The birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s child, it was hoped by many, would be a moment of reconciliation for the Sussexes and the royals. What a fantastical notion that now seems, after some of the bitterest open fighting this civil war has yet seen.
The latest pitched battle culminated with Meghan and Harry threatening to sue British media for reporting that the queen felt there had been a lack of consultation with her about their use of her nickname, Lilibet, as the child’s first name, and the queen—via her official spokespeople—saying she would not be disputing the BBC story.
Yes, the queen has taken the side of a broadcaster over her grandson. The BBC was apparently so unperturbed by the attempted legal bullying, even from the famously litigious Meghan and Harry, that they left their story and associated tweets up.
Why shouldn’t they? In informal exchanges, senior palace aides have made it clear to The Daily Beast that the “very specific” BBC story is correct as far as they are concerned. It’s simple: the queen felt Harry and Meghan did not consult her on using Lilibet as their new baby’s first name.
As royal messes go, this is a hot one, and it could get a lot worse in the scant three weeks between now and the unveiling of a memorial to Princess Diana in London, which Harry is due to attend.
That was already a potentially awkward moment; it is now likely to be doubly so because the reality on the ground is that Harry and Meghan didn’t just contest the queen’s version of events with a carefully worded statement (even though it begged as many questions as it asked), they got their lawyers involved.
Documentation seen by The Daily Beast shows Meghan and Harry arguing that the claims made to the BBC on behalf of the queen, were “false and defamatory.”
This leaves Harry and Meghan less than half a step away from accusing the queen of being a liar. Clearly the Sussexes are unbelievably angry about the way their daughter’s birth has become tabloid fodder for the feud narrative. Clearly they feel the queen’s spinners have misrepresented their exchanges. This leaves a very real risk they could actually start briefing friendly US media in the next few days and actively escalating hostilities.
To recap: the BBC went live with their summary story at 6:30 a.m. local time (10:30 p.m. in California), which said the BBC had been told Harry and Meghan “did not consult the queen about using her childhood nickname Lilibet for their baby… a Buckingham Palace source says she was never asked about it.”
Harry and Meghan’s response, rushed out at midnight Californian time read: “The Duke spoke with his family in advance of the announcement, in fact his grandmother was the first family member he called. During that conversation, he shared their hope of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honor. Had she not been supportive, they would not have used the name.”
Harry and Meghan were clearly trying to suggest that the palace briefing (to BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond) was unreliable gossip that does not reflect the queen’s true feelings.
Their favored mouthpiece, the author Omid Scobie, hinted at this line of attack in a tweet saying: “Those close to Prince Harry confirm that he spoke to close family before the announcement so perhaps this report highlights just how far removed aides within the institution (who learned of the baby news alongside the rest of the world) now are from the Sussexes’ private matters.”
The chutzpah is remarkable: Meghan and Harry’s camp are claiming that Her Majesty’s staff do not speak accurately for her, but they do. Cynics might say they are exploiting the queen’s famous unwillingness to do to much in the way of explaining or complaining.
If Dymond’s story was the product of a chat with a junior groom at Sandringham, Meghan and Harry could have had a point. But the BBC is not in the habit of leading its morning news bulletin with royal items based on what were once dismissively termed “servants’ stories.”
Dymond, as anyone who has any experience of the royal news beat would instantly recognize, was almost certainly the recipient of a carefully strategized and meticulously structured off the record briefing from palace press officers, acting directly on the orders of the queen’s private secretary and chief of staff, Sir Edward Young, who has direct control of the press office.
Harry and Meghan have, since they opened hostilities formally against the royal family with their initial explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey, sought to draw a distinction between the queen, her staff and the institution of monarchy.
It has allowed them to slate the monarchy and the nebulous “institution” as cold, heartless, inconsiderate, cruel—you name it—while simultaneously insisting the queen is a wonderful, warm human being, an inspiration and a person whom they love and respect deeply.
Diana of course, did something similar, speaking often about the “men in gray,” whom she portrayed as managing the day-to-day business of the monarchy, without reference to the queen.
The reality is, this distinction is utterly false (although it may provide useful cover for the queen at times). The queen, like the head of any massive multinational but family-owned organization, is responsible for what that massive multinational but family-owned organization actually does. The whole idea that there is some kind of shadowy parallel power structure operating independently of Her Majesty’s will is nonsense, and owes more than a little to the Trumpist idea of the deep state.
There are no civil servants bossing the queen around inside the walls of Buckingham Palace. Maybe there was some of that going on when she inherited the throne aged 25, but that was largely at her own request. Now, 69 years later, there is almost no distinction between the actions of the queen and the actions of the monarchy.
They are one and the same.
Which also means that if you insult one, you insult the other.
It is, of course, absurd that with all the really serious issues facing humanity right now, global news feeds have been dominated by tales of internecine sniping between a bunch of over-privileged and enormously wealthy members of one British family.
Dear Prince Edward may have spent Thursday complaining that “we’ve all had excessive intrusion and attention in our lives” but the Royals have only themselves to blame for that. Having spent the last millennium trying to convince the world of their importance, they can hardly now cry foul at the world for drinking deep of the royal Kool-Aid.
And yet there was also a lot of truth in Edward’s comment, when asked about the enmity with the Sussexes: “It’s difficult for everyone, but that’s families for you.”
Indeed, it is. Anyone who hasn’t had a vicious argument with a family member probably doesn’t talk to them enough.
In three weeks’ time we will see if the other great truth about families—that blood is thicker than water, that people can forgive members of their family way more than we would other people—is equally apparent.
If it is, then two brothers will stand side-by-side and honor their mother, without the occasion being completely overshadowed by a bizarre argument about, of all things, her granddaughter’s name.