The biggest royal news in academic circles this week had nothing to do with Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge’s fabulous appearance at the Bond premiere or Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s recent DIY ‘tour’ in New York replete with a $41,000 wardrobe, blacked-out Range Rovers and a perennially orbiting field of harried-looking aides.
Instead, this week a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to her cousin Queen Elizabeth I was made public which literally rewrites history between the two women, revealing that the Scottish queen had sought to reconcile with her English bête noire.
Feuds; like Hanoverian blood disorders, they’ve been part of royal family life forever.
While Kate might not have the power to have anyone beheaded these days, as Elizabeth ultimately did to Mary, there is a certain intriguing symmetry between that situation in the 16th century and now.
Two women who could have been allies but who ultimately wound up on opposing sides; two women who shared elevated, titled positions and yet who found themselves in a years-long battle for the people’s hearts and minds. (Okay, that and the right to rule England, but you get my drift.)
For nearly three years now, the alleged bad blood between the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex, and who is to blame for it, has been raked over again and again.
But what if we have been asking the wrong question all along? What if Kate and Meghan were destined to fail?
This week, we got new insight into their fraught relationship courtesy of legendary royal biographer Andrew Morton who is re-releasing his 2018 book Meghan: An American Princess, with six new chapters.
In it, Morton, the journalist Diana, Princess of Wales turned to in the early ’90s to furtively get her side of the story out to the world, reports that the palace “bent over backwards” to help the Sussexes and Meghan was given a “formidable backroom staff” to help her make the transition to royal life.
“Far from abandoning Meghan, the Palace had a team which spent ‘hundreds of hours monitoring social media accounts’ and ‘violent threats were reported to police’,” he wrote.
From the get go, in Morton’s telling, Kate and Meghan’s relationship was never going to be one of late night, vino-fuelled bonding sessions or giggling over in-jokes behind Princess Anne’s serge-clad back during Trooping the Colour.
Rather, when they first met in January 2017, it was a “brief encounter” where the Suits star kindly gave the Duchess a small birthday gift. (A leather Smythson notebook, in case you are wondering.)
“Meghan was assured by Kate that she was always ready to help and advise in this bizarre new world in which Meghan found herself,” Morton writes.
“Harry was desperate for Meghan and his sister-in-law to bond – a tall order given their contrasting careers and social backgrounds.
“But like the Queen, Kate offered friendliness but not friendship. Her cool and somewhat reserved nature would have profound consequences.”
The two women, per Morton, “enjoyed a brittle relationship at the best of times” and that “there was little love lost between the two”.
Elsewhere he writes, “Not only did Kate and Meghan not know each other well, but even after the wedding there was little opportunity to develop a firm friendship away from public events. Harry’s dream of two united, happy families seemed a long way off.”
Morton’s claim that Harry had visions of pally duchesses and giddy family good times chimes with what last year’s Finding Freedom, whose authors wrote that Harry “once told a friend that he had an image of getting married and spending time with William and Kate, the two couples together, their children best friends”.
All of this begs a question that has so far been overlooked: Did Harry simply expect far too much? Were his expectations of the two couples seamlessly forming a chummy quartet ever even vaguely realistic?
Was this particular fantasy never, ever going to come to fruition?
Context is everything here.
By the time 2017 rolled around, Harry and Meghan had been dating for around six months and things were clearly serious between the duo.
At some stage during their courtship, William is alleged to have sat his brother down for that infamous talk where he said, “Don’t feel you need to rush this. Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl,” thus reportedly triggering their falling out.
It was also a seismic year for William and Kate with the family relocating from their Norfolk home Anmer Hall to London to begin their full-time working royal careers.
Not only that, their expanded roles meant vastly ramped up workloads, their eldest child Prince George was starting school, and for the later portion of the year, the Duchess was pregnant and suffering badly from hyperemesis gravidarum.
The woman was quite literally sick and very likely tired.
Likewise, Meghan. For much of 2017, she was filming her final series of Suits, packing up her Toronto home, shuttering her blog The Tig and moving to London. (She also found time to undertake a humanitarian trip to India with World Vision to tackle period stigma.)
Against this backdrop of all round upheaval, were visions of Brady Bunch-esque togetherness ever even a remote possibility?
Was Harry’s ‘desperation’ for the women to bond nothing more than wishful thinking?
Aside from both having been wooed by a prince, Meghan and Kate were from different countries, religions, and economic backgrounds.
While Meghan entered the palace a self-made millionaire, Kate had never had a full-time job.
While the former had been married and divorced, the latter had been in a long-term relationship with William for the better part of two decades.
While the Brit had found her way in the Firm, inch by careful inch, the American arrived champing at the bit.
So, why was Harry labouring under the notion that Kate and Meghan were destined for BFF- dom? Is it really that much of a surprise that there was no happily-ever-after?
While it seems clear from this distance that both couples played a part in how this situation unfolded, it is Kate who has been singled out and found wanting.
“Though it was not necessarily her responsibility, Kate did little to bridge the divide [with Meghan]” the authors of Freedom write.
Likewise, “Meghan had fully expected Kate to reach out and give her the lie of the land on everything an outsider to the Firm needed to know. But that was not how things turned out.”
However, in hindsight, weren’t Kate and Meghan essentially doomed from the start; that is, they were ill-fated to never form the sorts of bonds that Harry (and the public) seemed to dearly wish for?
Even princes can’t will something into being through sheer optimism in the face of cold, hard reality.
Last month Meghan turned the big 4-0. Here’s hoping that Kate gave her something a tad nicer than a simple Smythson notebook for there ever to be any chance of a fresh start one day.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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