Prince Harry’s new memoir Spare has caused a sensation before it has even been published, not least over a passage describing an altercation with his brother William, illustrating just how far the pair have drifted apart in recent years.
The row is said to have erupted at Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace in London in 2019, with the Duke of Sussex alleging his sibling had arrived “piping hot” to confront him about his marriage to the American actress Meghan Markle and their running battles with the British press.
After a bitter exchange of views in which William allegedly branded Ms Markle “difficult”, “rude” and “abrasive” and Harry accused his brother of parroting the media narrative surrounding his relationship, the former allegedly attacked him, according to the younger prince’s account.
“It all happened so fast. So very fast,” Prince Harry writes in Spare. “He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace, and he knocked me to the floor.
“I landed on the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces cutting into me. I lay there for a moment, dazed, then got to my feet and told him to get out.”
The story is shocking because the brothers were long understood to have been close, having grown up together in the privileged but rarefied atmosphere of the British royal family with all of the pomp, ceremony and press intrusion that entails.
They were united by sorrow at their parents’ acrimonious and very public divorce and again by the subsequent tragic death of their beloved mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in Paris in August 1997.
Both went on to attend university, serve in the armed forces, carry out royal duties, marry and father children but their shared experiences do not appear to have been sufficient to keep them together. But their bond has gradually worn away over time to the point where Harry now refers to William as his “arch nemesis”.
Here is a timeline of their falling out, largely as told by Harry since his break with the family, with William, the next in line to the British throne, largely preferring to remain silent.
Historian Robert Lacey published Battle of Brothers in 2020, in which he charts the gradual disintegration of the brothers’ relationship.
It includes the claim William encouraged Harry to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party hosted by Olympic showjumper Richard Meade in 2005.
Harry, then 20, was roundly condemned after a picture of the costume was splashed on the frontpage of The Sun, but Harry appears to spread the blame in his book.
He returns to the issue in Spare to claim William and Kate “howled” at his outrageousness.
“Harry chose his costume in conjunction with his elder brother – the future King William V, then 22, who had laughed all the way back to Highgrove with the younger sibling he was supposed to be mentoring – and then onwards to the party together,” the historian writes in Battle of Brothers.
“The young prince began re-evaluating his elder brother’s involvement and the unfairness of William’s subsequent emergence smelling of roses.”
He adds that the incident “made Harry feel resentful and even alienated” and alleges that William was the one who would “coax” Harry into “errant and self-destructive ways”.
“For the first time, their relationship really suffered and they barely spoke,” one former aide is quoted as saying in the book. “Harry resented the fact that William got away so lightly.”
Harry served as his brother’s best man that day but writes of it now: “The brother I’d escorted into Westminster Abbey that morning was gone – forever. Who could deny it?
“I recall Willy walking her back up the aisle, and as they disappeared through the door, into the carriage that would convey them to Buckingham Palace, into the eternal partnership they’d pledged, I recall thinking: Goodbye.”
Rumours of a rift between the brothers first began to circulate in earnest in November 2018, allegedly over William’s failure to welcome his sister-in-law into the fold.
It is also claimed William was concerned at the speed with which his brother’s relationship had progressed, Harry and Meghan having married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, the previous May.
Excitable royal correspondents taking part in the sensationalist TV documentary Kate v Meghan: Princesses at War? speculated that animosity between the spouses was at least partially to blame.
While all parties continued to perform their royal duties in public and posed professionally for an official group portrait to celebrate the christening of Harry and Meghan’s son Archie in July 2019, Harry first publicly addressed the gossip in an interview with ITV journalist Tom Bradby in October, in which he indicated that difficulties had arisen in the aftermath of his wedding.
Harry spoke candidly, telling Mr Bradby during Harry & Meghan: An African Journey that he and his brother were on “different paths”.
'As brothers you have good days, you have bad days'
Prince Harry says the 'majority of stuff' written about his relationship with his brother William is 'created out of nothing' and adds: 'I love him dearly' #HarryAndMeghan https://t.co/GWs5KfuovM pic.twitter.com/bW7GVALZR6
— ITV News (@itvnews) October 20, 2019
“Part of this role and part of this job, and this family, being under the pressure that it’s under, inevitably, you know, stuff happens,” he said.
“But look, we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers. And we’re certainly on different paths at the moment, but I’ll always be there for him, as I know he’ll always be there for me.
“We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy, but you know, I love him dearly. The majority of this stuff [in the press] is created out of nothing, but you know, as brothers, you know, you have good days, you have bad days.”
Significantly, this was also the year in which the scrap described in Spare is said to have taken place.
On 8 January 2020, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their decision to “step back as ‘senior’ members” in an Instagram post.
They explained that they intended to become financially independent and divide their time between Britain and America, a decision that would become known as “Megxit” and which was likened in some quarters to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson.
A summit at Sandringham followed five days later, attended by the senior royals to thrash out the details of the arrangement, which Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother, duly announced in a statement on 18 January.
The pair duly relocated to Montecito, California, in July before signing a lucrative deal with Netflix two months later.
Harry and Meghan drove a further wedge between the family when they took part in an extensive CBS interview with veteran American broadcaster Oprah Winfrey in March 2021.
In it they criticised the royal family as an institution and alleged Ms Markle had been subjected to racist questioning about the skin colour of her unborn child and had concerns about her mental health ignored, even after she reported suffering suicidal thoughts.
Harry discussed the extent of the breakdown in his relations with both his father and his brother, who he said both remained “trapped” by their duties.
He claimed that at one point Charles had stopped taking his calls and that there was still “a lot to work through” in their relationship.
“I will always love him. But there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened and I will continue to make it one of my priorities to try and heal that relationship,” Harry said.
Of William, he said the siblings had “been through hell together, we have a shared experience, but we were on different paths.”
Prince William duly came forward to reject the accusation that his family was inherently racist during a visit to a school in east London, saying he had not yet spoken to his brother about his comments but planned to.
Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying the royal family took the allegations of racism “very seriously”, despite “some recollections” among its members varying.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” it read.
“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
They were reunited that July for the unveiling of a bronze statue of their late mother in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, honouring her on what would have been her 60th birthday.
The brothers were back together again for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June and again, just two months later, for her funeral.
William and Harry appeared with their wives at the gates of Windsor Castle to meet well-wishers and view the flowers and messages left for them by members of the public.
In December, the six-part Netflix series Harry & Meghan aired, in which the couple discussed their relationship and their unhappiness within the royal family.
Harry says in one episode that it had been “terrifying” to have his brother “scream and shout” at him during the aforementioned Sandringham summit about their future.
In a preview clip for his latest interview with Mr Bradby for ITV News at Ten ahead of the publication of his explosive new book, Harry states his ambition to heal relations with his family.
“They feel as though it’s better, somehow, to keep us as the villains… They’ve shown absolutely no willingness to reconcile… [But] I would like to get my father back, I would like to have my brother back,” he says.
How easy that will be given the flood of personal revelations he has made about King Charles, the Queen Consort and the Prince and Princess of Wales in recent years remains to be seen.