The complex feud between Prince William and Prince Harry has been explored here and there in tabloid reporting over the last couple years. But historian Robert Lacey devoted an entire book, Battle of Brothers: William and Harry – The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, into reporting out what exactly happened to the two princes and the impact Harry dating and ultimately marrying Meghan Markle had on his relationship with William. Is there any hope for a reconciliation now? Yes, Lacey says, but it’s complicated. "There is texture and history between these brothers — but it’s never going to be the same,” he tells ELLE.com.
ELLE.com spoke to Lacey, who serves as historian for Netflix’s The Crown, about what happened behind the scenes to the brothers, whether the boys' mother Princess Diana would have put an end to the feud, and what Lacey envisions Meghan’s role will look like in the future as she and Harry continue to build their life in the U.S. He also addressed whether he sees her having political ambitions of her own.
What is the backstory of your book Battle of Brothers?
Robert Lacey: Well, the rift between brothers [William and Harry] is a fact people don’t like talking about. This new generation of the Royal Family is very important to the Crown and very important to the nation. As we look ahead, we obviously hope Prince Philip and the Queen are blessed with long lives, but mortality takes its toll. We’re not quite sure what to think about King Charles III and Queen Camilla. I think most people still are [coming around to the thought of Charles and Camilla]. Whichever side you take, you have to acknowledge Camilla was the source of the conflict and the heart of the marital breakdown [of Charles and Diana] from whose consequences these boys have suffered.
We have this expression in Britain that the chickens are coming home to roost – we thought the 1980s and the 1990s were behind us, and suddenly they’re not. There’s these two boys, William and Harry, who have taken different lessons from those years. The lesson that William took from the breakdown and the emotional chaos was at least he had this duty, this responsibility to be King, the future monarch, and he had to live up to that. This became a source of strength for him; for other kids, it could have been a source of conceit or arrogance, but on the whole, it gave him this driving sense of duty. Even when he falls in love, he more or less politely requests his lady love to wait nine years before she marries him; here [in the U.K.] she was called “Waity Katie.” She did her duty, and they are now emerging as a very attractive future King and Queen. They are much more attractive to most Britains than Charles and Camilla.
There, on the one hand, you have duty, and on the other hand you have Harry emerging from the same emotional chaos. He takes a different lesson: His parents were locked into an arranged, loveless marriage, and he’s not going to make that mistake. He’s going to go for love, and that’s what he’s done with Meghan, unapologetically. The first thing he says is he fell in love the moment he saw her.
This is a very appealing but also challenging human dichotomy: Love versus duty. In 1936, it was embodied in the person of one man, Edward VIII, and is now embodied by these two boys. Just as in 1936, it was duty that won, and love had to go abroad. I expect that is the long-term solution here: Duty in the form of William and Kate will take over the situation, and Harry and his love will enjoy the freedom of America and, I hope, obviously there will be some sort of reconciliation. I think there will be [a reconciliation]. There is texture and history between these brothers, but it’s never going to be the same. I would imagine the base for Harry and Meghan is going to remain in the United States for the foreseeable future.
What compelled you to write this book?
I had been starting work on a book about Charles and Andrew and the previous generation, and the stresses and strains of Charles having a younger brother who was his mother’s favorite. At that stage, things were just coming to a head with the Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein scandal, and a friend said that they’re not princes that matter anymore, and the princes that matter are William and Harry. They’re the ones you should be looking at.
To start with, I didn’t think the story of the rift was true, but friends close to the family say William has a temper as well as Harry, and both have been scarred by this experience. Both are volatile and tend to fly off the handle; we saw the truth of that earlier this year in January at the Sandringham Showdown, when the row exploded into the open. The Queen said, "All right, let’s have meeting next Monday at 2 o’clock, where we’ll sit around the table and hash it out with all our advisors, private secretaries, the courtiers. But before that, we’ll have a family lunch where the family can just sit together and talk." One prince said no, I’m not coming to that, I’m not sitting with my brother, and the prince who said that was William.
