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Princess Anne to marry former royal attendant

By MICK THURSTON

LONDON -- Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, will marry Cmdr. Tim Laurence, a naval officer who formerly served as an attendant to the queen, Buckingham Palace said Saturday.

No date was announced but news reports said the wedding could be held as soon as next week.

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The 42-year-old princess is divorced from Capt. Mark Phillips, with whom she has two children, Peter and Zara Phillips. The announcement came three years after Anne, who holds the title of princess royal, separated from Phillips.

The wedding will be the first time ever that a British monarch's son, daughter, brother or sister has re-married after divorce. The Church of England, which the monarch heads, frowns on divorce.

'Due to the level of speculation about the matter, we decided to confirm that the the princess royal and Cmdr. Laurence are planning to marry,' said a palace spokesman. 'But I cannot say where and when.'

One unconfirmed report, by the Press Association, said the couple were to marry next Saturday at Crathie Church in Scotland, the church where the royal family worships when staying at their Scottish residence, Balmoral.

The report said the weddding would be attended by Anne's parents, the queen and Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, and about 30 guests, including the bride's two children.

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The palace spokesman declined to confirm any arrangements, saying a formal announcement would be made 'in due course.'

Princess Anne and Laurence reportedly have been romantically involved since 1989, when she separated from Phillips after 16 years of marriage. Anne and Phillips were formally divorced earlier this year.

The couple met while Laurence, 37, was an equerry to the queen. Their courtship became public when a national newspaper published extracts from letters apparently stolen from the princess's office.

There has been wide speculation for some time about the pair's imminent betrothal.

Observers said Saturday's announcement offers some relief to the royals in the wake of recent attacks on the Windsor family, which led the queen to describe 1992 as her 'annus horribilis' or horrible year. The royals' troubles in the past year have included a costly fire at Windsor Castle and mounting speculation over the marital difficulties of two of the queen's other children.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife Princess Diana are leading increasingly separate lives. Prince Andrew, the duke of York, is separated from his wife, 'Fergie,' who was photographed kissing and cuddling with her 'financial adviser,' John Bryan.

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Some observers said the timing of the announcement of Anne's engagement was no coincidence.

'My understanding was that the announcement was to be made between Christmas and New Year,' said Harold Brooks-Baker, director and publisher of Burke's Peerage, a respected publication chronicling royal affairs.

'Princess Anne is one of the most respected members of the royal family, and the wedding will naturally attract a great deal of favorable publicity.

'There is no question that it has been speeded up to counteract the tremendously bad press which the royal family has received recently,' he said. 'In that sense it came in the nick of time.'

The announcement was widely welcomed by the country's political leaders. Prime Minister John Major said he was 'delighted' by news of the marriage and offered his 'warmest congratulations' to the couple.

Opposition Labor leader John Smith said, 'I wish the princess royal and Commander Laurence every happiness in their marriage. Their engagement will be greeted with warmth and good wishes from the whole nation.'

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