Prince Harry and Prince William were once the closest of friends, there for each other through thick and thin, charmingly choosing to rent a cottage together while training to become helicopter pilots in 2009. “I do a fair bit of tidying up after him. He snores a lot, too. He keeps me up all night long,” William affectionately joshed about his younger sibling in a TV interview at the time. Just over a decade later, jokes are thin on the ground.
With William in London, England, and Harry in Montecito, Calif., there are 5,500 miles between them. They’re also in incredibly different head spaces. “The rift gets more serious with every passing day,” British historian Robert Lacey told The Post of the feud that caught fire after Harry and wife Meghan Markle quit the House of Windsor in March. “Battle of Brothers: William and Harry: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult” (Harper) chronicles the ups and downs of the siblings’ relationship, which the author says is currently at an all-time low.
“The chickens have come home to roost,” said the author, who is also the historical consultant to “The Crown” on Netflix. “We thought the disorder, chaos and tragedy of the ’80s and ’90s involving their parents were over. Now [it’s all] come back to life in the shape of these two boys. They are the legacy of all that heartache.” He is referring to the 1981 “fairy-tale” wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, followed by Charles’ infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles, their bitter divorce in 1996 and Diana’s tragic death in a car crash one year later. Lacey explained how the sons have drawn opposing conclusions from what went wrong.
“They both talk about the importance of mental health and acknowledge they are psychologically fragile. But they coped with it in different ways,” he said. William, now 38, received advice about commitment to his country from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II — drawing strength from the idea he would one day be king. As a result, Lacey said, “When he meets Kate Middleton at university, he actually makes the poor young woman wait nine years to effectively audition her for the job as wife to the head of state. He took the lesson of duty.” By contrast, Harry, 36, took the “opposite” lesson: that he was the victim of “the arranged marriage” between virginal Diana and the worldlier Charles that “swiftly became loveless.”
“His attitude was: ‘Well, I’m not going to make the same mistake as my parents,’ ” said Lacey. “ ‘I’m marrying for love.’ And he’s been so happy and proud to proclaim he loved Meghan virtually from the moment he met her in 2016. That impulse has guided him.” Lacey thinks it’s a “tragedy” that Markle is no longer part of the clan. “We welcomed a mixed-race member into the family but, 30 months later, she’s not royal anymore. I think they missed an incredible opportunity there.” Lacey blames the stuffy occupants of Buckingham Palace for balking at Meghan and Harry’s popular status as “rock-star royals” who overshadowed William and Kate.
“Everyone thought Harry was going to marry a nice girl called Henrietta or Annabel and go live in the countryside,” added Lacey. “Instead, he finds Meghan, full of American piss and vinegar, energy and independence of thought. If you bring into the old-fashioned, creaking structure of the House of Windsor someone who is a crusader, dedicated to women’s rights and social change, she isn’t going to give up those qualities. “When she came over to Britain, she thought it was a new platform. Whereas the royal family didn’t see themselves as offering her a platform at all.” Harry, meanwhile, was appalled that William, together with Charles and, by extension, the queen, appeared to be unwilling to open their minds to even the possibility of Meghan becoming more of an activist.
The final straw, according to Lacey in “Battle of Brothers,” came when the queen delivered her 2019 Christmas broadcast with no portrait of Meghan, Harry or their son, Archie, in view. “Who does or does not feature on the royal Christmas desk has always been like the changing panorama of faces on the historic balcony of Moscow’s Kremlin,” Lacey writes. “It showed who was in favor and who was not — and, at Windsor in December 2019, this even extended to babies.”
In March 2021, the family will “review” Megxit — with the queen likely hoping to bring Harry and Meghan home. But Lacey predicts the summit will result in an even wider separation. “It’s looking less and less likely for a reconciliation,” he said. “I don’t see a way back in for Harry, not into the working royal family.”