From young boys bonded by their unique positions and the tragic death of their mother to grown men, estranged after obvious tension, Prince William and Prince Harry’s relationship has gotten more and more strained in recent years.
Even before Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, made the decision to step away from royal life and relocate to America in 2020, the brothers showed signs of a serious rift.
Today, the sons of King Charles III and the late Princess Diana are more divided than ever. But it wasn’t always like that. In the wake of the new Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan and ahead of Harry’s upcoming memoir, Spare, there’s plenty of backstory to the tension between the brothers.
Here ET delves into what went wrong in the brothers’ relationship and where they stand today:
Long before Meghan came on the scene, the brothers had back-and-forth tension, according to the book Battle of Brothers: William and Harry – The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.
“I would say that there were stresses and strains there before and then with the advent of Meghan, that was what provoked the really big break,” author and royal historian Robert Lacey previously told ET. “William, from all the turmoil of their childhood, took strength from the idea of his duty and what lay ahead for him as king… Harry caught onto the importance of love. So, when he found Meghan, he went for that, and when William said to him, ‘Look, perhaps you should slow down a bit,’ Harry exploded. William then went to his uncle, Charles — who is Diana’s brother who had been a sort of godfather to the boys — and asked him to intervene and suggest to Harry that he slow down. And Harry rejected William’s model. He knew what he wanted, he loved this woman, and he was going to marry her so that was certainly the beginning of the rift.”
Meghan and William’s wife, Kate Middleton, met for the first time early in 2017. In the book Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, a friend described Kateas “extremely guarded,” during the interaction. This sentiment was reiterated by Meghan in the couple’s Netflix docuseries.
“Even when Will and Kate came over and I had met her for the first time… They came for dinner,” Meghan said. “I remember I was in ripped jeans and I was barefoot. I was a hugger, always been a hugger. I didn’t realize that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits.”
Meghan added that what she began to realize was that William and Kate and other members of the British royal family were formal both in public and behind the scenes.
“I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside,” she said. “That there is a forward-facing way of being. And then you close the door, ‘Oh, great. OK, we can relax now.’ But that formality carries over on both sides and that was surprising to me.”
According to the book Finding Freedom, William expressed some concerns about the speed of Harry’s relationship with Meghan.
After some of Harry’s close friends spoke out warning him of the whirlwind romance, William also confronted his brother. “Don’t feel like you need to rush this,” William told Harry, according to sources in the book. “Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.”
“Harry was pissed off,” another source said. “Pissed off that his brother would ask such a thing. Some felt it was an overreaction. But then this totally sums them up as people — William the calm and rational one, and Harry who can’t help but take things far too personally.”
Despite the obsession over the “Fab Four” — Harry, Meghan, William, and Kate — there seemed to be trouble in paradise. Months after Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding, a source told ET that there was tension in the family after concerns had been expressed about the Suits star.
A royal source told ET that “tension does still exist” between the two after William originally voiced his “concerns” about Meghan when she first started dating his brother.
According to our source, the conversation didn’t go over well with Harry, and they still have “not mended completely.”
“Other members of the royal family also expressed their unease about their relationship,” added the source, “but Harry was steadfast and absolutely besotted with Meghan.”
After years of Harry and William working together under the Kensington Palace banner, the royal households officially split in early 2019.
“The Queen has agreed to the creation of a new Household for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, following their marriage in May last year,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement at the time. “The Household, which will be created with the support of The Queen and The Prince of Wales, will be established in the spring. The Duke of Sussex currently has his own private office, which has been supporting The Duchess since Their Royal Highness’s engagement in November 2017. This long-planned move will ensure that permanent support arrangement for the Duke of Duchess’s work are in place as they start their family and move to their official residence at Frogmore Cottage.”
According to Harry in his Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, this separation led to William’s office planting stories against him and Meghan in the press.
