Does Kate and Meghan’s ‘rift’ risk splitting apart William and Harry? Fears for brothers bonded by tragedy as they are split by newlyweds’ move to Windsor – in echo of Wallis Simpson and Queen Mother row
- Harry and pregnant Meghan, 37, decided to move 25 miles from Kate and William
- Happened after well-reported accumulation of incidents involving both wives
- Their feud recalls that of the Duchess of Windsor and the Queen Mother
This is no time of year to have a family fall-out. Put yourself in the Queen’s position — her Christmas lunch in the planning stage as usual and the air thick with gossip about the strained relationship between two of her granddaughters-in-law.
So is this really the kind of spat between Kate and Meghan that prompts a shuffling of the table places? Undoubtedly there has been stress between these two very different women. One with a charmingly English reserve in public, the other a glossy American and a performer.
One is restrained by the knowledge that she is destined to be Queen, the other is comfortable in front of a microphone speaking out about women’s rights.
Two very different duchesses: Meghan (right) apparently doesn’t get on with the Duchess of Cambridge (left)
‘They are not natural chums,’ admits a royal aide cautiously. It is an observation with an eerily familiar echo of what was happening in the Royal Family some 80-odd years ago when another American divorcee captured the heart of a glamorous prince. This was Wallis Simpson, a twice-married adventuress, and the prince’s obsession with her led to Edward VIII giving up his throne.
Harry, of course, is not heir to the throne — he is sixth in line — and Meghan is no Mrs Simpson.
But there are uneasy similarities in the frosty relationship between Meghan and the Duchess of Cambridge as there were between Wallis and the then Duchess of York, later the Queen Mother.
This time it is hardly a constitutional issue, the throne is not threatened, but royal disharmony can be dangerously destabilising as we have found in recent times.
This week it was announced that instead of living side by side with William and Kate at Kensington Palace, Harry and the pregnant Duchess of Sussex, 37, have decided to make their home in Windsor, 25 miles away.
In doing so Harry has chosen to abandon Palace life in much the same way Edward (at that time Prince of Wales) established himself in Windsor at Fort Belvedere, a turreted mini-castle with tall windows and battlements.
It has happened after a well-reported accumulation of incidents involving Kate and Meghan.
These do not, of course, mirror the embittered schism between Mrs Simpson and sister-in-law Elizabeth, whose husband reluctantly took the throne as George VI. But could they harm the endearing closeness of the brothers, as happened in the Thirties?
Tensions: Kate and Meghan’s froideur recalls that of the Duchess of Windsor (left) and the Queen Mother (right)
William and Harry have an unusually strong brotherly bond, forged by the tragedy of their mother’s early death.
Certainly no one following the fortunes of these two young couples would have expected to read about tantrums and tears.
Yet, with unfortunate timing, it has emerged that in the spring Kate was in tears after taking three-year-old Princess Charlotte to a fitting of her bridesmaid’s dress for Meghan and Harry’s wedding. The clear implication is of uncomfortable tensions between the two young royal wives.
On top of this there was that story of Palace conflict in the lead-up to the Windsor Castle wedding, over which of the Royal Family’s tiara’s Meghan would wear.
With a choice from half-a-dozen, the bride-to-be, whose previous wedding to a Hollywood producer was on a beach in Jamaica, set her heart on one decorated with emeralds.
But having made her choice it transpired that this was a tiara with a foggy provenance, possibly from Russia, which it was thought unwise to wear.
Family divid: From left, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey on November 11
There is said to have been a blazing row with one of the Queen’s closest personal aides in which an indignant Harry was forcefully involved. He allegedly told staff in a raised voice: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’
When this altercation reached the Queen, she ‘put Harry firmly in his place’, according to Robert Jobson, whose recent biography of Prince Charles was serialised in the Daily Mail. The Queen made the final decision, choosing the diamond lozenge bandeau tiara, made for Queen Mary in 1932 and last seen in public on the head of Princess Anne in 1965.
So stressed out were the couple that they resorted to acupuncture. But the Queen’s message was clear: however trying the circumstances, royals must always treat staff with courtesy.
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Undoubtedly, within Palace walls the weeks before the wedding were seen as ‘fraught’. As one close figure puts it: ‘It was a very stressful time for everybody involved.’
It seems Kate was not immune. In many ways she is reminiscent of the young Queen Mother, dutiful, committed and cautious. She’s also, it must be said, tough. Friends were surprised to learn of her tears. As one puts it: ‘She’s a steel marshmallow and her emotions are usually under control.’
How intriguing, for this was the very nickname bestowed by photographer Cecil Beaton on the Queen Mother, whose toughness was vital to reinforcing her husband, George VI.
So tongues are wagging. But then don’t they always wag, these days, when there is an easy target?
Prince Harry is leaving Kensington Palace – home of his brother Prince William – to start his married life at Frogmore House (pictured)
But the parallels, while unhelpful, are there; dashing young prince falls in love with American divorcee who then falls out with his brother’s wife.
Kate and Meghan are not there yet, but there has been a history of fallings out between royal sisters-in-law.
Elizabeth famously blamed Wallis for hastening the early death of her husband after the Abdication obliged him to come to the throne. The King died in 1952, aged 56. Elizabeth was a widow for 50 years.
The differences were clear: Wallis the ambitious American divorcee with a well-connected social circle falling out with the homely Scottish aristocrat’s daughter who preferred quiet nights in while remaining acidly protective of her husband.
Fast forward eight decades and Meghan is unable to escape comparison with the royal wife next door, the poised, uncomplicated Kate. Even for a woman used to being in the public eye as a successful TV actress, it hasn’t been easy. Meghan is clearly finding being the Duchess of Sussex a tough role.
