident in 1982.
Diana Spencer (Princess of Wales)
Diana wasn't entirely "ordinary" at birth—her family was aristocratic and her father became an earl in 1975—but she certainly wasn't of royal blood when she married Prince Charles in front of a televised audience of 750 million in 1981. The two divorced in 1996, and Diana died in a tragic car accident a year later.
Charlene Wittstock (HSH Princess of Monaco)
This blond bombshell was a South African former Olympic swimmer when she met Albert II, Prince of Monaco. More comfortable in a bathing suit than a ball gown, Wittstock had to adjust to the spotlight cast by her courtship with the prince. Now, she favors brands like Armani and Chanel, and was even featured in Vogue. (Note: The previous princess of Monaco was Wittstock's mother-in-law, Grace Kelly.)
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Rania Al Yassin (Queen of Jordan)
This career woman earned a business degree at the American University of Cairo, and then worked at Citibank and Apple before meeting Prince Abdullah II. The two married a mere five months after meeting, and Rania has since become an active ambassador for a number of causes—not to mention a frequent fixture in American fashion magazines.
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Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano (Crown Princess of Spain)
Letizia was a TV journalist—and a divorcee—when she caught the eye of Crown Prince Felipe, who saw her on TV and apparently asked her boss for an introduction. The two dated in secret before announcing their engagement in 2003, and were married in Madrid in 2004. Following his father's abdication of the throne, Felipe became king and Letizia became queen consort.
Marie Chantal Miller (HRH The Crown Princess of Greece and Denmark)
Marie met Pavlos, Prince of Greece, on a blind date, and dropped out of her studies at New York University after he proposed on a skiing trip in Gstaad, Switzerland. (Can't say we blame her!) She wore a stunning Valentino gown at her wedding to the prince in 1995, and the royal couple have five children.
Silvia Sommerlath (Queen of Sweden)
Silva was working as an interpreter as the 1972 Summer Olympics when she met King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. They were married in 1976.
Masako Owada (Crown Princess of the Imperial House of Japan)
Masako was the Harvard-educated daughter of a diplomat when she met the Crown Prince of Japan at a tea. The duo's courtship was much-publicized in the late '80s. She initially refused to marry the prince because it would mean giving up her career! Finally, she accepted his third proposal in 1992 and the two married in 1993. (Should her husband ascend the throne, she will become empress consort.)
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Wallis Warfield Simpson (Her Grace The Duchess of Windsor)
It's one of the most torrid love stories of the 20th century: Wallis met Prince Edward at a part in 1931 (through his then-mistress!) and reportedly started dating while she was still married to her second husband. When Edward became King of England in 1936, he was determined to marry her—even against his family's wishes—and even went so far as to abdicate the throne and become Duke of Windsor before marrying her in 1937.
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Tatiana Blatnik (HRH Princess of Greece and Denmark)
This former event planner for fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg met Prince Nikolaos in 2003 on a ski vacation. The two were married in 2010.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby (HRH Crown Princess of Norway)
Mette-Marit was a single mother when Crown Prince Haakon of Norway fell for her—at a rock concert, of all places! The two married in 2001 at the Oslo Cathedral.
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Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons (Queen Consort, and later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)
Much like Princess Diana, Elizabeth was born into a wealthy family, and became the first commoner to marry an heir to the British throne in 300 years when she wed Prince Albert, Duke of York in 1923. She is best-known by folks today as the 'Queen Mum,' the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, and died in 2002 at the age of 101.
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Michiko Shoda (Empress of Japan)
Emperor Akihito of Japan met young Michiko at a tennis match in 1957, and the two married in 1959 in spite of objections from many officials (including the emperor's mother).
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Lilian May Davies (Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland)
Lilian was a Welsh-born fashion model, married to someone else, when she first met Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland, in 1943. She divorced her husband, but by then Bertil became regent while his older brother's son came of age. (As regent, it was expressly frowned-upon to have an "unacceptable" marriage.) As a result, Bertil and Lilian lived together discreetly for more than 30 years—until his nephew Carl XVI Gusaf of Sweden, ascended the throne and, having married a commoner himself, approved their marriage. Lilian and Bertil were married in 1976.
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Salma Bennani (Princess of Morocco)
The first wife of a Moroccan rule to had been publicly acknowledged and given a royal title, Salma was the daughter of a school teacher before she married King Mohammed VI in 2001. She is now referred to as the princess consort of Morocco, and called "Lalla," a traditional honorific that's not unlike "Lady."
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Hope Cooke (Queen Consort of the 12th King of Skikkim)
This American socialite went on a summer vacation to India and caught the eye of the Palden Thondup Namgyan, the King of Sikkim, in a bar in Darjeeling. The two were married in 1963, and divorced in 1980. Cooke currently lives in New York City.
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Jetsun Pema (Queen of Butan)
Jetsun was the 21-year-old daughter of an airline pilot when she married Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 31-year-old king of the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, in 2011.
Maxima Zorreguieta (Princess of the Netherlands)
When Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands first told Maxima that he was a prince, she thought he was kidding. Their romance had its rough patches—a Dutch court tried to block their wedding when it was reported that her father had been linked to the military dictatorship in Argentina in the '70s—but they eventually married in 2002.
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Daniel Westling (Duke of Västergötland)
Sure, you always hear about ordinary girls who become princesses, but it happens to guys, too! Daniel was the personal trainer of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden before he became her husband in 2010, trading his gym clothes for tuxedos and a commoner name for a title.
Mary Donaldson (Crown Princess of Denmark)
Like any ordinary gal, Mary met her future husband—Prince Frederik of Denmark—in a bar in Sydney. She was a marketing executive, and he apparently simply introduced himself as "Fred." She had to learn Dutch leading up to the royal wedding in 2004, but has remained very down-to-earth—she's even been spotted taking out the trash!
Mabel Wisse Smit (HRH Princess of Orange-Nassau)
Mabel met Prince Johan Friso through a friend, and the two were engaged in 2003. Scandal erupted, however, when the Netherlands' Prime Minister revealed that Smit had not completely revealed the extent of her involvement with known drug lord Klaus Bruinsma. Prince Johan Friso was determined to wed Smit, and agreed to forego his right to the throne so that he no longer had to ask the Dutch parliament for permission to marry. (He was second in line for the throne!) As such, her title is more formality than reality—but still counts. (Bonus fact: Her dress was made by Dutch designer Victor + Rolf!)
Christopher Thomas (Prince of Uganda)
Christopher Thomas was working as an accountant when he met Princess Ruth Komuntale, who was studying at American University in Washington, D.C. (True story: Christopher proposed at a Ruth's Chris Steak House.) The two married in Uganda in 2012.
Farah Diba Pahlavi (Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of Iran—Now Exiled)
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Persiak was just visiting the École Spéciale d'Architecture when he met with then-student Farah. The two married in 1959 when Farah was just 21, and the success of the marriage was apparently contingent on Farah producing a male heir. (The Shah had previously been married twice and dissolved one marriage because of infertility issues.) The two had four children (including two boys) and became very popular thanks to her humanitarian efforts in the '70s before both she and the Shah fled Iran in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. The Shah later died in 1980, and the exiled Empress currently divides her time between Paris and Washington, D.C., periodically attending royal events such as the 2011 wedding of Albert II, Prince of Monaco.
Alfonso Diez (Duke of Alba)
When Alfonso married the Duchess of Alba—who is a whopping 24 years older than him—many said he was just in it for the money, so he officially gave up his rights her fortune before marrying her. Even so, two of her children didn't attend the wedding.
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