The latest salvo from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex hardly bodes well for future royal relations.
Any suggestion that Meghan felt “unprotected” by the Royal Family while pregnant with Archie looks likely to rub salt into the wounds of a relationship that is nowhere near healed, following the couple’s decision to split from the Firm in January.
Some in Royal circles have even started to wonder whether the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will ever see their one-year-old great-grandson Archie again amid the escalating row.
In explosive documents filed at the High Court to support her legal case against the Mail on Sunday, the 38-year-old Duchess claims she was left “undefended by the institution” in the face of negative publicity.
Spelling out her frustrations with the Palace’s approach to the media, the extraordinary submissions suggest that she was “prohibited from defending herself” against apparently false stories.
Putting on the record the conflict between the Palace and Meghan’s differing approaches for the first time, the paperwork states the institution’s policy of “no comment” was deployed “without any discussion with or approval by the Claimant.”
Having long lived by the Queen’s doctrine of “never complain, never explain,” the Palace’s official reaction to all this has, naturally, been “no comment”. Yet behind gilded gates there are growing concerns at the lengths Meghan appears willing to go to in order to win.
Meghan is suing the newspaper for publishing extracts from a handwritten letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle Snr, in August 2018, three months after he failed to walk her down the aisle.
The newspaper claims the contents had already been made public in an interview given by Meghan’s friends to People magazine, in February 2018, with her blessing. The Duchess denies that she “knowingly” allowed her “sisterhood” to leak the correspondence – effectively breaching her own privacy.
Yet what is, at its heart, a straightforward claim, now appears to have turned into full scale war against the media – and by association, the Windsors.
How ironic that Harry and Meghan should leave Britain to avoid unwarranted intrusion in their lives, only for an almighty publicity storm to have been brewed up by this case.
Eyebrows have been raised in Royal circles at suggestions Meghan has endured “hundreds of thousands of inaccurate articles about her” – with some questioning whether the Duchess understands the difference between untrue headlines and simply negative ones.
Few can have failed to have noticed that the latest bombshell only serves to confirm the very reports Meghan has been complaining about: headlines suggesting that she and Harry felt they were bigger than the club they belonged to, and were not willing to play by the rules.
Many are now starting to question what victory may look like if the Sussexes end up burning all their bridges – not just with the Palace but the British public, too.
Although insiders insist that “family bonds remain strong” between Harry and his grandmother, the perception that the couple are disrespecting the Queen is likely to hinder their Stateside relaunch. While their US fanbase remains impregnable, Brits didn't react well to them announcing they were stepping down as senior royals in January without telling the 94-year-old monarch first.
As royal author Phil Dampier put it: “I think the Queen is going to be absolutely devastated by this. She’ll cope with it but she will feel desperately betrayed. She broke with protocol to invite Meghan to Christmas at Sandringham before they were married, and the couple ended up with a beautiful multi-million pound home in the middle of Windsor Great Park. Some will be wondering: what more did they want?”
The answer perhaps lies buried in the legal papers. In one section, about the level of “wealth and privilege” the couple enjoyed in Britain, the Duchess’s team say their public funding was “relatively nominal,” with costs for their May 2018 wedding met by the Prince of Wales and paid security only for the protection of crowds.
This “was far outweighed by the tourism revenue of over one billion pounds sterling that was generated from the royal wedding … which went directly to the public purse,” claim the legal documents, which do not quote a source for the figure. Republic, the anti-monarchy campaign group has described this as “complete fiction”.
But the precise figure is somewhat irrelevant. Potentially more harmful to the Sussexes is the implication that they not only think they are worth it – but worth more.
In the era of coronavirus, with millions set to lose their jobs, some may find the idea of their vast wealth being “relatively nominal” tone deaf. Relatively nominal compared to BeyoncÃ© and Jay-Z, perhaps – but the average Brit earning £29,000 a year? Possibly not.
Equally damaging is the seemingly mercenary motivation behind trying to compare Meghan to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – and even Prince Michael of Kent – in her quest to be “allowed to undertake paid work”, when they were never full-time royals, nor received any public funding.
Most upsetting to the royal household, however, will undoubtedly be the suggestion that the couple were hung out to dry.
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Some staff not only bent over backwards in a bid to meet their demands, but at considerable cost to their own personal lives. It has been well documented that between September 2018 and October 2019, the Sussexes lost five aides and one female royal protection officer.
Nonetheless, the Palace’s reaction appears to be one of sadness rather than anger.
“Calm” discussions are understood to have taken place between relevant parties yesterday, who are under no illusions that there will be more damaging revelations to come.
It is not just the Markle vs Markle court revelations that it is braced for but also the publication, on August 11, of Finding Freedom, a biography of Harry and Meghan that appears to have been sanctioned by the couple. Other books including a scathing tome by Lady Colin Campbell have already been released, with more biographies in the offing.
The Palace has “no idea” what is going to be in Finding Freedom, written by journalists Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, although aides understand one of the main themes will be “the role of the institution” in their departure.
Yet courtiers don’t seem to be overly worried, theorising that post-Covid 19, the public is increasingly looking to figures like the Queen, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to put duty first. The sovereign's enduring popularity has always been built on her ability to overcome adversity through remaining visible and using hard work to counter any negativity.
They are hoping, perhaps not unreasonably, that the Sussexes will be perceived as self-indulgent by comparison.
And what of their US relaunch? Having previously posed a threat to the Royals by setting up in direct competition in America, the pandemic has put Archewell, their not-for-profit organisation, on hold. An Apple TV+ series on mental health with Oprah Winfrey is yet to be given a release date, although sources say “work is still on track”.
In the meantime the couple, who continue to be advised by Sunshine Sachs PR, have also signed up to A-list speaker’s agency, Harry Walker of New York, which represents the Obamas. Unshackled from the monarchy, there is a sense the couple intends to become increasingly political, as witnessed by Harry’s recent claim that institutional racism is “endemic” in society. There has even been talk of Meghan running for the White House.
The trial, however, looks set to dominate headlines in the weeks to come. The only saving grace is that it may require the couple to return to their Britain – an opportunity, perhaps, for the Queen and Philip, 99, to finally see their youngest great-grandchild again.