Adjusting to her new life has been harder by her fractured relationship with her unconventional father Thomas Markle and embittered relatives, a sad state of affairs for the Duchess, who is expecting her first child in the spring.
Meanwhile, Meghan suddenly lost her personal assistant, French-born Melissa Touabti, 39, who quit.
High-powered Melissa, who we can reveal previously worked as a nanny for Madonna and Guy Ritchie and for billionaire property developer Ian Livingstone and his wife Natalie, has also worked for pop star Robbie Williams.
All in all, it would be surprising if the froideur between their wives wasn’t affecting the close bond between William and Harry.
Since their parents’ marriage collapsed so dramatically, we have got used to viewing the two princes as an unbreakable pair, with William always looking out for his younger brother when they were small and later resolving life’s difficulties together.
That is why Harry’s decision to break away from the Palace and start his long-desired family life beyond William’s shadow is so significant. As a senior Palace aide puts it: ‘They are still brothers, not business partners.’
Brothers, it must be said, with very different destinies, so why should we be so surprised that they have very different wives?
A long time ago, when travelling in the back of their mother’s car with Princess Diana at the wheel, the two were arguing and she heard Harry say: ‘It’s all right for you, William, you’re going to be king. But I can do anything I want.’ Whether this indicated his envy or relish, she was never quite sure.
But for Harry, at 34, this now means escaping from the goldfish bowl that is Kensington Palace (something his mother always dreamed of doing) and setting up home in Frogmore Cottage, once used as accommodation for royal servants within the grounds of Windsor Castle.
How fortunate it seems now that the vast, 21-room Apartment 1, next door to William and Kate — and currently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester — needed so much remedial and structural work before Harry and his young family would have moved in. The renovation, we understand, was likely to have gone on for at least two years.
Meghan and Kate are simply very different people, although sources insist there has been no dramatic fight. Pictured from left, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess and Duke of Sussex
This made Harry think hard about the future and, ultimately, to realise that for many reasons, breaking away from his brother’s influence was for the best.
Frogmore Cottage was mentioned to him only a couple of months ago. Until then he didn’t know it even existed. Windsor and Frogmore are symbols of two very different worlds, part of the royal sphere, but separate from it.
Windsor, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will now make their homes, is after all the name Harry’s great, great-uncle chose after giving up his throne and becoming Duke of Windsor.
Geographically, each prince can now develop the scope and character of their separate courts.
William is, of course, already in training to become Prince of Wales — this week he had a place at the table at a meeting of the board of the Duchy of Cornwall, which he will one day run and which provides his father, Prince Charles, with around £25 million a year.
Harry has inherited his mother’s informal style helping the disadvantaged, and Meghan wants to be involved with him.
One area where the two women will simply have to get along is in the work all four do closely together on their charitable foundation, which supports mental health, service veterans, conservation and the vulnerable young.
Meanwhile, as Meghan prepares for birth of their baby, she and Harry are living a surprisingly quiet life, suppers at home in cosy Nottingham Cottage while slipping out to the West End theatre as often as possible, taking their seats when the lights go down.
The visits of Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, will increase when her grandchild is born, but she has no plans to move here permanently from her home in LA.
‘Doria would miss her own home too much and, anyway, she wouldn’t want to get under their feet,’ says one close figure.
For the moment at least, Harry and Meghan are also keeping their rented farmhouse on the Great Tew estate in Oxfordshire for weekends away.
What happens next? That, frankly, is anybody’s guess.
But Meghan is hardly the first young woman to find the fairy-tale dream of being transformed into a princess anything but painless.
She is merely the latest on the list. Even Princess Diana, with her aristocratic pedigree and long family links to the royals, found the transition hard. As a newlywed, she was capricious and wilful, but many put this down to her being affected by the unique predicament of living an unnatural life of mass adulation in public and bleak loneliness in private.
On her first major tour to Australia in 1983, when ‘Di-mania’ was born, she told an Aussie housewife in the crowd: ‘I would trade places with you any time.’ She really did mean it.
Putting aside the onrushing difficulties of her marriage to Charles, she was hugely unsettled by the very thing which should have propped her up — friendships. She was troubled not knowing which were genuine and which came about because of who she was.
Sarah Ferguson found the privileges of royalty irresistible after marrying Prince Andrew in 1986.
Before long, the Duchess of York was flying home from a trip to America with 53 pieces of excess baggage containing some £33,000-worth of clothes, and presents for her new baby, Beatrice.
For Sarah it wasn’t so much a case of anxiety and uncertainty in a new world, but of using her elevated royal status to enjoy herself. Simple pleasures for her, perhaps, but for the Royal Family, being seen to over-indulge is not done.
For most of their years in the family Sarah and Diana shared a bond of jollity: they laughed at the same things and could talk about their husbands to each other.
Both, of course, were stripped of their royal titles upon divorce, yet even that could not maintain their friendship and for the last year of her life Diana was not on speaking terms with Fergie.
But, one way and another, the royal newcomers came successfully through their early trials.
Fergie, 59, and living under her ex-husband Andrew’s roof these past years, is back in favour, a regular guest of the Queen and widely acknowledged as an admirable mother to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Diana emerged, after her divorce, as one of the most admired women on earth. Wallis got her prince — only to spend the rest of her long life exiled from the Royal Family.
(How piquant that the Rolls-Royce in which she was driven to her husband the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972 was the same car which took Meghan Markle to her Windsor wedding with Harry.)
One startling comparison is that Meghan is a star who is loved by the public — witness her brilliant success on tour in Australia last month — whereas Wallis was not accepted and never loved. That is Meghan’s golden card.
She and Kate are young enough to overcome their differences, and wise enough to make sure that their husbands’ brotherly bonds remain strong.
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