“William and I saw what happened in our Dad’s office and we made an agreement that we would never let that happen in our office,” Harry recalled in the docuseries, noting how the different communications teams for the different members of the royal family were often at odds. “To see my brother’s office copying the same thing that we promised the two of us would never ever do, that was heartbreaking.”
Harry and Meghan moved out of their Kensington Palace residence ahead of Archie’s birth and relocated to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, England.
The Sunday Times released a report that the Palace was considering a move to Africa for Harry and Meghan. In the couple’s Netflix docuseries, Harry accused the story of being leaked, saying that once plans are leaked to the press, they rarely come to fruition.
Just days before the birth of Harry and Meghan’s son, Archie, Harry and William were visibly distant at Easter services at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
A source told ET there was an obvious distance between the two at the service. Harry arrived at the church separate from Will and Kate and stood at a distance from his brother when the Queen arrived. In the past, Harry would walk in with Will and Kate, with whom he is so close, the source noted.
At the time, the source said the brothers were at “different stages in their life” and were “no longer the boys” they once were.
Things were looking up following the arrival of baby Archie. William was reportedly excited to have his brother join the dad club at the time.
“It’s absolutely the case that the brothers did fall out,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET at the time. “I was told by a very senior royal source that actually they weren’t talking to each other at one point. I certainly think now that Archie is here, it has probably really helped to improve the relationship. William is over-the-moon that his brother is a dad.”
After separating offices, Harry and Meghan also exited The Royal Foundation charity to start their own organization.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will establish their own new charitable foundation with transitional operating support from The Royal Foundation,” a statement read at the time.
In their tell-all documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, Harry opened up about the rumors of a rift between him and William.
“We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy. But I love him dearly and the majority of stuff is created out of nothing,” Harry shared. “As brothers, you have good days, you have bad days.”
After lots of behind-the-scenes back and forth, the Sussexes released a “personal message” declaring that they planned to split their time between the United Kingdom and North America as they intended to continue to support the queen in their charity work. The couple’s decision to release the message came without the support of the other royals and led to a very dramatic back and forth within the family.
“William is understandably frustrated by his brother’s decision,” a royal source said at the time, adding that some other members of the royal family called the move “selfish.”
ET also spoke with royal expert Katie Nicholl shortly after the announcement was made and she said, “I’m told privately that William is absolutely devastated and quite shocked by this decision for Harry to step down from the royal family.”
A summit between the senior royals was called in early 2020 as Harry and Meghan’s future remained up in the air.
“It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me and my father [King Charles III] say things that just simply weren’t true, and my grandmother quietly sit there and take it all in,” Harry recalled in Harry & Meghan.
“This wedge created between me and my brother so that he’s now on the Institution’s side, and part of that I get,” Harry said of William, who is next in line to the British royal throne. “I understand, right? That’s his inheritance. So to some extent it’s already ingrained in him that part of his responsibility is the survivability of the continuation of this institution.”
A joint statement allegedly written from both William and Harry was released by the Palace later that month, slamming a “false story” written by a U.K. newspaper speculating on the tension in their relationship.
“For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful,” the statement read at the time.
In his Netflix docuseries, Harry claims that the statement was released without his consent and that he was shocked to see his name put on it. He and Meghan were especially hurt that after years of seeing false headlines about themselves with the Palace refusing to comment.
“I couldn’t believe it. No one had asked me. No one had asked me permission to put my name to a statement like that,” Harry said.
Harry recounted calling Meghan to tell her what had happened, saying she “burst into floods of tears” because within four hours “they were happy to lie to protect my brother and yet for three years they were never willing to tell the truth to protect us.”
Things were looking up after the tense summit. A source told ET that the brothers were “talking more and they’re on better footing” after a difficult period.
“The brothers don’t hate each other as has been reported,” a royal source told ET at the time, adding that “they do talk.”
William and Kate took a curiously-timed trip to Ireland as Harry and Meghan returned to the U.K. for their final engagements. While the Sussexes were on their “farewell tour” of England, William and Kate made a three-day trip to Ireland, only meeting up with their estranged family members at the Commonwealth Day service. Harry later revealed that the service was the first time he’d come face-to-face with his family since their tense summit and that the perceived distance was very real.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Harry and William reconnected.