Most people were shocked. This is not Royal gossip; we saw William turning up late just in time for the 2 o’clock meeting, so there’s no doubt at all that was his position then. Friends suggest he was so furious with Harry that he couldn’t trust himself to sit at same table [as him]. This is the depth to which the anger has gone.
At least Harry, last September, said “we’re on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him, and he will always be there for me”; William has pretended it hasn’t happened, and he’s an old-style Royal in that sense. He’s taken lessons from his grandmother, and this is something of a patent in the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II took her lessons from her grandmother, Queen Mary. In the same way, William looks to his grandmother, Elizabeth II. William has been much more influenced by his grandmother than he ever has been by his father. That’s one of the things we’ve discovered – until recently, the rift in the family has brought father and son together; until then, there were quite severe arguments between William and Charles. William felt there were various ways where Charles wasn’t doing job properly as future king; he would argue with him and criticize him, and we know this because Camilla, when she came into the family, was absolutely shocked by the way William would talk to his father. There are two sides to the question. It’s very complex and all the more emotionally intriguing for that.
What was the most surprising tidbit you gleaned from your research?
After William spoke to Harry about the need possibly to slow down in some way with Meghan, he got a brush off and then turned to his uncle, Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother. This has never been known before and is a revelation of the book. It’s important in a couple of ways. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that William went to his uncle on his mother’s side and didn’t go to his father. It does confirm the modern basis of the rift; the other books have talked about the rift starting with William suggesting to Harry that he slow down [his relationship with Meghan]. There has never been any solid proof of that, but my book brings in proof about Lord Spencer, and it’s been confirmed. It showed we don’t know exactly when it happened, but that was the essence of the argument.
You could certainly say William had a lot of justice on his side. We do not know the details of what he said to Harry, but if he pointed out that this woman that he [Harry] loved was a self-made Hollywood celebrity and a self-made millionairess who created her own celebrity, a self-sufficient woman like this who was ambitious and campaigning her belief in women’s rights and her wish to promote social change. These are radical initiatives, radical impulses; do they fit inside the rather safe and conservative British Royal Family? If those are the sort of objections and queries that William raised, well, events have proved them right, didn’t they? This was a woman who couldn’t fit inside the Royal Family so, as a result, she’s no longer royal.
What do you think Diana would have thought of this feud between the brothers? Do you think it would be happening were she alive, and what do you think she would say about all of this?
She would say “come on boys, it’s time to end this social distancing.” No, I don’t think [the feud] would have happened if Diana had been alive. One of the tragedies of her death was that it deprived them [William and Harry] of their more active parent. There’s a sense in which William become too close to his mother as things started to go wrong; she lent on him and relied on him which, I think, robbed him to some degree of his youth and is one of the sources of [William’s] anger. I think her emphasis on getting the boys to speak their minds to each other and say what’s on their minds would have come into play.
Meghan is curiously like Diana in her subversion of the Royal Family. The other person I compare [Meghan] to is Yoko Ono; a determined, original woman who came into a set of British folk heroes and stole one of Britain’s cherished folk heroes. She [Yoko] made John [Lennon] her own. The same is true for Harry and Meghan. Harry seems very happy to have been stolen away. The price of that is leaving the Royal Family.
If you could sit down and have tea with one member of the Royal Family, who would it be and why?
Meghan – no doubt about it. She is the member of the family who is the most outsider of them all, a self-made woman who is coming into an ancient institution, and I think she’s going to have to change a great deal in reaction to the impact that she has. I am immensely attracted to her ambitions and activism; I don’t agree with all her ideas or her politics, but I admire her energy, and I think a lot more is going to happen before we hear the end of Meghan Markle.
Any predictions as to what? Possibly the first mixed-race female president of the United States, as your book alludes to?
I know that’s a rumor and I allude to it in the book; I think actually her ambitions are more down to earth. Her first priorities are her family and her partner, who has sacrificed, in one way, so much for her. We know she sits down every day and thinks “how can I make the world a better place for Archie?” I think her immediate, hands-on social objectives are what really matters to her. And I think it does her a sort of injustice to suggest she’s got her eye on high political office; she’s got her eye on the human beings around her that she can help and reach out to.
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