LONDON — Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, the royal couple rarely seen together, admitted Thursday the open secret of their life apart with a palace statement that they are separating, although they have no plans to divorce.
The announcement ended rumors of strife that have dogged Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter and her commoner husband for more than half their 15-year marriage.
It was the second time this century that a marriage in the immediate Royal Family has broken down. The queen's sister, Princess Margaret, separated from Lord Snowdon in 1976 and they divorced two years later.
"Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, and Capt. Mark Phillips have decided to separate on terms agreed between them," said the short palace statement. "There are no plans for divorce proceedings."
If they want to file for divorce, British law requires them to live apart for two years.
Anne will live at the family estate, Gatcombe Park, in western England with their two children--Peter, 11, and Zara, 8, while Phillips will move to a home nearby, the palace said. Mark's father, Maj. Peter Phillips, said Wednesday night that his son will move to Aston Farm on the estate.
The decision to split up was "taken in principle earlier this year," added a palace spokeswoman. The queen, who was at her Balmoral Castle in Scotland, was said by palace sources to be saddened but understanding.
The couple, both avid equestrians, met in 1968 at a British Olympic riding team dinner. Their glittering 1973 wedding in Westminster Abbey was broadcast to 500 million TV viewers.
Anne, 39, and Phillips, 40, have been spending up to half the year apart, and tabloid newspapers have speculated about extramarital attachments for both. On April 6, The Sun, Britain's biggest-circulation tabloid, reported it had been handed four stolen letters written to Anne by a man who turned out to be a palace aide and navy officer, Timothy Laurence, 35.
Anne was attending an International Olympic Committee meeting in Puerto Rico when the separation was announced and refused to answer reporters' questions. Phillips, who travels widely to teach riding and run various equestrian businesses, was at Gatcombe Park, 80 miles west of London, and also was silent.