“There have been clearly some quite major rifts in that relationship, but things have got better and I know that William and Harry are in touch on the phone,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET at the time. “They have done video calls together, they have done a lot of family birthdays and I think with Prince Charles not being well, that really forced the brothers to pick up the phone and get back in touch.”
The book Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family was released, leading to many headlines about Harry and Meghan’s struggles within the royal family. Though Harry and Meghan both claimed to not being involved in the book at all, it still reopened wounds.
“I think it’s safe to say that this has done the relationship no help at all,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET of the book’s impact on Harry and William’s relationship. “I do know that the royal family’s concern about this book is that it was going to open up old wounds and I think it very much has done that.”
The holidays brought the brothers back together.
“There were phone and video calls over the Christmas and New Year holiday and the Sussexes sent presents to the Cambridges and vice versa,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET. “It was an opportunity in an otherwise very busy and chaotic year for both of the families to come together and connect, albeit virtually.”
“Things are a lot better between William and Harry. If you go back a year at that stage, these brothers were barely on talking terms,” she recalled. “When William went to the Sandringham Summit, he was so angry with his brother. He couldn’t even face going to that lunch with the Queen. He only went for the meetings, such was his frustration and feeling of disappointment about what his brother had done and how Harry was handling the situation.”
Things were looking up in the New Year. Nicholl told ET that the brothers were speaking “relatively regularly” after reconnecting over the holidays.
“There’s a great sense of relief, certainly within the royal family, that the relations between the brothers are much better,” she added.
Despite this apparent progress, the fractures in the relationship continued when Harry and Meghan officially stepped down as senior royals following the year-long trial period.
A source close to Harry told ET at the time that he was disappointed he couldn’t retain his honorary military appointments. As for Harry’s relationship with his older brother, the source said that “it’s not where it once was.”
“However, they are brothers and will support each other,” the source said.
Harry and Meghan’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey sent the Palace into chaos. From claims that a senior member of the royal family questioned the color of their future son’s skin to Meghan’s claims that Kate made her cry during wedding prep, the Sussexes’ headline-making interview only served to further the divides between the brothers.
Royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET that William was “devastated” by the interview and shortly after it aired, William was seen responding to one reporter asking if the royal family was racist.
“We are very much not a racist family,” William told a reporter, adding that “I haven’t spoken to [Harry] yet, but I will do.”
In the Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, Harry is seen showing his wife an alleged text from William in the aftermath of the interview without revealing exactly what that text said.
Gayle King said she spoke with the couple following their interview and revealed that Harry had spoken with William and their father, King Charles III.
“The word I was given was that those conversations were not productive, but they are glad they have at least started a conversation,” King said of Harry’s post-interview talks with his family.
Harry returned to the U.K. for the funeral of his grandfather, Prince Philip. In Harry & Meghan he shared that the event forced him to speak with his estranged father and brother about their divides.
He said that going back to the U.K. was hard, “especially spending time having chats with my brother and my father, who just, were very focused on the same misinterpretation of the whole situation. So none of us really wanted to have to talk about it at my grandfather’s funeral, but we did. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that we’re probably never gonna get genuine accountability or a genuine apology.”
Harry and William once again reunited in person, this time to unveil the Kensington Palace statue of their late mother, Princess Diana. The brothers debuted the statue together, putting on a “united front” amid the ongoing rift rumors.
“I think both of them have wanted today to be about the statue, about remembering Diana’s legacy, and not about the rift that has really overshadowed the coverage of the royal family for the past 18 months,” royal expert Katie Nicholl shared at the time. “So they clearly went to a lot of effort to deflect from this rift between the two of them.”
Harry appeared to be interested in mending the relationship with William.
