Royal historian and expert Robert Lacey is emphatic. “Thursday is make or break. It is not the last chance, but it is the best chance.”
Lacey was talking to The Daily Beast about the chances of fraternal reconciliation between Prince Harry and Prince William at an unveiling later this week of a statue of Princess Diana at Kensington Palace, the most hotly anticipated royal photocall of the year.
Lacey, having spent the past few years crafting a newly-updated book about William and Harry entitled Battle of Brothers, is the undisputed expert on the extraordinary royal feud that has transfixed global attention since it exploded into public view less than two years ago.
Like many observers of this bizarre narrative, Lacey, who also moonlights as historical consultant for the Netflix show The Crown, sees a long list of reasons why the brothers should reconcile but very little sign that they actually will.
Lacey told The Daily Beast, “It’s a very difficult situation. It’s easy for outsiders to say ‘get over it,’ but it’s a lot to get over: accusations of racism, accusations of bullying behavior, these are very serious things, and so far, one sees no sign of backing down on either side.”
It was in October 2019 that an edge-of-tears-Meghan Markle, in an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby, revealed, “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
That comment lit the fuse that led to the explosion of her and Harry leaving the royal family. The couple subsequently accused the royals of racism and ignoring Meghan’s suicidal ideations in an interview with Oprah, while the royals (pre-emptively) struck back, accusing Meghan of bullying royal staff just days before Harry and Meghan’s bombshell aired.
Harry and Meghan’s friends, William’s friends and courtiers at the palace, says Lacey, are all heartily sick of the feud. “Everyone else is keen to move on, but in respect of this dispute, the brothers themselves seem stuck in the past, fighting out some personal battle,” he said.
Lacey added, “If you look at the actual grounds of the dispute between them, it arguably starts with William’s suggestion that Harry should move more slowly, and William questioning Harry whether he was sure “this girl” would fit into their system.”
[Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand said in their book Finding Freedom that Harry detected snobbism in the words “this girl” when William advised him, “Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.”]
Lacey told The Daily Beast, “Well, the brothers got over that. But, as I reveal in the update of the book, the split of the households came about with the revelations to William of the allegations of bullying against Meghan.”
Lacey argues convincingly that, despite the seriousness of the charges on both sides, the Windsors would not now be in a full-blown internecine war were it not for “personal factors” and the inevitable complications of inherited seniority.
“In the book, I did go back and examine the roots of the conflict. You can trace it back to when Harry, aged 4, says to his brother, ‘I don’t have to behave because I am not going to be king.’”
[Ken Wharfe, Diana’s former bodyguard, has said that while squabbling in the back of a car with his brother, Harry said, “William, one day you’ll be king, I won’t, it doesn’t matter therefore I can do what I like.”]
“For behavior at the age of four to be determined by rivalry over their royal roles speaks very eloquently of just how deep-seated their rivalry is.
“There was another joint interview (in 2009), where Harry lorded it over William, jokingly boasting that for once he was in the number one spot. Although William tried to make a joke of it, it was clearly discomforting to him.”
Lacey said that the argument between the brothers has had the unfortunate effect of obscuring the significance of what the brothers have achieved by getting the statue of their mother made and erected.
“The queen wouldn’t have put it up there. Charles certainly would not have. It is very much the work of the brothers themselves. This is a new site of royal pilgrimage, one that people will visit for centuries, and it is the two brothers’ achievement and joint homage to their mother—made not quite in defiance of Charles and the queen, but certainly without any enthusiasm on the part of the royal establishment.
“The fact it is going to be up there represents a great joint project by the brothers, so one hopes it will stimulate some sort of reconciliation.”
There was one positive sign on Monday of the ability of Diana’s memory to perhaps thaw the ice between the brothers when, in a video address for the Diana Awards, Harry said, “Later this week, my brother and I are recognizing what would have been our mum’s 60th birthday, and she would be so proud of you all for living authentic life with purpose and with compassion for others.”
Lacey says that the “long-term objective” is now shifting towards the Platinum Jubilee celebrations scheduled for next year, the 70th anniversary of the queen’s reign.
There has been as yet no confirmation that Harry, Meghan, Archie, and Lilibet will be invited onto the Buckingham Palace balcony, but Lacey argues that “it is absolutely crucial for the monarchy for the Sussexes all to be there. If after 70 years, the mixed-race members of the family are not on that balcony, it will be a sorry comment on what has become of the monarchy.”
Lacey is also hopeful that long-term strategic thinking on both sides will nudge the Sussexes and the Cambridges to some kind of reconciliation.
“William cannot preside over a monarchy that excludes the only mixed-race members of the family on grounds of sibling dispute,” Lacey said. “And as far as Meghan and Harry are concerned, the bottom line is that they can have a constructive disagreement with the royal family but if it becomes functional, and if they turn into a modern-day Duke and Duchess of Windsor, then they might cease to be as attractive to their American sponsors.
“Yes, Meghan was a very successful actress in her own right, but I think even she would acknowledge that she wouldn’t have become an international superstar had she not married into the royal family. The Sussex brand is, fundamentally, royal.”
And yet, one can’t help feeling that without one side eating a little humble pie, the argument will continue to run on a circular track. And none of the major players seem to have much humility hardwired into their DNA. So where does this leave us?
“It’s not all going to magically come right on Thursday,” Lacey said. “But the public will expect to see more than what happened at (Prince Philip’s) funeral. Somehow they have got to deliver some sort of forwards movement, and take some steps towards putting this thing behind them. If they can’t do that, and people go away feeling things are even worse between the brothers, or they are just putting on an act, it will be hugely damaging to both of them—and go against everything their mother stood for.”