Autumn Patricia Phillips (née Kelly) (born 3 May 1978 in Montreal, QC). Autumn Phillips is the former wife of Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne (HRH The Princess Royal) and eldest grandchild of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Her daughters, Savannah and Isla Phillips, hold dual British and Canadian citizenship and are the most senior Canadians in the line of succession to the throne.
Early Life and Education
Autumn Patricia Kelly grew up in the Pointe-Claire neighbourhood of Montreal. Her parents Brian, an electricity company executive, and Kathleen, a hairdresser, divorced when she was eight years old. She attended a series of Catholic schools where she excelled at sports, playing ice hockey and ringette. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in East Asian studies from McGill University in 2002. Autumn interviewed for a position at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) before pursuing a career as a management consultant.
Autumn met Peter Phillips at the Montreal Grand Prix in 2003. Peter does not hold a title or undertake official engagements on behalf of the sovereign. Autumn was unaware that Peter was related to the royal family until six weeks after they met, when she saw him in a television documentary about his cousin Prince William. At the time she met Peter, Autumn had already accepted a job with a computer firm in London and she moved to the United Kingdom where she lived with Peter in a London apartment and a cottage on Princess Anne’s Gatcombe estate. They announced their engagement on 28 July 2007.
Religion and the Line of Succession
The engagement of Peter and Autumn prompted discussion and debate in both Canada and the United Kingdom about whether the 1701 Act of Settlement, which forbade people in the line of succession to the throne to marry Roman Catholics, and the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, which required many people in the line of succession to receive the monarch’s permission to marry, were appropriate in the 21st century. Peter and Autumn received the Queen’s permission to marry and Autumn, formerly a Roman Catholic, was received into the Church of England to allow Peter to remain in the line of succession. In 2015, succession reform came into force in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms including Canada, allowing people in the line of succession to marry Roman Catholics and requiring only the first six people in line to the throne to receive the monarch’s permission to marry.
On 17 May 2008, Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly were married at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor with a reception at nearby Frogmore House. The 300 guests included most of the royal family including the groom’s grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, mother, Princess Anne, uncle and aunt, the future King Charles III and Queen Camilla, and cousin, Prince Harry as well as the bride’s Canadian family and friends. At the wedding, Catherine Middleton, the future wife of Prince William met the Queen for the first time.
Autumn received intense scrutiny from the British press, especially during her engagement and early married life. The Daily Mail described her as a “working-class girl from a suburban backwater of Canada.” Peter and Autumn’s decision to sell their wedding photos to Hello! magazine for £500,000 and grant Hello! an exclusive interview was denounced as “grasping” and “vulgar” by the same tabloid newspaper. Following their marriage in 2008, Peter and Autumn lived in Hong Kong for two years where Peter worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland before returning to the United Kingdom.
Autumn and Peter’s first child, Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, was born on 29 December 2010 at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Their second child, Isla Elizabeth, was born on 29 March 2012, the same year as Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Savannah and Isla are dual citizens of the United Kingdom and Canada. They are currently 17th and 18th in line to the throne, the most prominent Canadian citizens in the line of succession.
As great-grandchildren of the Queen who were also Canadian citizens, the births of Savannah and Isla Phillips received press coverage in Canada. Queen Elizabeth II’s biographer Sally Bedell Smith observed, “When the Phillipses’ daughter, Savannah, was born in 2010, the Queen’s first great-grandchild was hailed by Canadians as one of their own.”
Views on Canada and the Monarchy
At the time of Peter and Autumn’s engagement, Autumn’s father, Brian Kelly, stated, “To be honest I knew very little about the Royal Family until Autumn met Peter. It’s not something we follow that closely in Canada.”
In a CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge in London, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday in 2016, Peter and Autumn Phillips discussed the Queen’s close relationship with Canada. Autumn stated, “The Queen knows more about Canada than I ever will…she keeps up with everything Canadian…she’s been to Canada 22 times, she’s seen every province and every territory, she’s been everywhere. I would love to have seen as much of Canada as her and the Duke [of Edinburgh] have.” Autumn also observed, “As Canadians, we have a lot of respect for the Queen and she really has respect back, it’s a mutual admiration.” Mansbridge joked that Autumn was “the Canadian spy inside the royal family,” referring to her interview at CSIS after graduating from McGill.
Separation and Divorce
Peter and Autumn Phillips separated in 2019. In February 2020, they issued a statement, “'After informing HM The Queen and members of both families last year, Peter and Autumn jointly agreed to separate. They had reached the conclusion that this was the best course of action for their two children and ongoing friendship.” Peter and Autumn’s divorce was finalized in 2021. Autumn remained in the United Kingdom rather than returning to Canada.