“Harry, I’m told, suggested perhaps that they might get some sort of a mediator in on sort of these talks, to make some progress,” royal expert Katie Nicholl revealed of Harry. “It was something that he had suggested to his father. He’s made it very clear that he wants to sort things out. He wants things to be improved.”
As Harry and Meghan returned to the U.K. to celebrate the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the brothers didn’t appear to be on better terms. As they attended the National Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral they were seated apart, with Harry seated next to his cousins Princess Eugenie and Beatrice.
Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 before either William or Harry could make it to her bedside in Scotland. The brothers appeared to be seemingly united amid the official events surrounding their grandmother’s death. William and Kate invited Harry and Meghan to an official walkabout outside of Windsor Castle to greet mourners and see the tributes to the late monarch.
Harry and William also stood vigil at their grandmother’s coffin while she was lying in state ahead of her funeral. When the time came for the funeral, the brothers processed behind the coffin together in a touching display.
Despite their show of unity surrounding the queen’s death, the brothers remained distant. In her new book The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown, royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET about the continued rift and why William just can’t forgive his brother.
“William simply cannot forgive Harry. Not just for leaving, but for how he left,” Nicholl explained.
William and Kate visited Boston but made no plans to see Harry and Meghan during their brief trip to America.
Harry and Meghan’s Netflix docuseries is released once again featuring the couple making a series of claims against the royal family and their treatment within the institution. Though the royals don’t officially comment, a royal source claimed that William and Charles were not consulted about the series’ content, despite a disclaimer at the start of the episodes.
“Well, I think that given the allegations that Harry has made in the latest three episodes of this docuseries are so personal towards his brother, I think it really does set back any chance of a reconciliation for the foreseeable future,” royal expert Katie Nicholl shared after the final three episodes were released. “Even if William hasn’t watched this docuseries, and it’s my understanding that he hasn’t, he will be very aware of the headlines. He will be very aware of the damage inflicted on his reputation, and I think it also goes a long way in explaining why the brothers are not on talking terms.”
William is reportedly avoiding communication with his brother ahead of Harry’s tell-all memoir, Spare, which is set to be released in January.
ITV and 60 Minutes drop teaser trailers for new interviews with Harry amid his upcoming tell-all. In the clips for the interviews, both out Jan. 8, the Duke of Sussex shares his desire to have both his brother and father back in his life.
“I would like to get my father back. I would like to get my brother back,” Harry is seen telling ITV’s Tom Bradby.
While Harry is willing to reconcile with the pair, he tells ITV that neither William or Charles have shown any willingness to mend their strained relationship. Instead, he claims, they prefer to continue the narrative that he and his wife are the “villains” in this years-long rift.
In his conversation with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Harry details his struggles to keep his conversation with members of the royal family “private.”
“Every single time I’ve tried to do it privately, there have been briefings and leakings and planting of stories against me and my wife,” Harry says in the 60 Minutes teaser.
The way they’re portrayed in the press, Harry says, is something Buckingham Palace has control over, calling Buckingham Palace’s unwillingness to “protect” him and Meghan a “betrayal.”
Days later, The Guardian shared an excerpt from Spare, which details an alleged altercation between Harry and William.
Per the outlet, Harry describes a confrontation at his London home in 2019 in which Harry says William called Meghan “difficult,” “rude” and “abrasive,” something the Duke of Sussex called a “parrot[ing of] the press narrative” about his wife.
According to Harry, the altercation resulted in a visible injury to his back and is said to be one of many heated moments between the pair moments detailed in the upcoming memoir.
Harry claims that William urged him to hit back, referencing fights that they had growing up. Harry said he refused to do so, prompting William to leave. He later returned, Harry says, “looking regretful, and apologized.”
William reportedly urged Harry not to tell Meghan about the fight, and while Harry did not immediately tell his wife, he writes that he called his therapist. Meghan did eventually find out after discovering “scrapes and bruises” on her husband’s back and is said to have felt “terribly sad” about the ordeal.
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