Robert Lacey is sitting beside a large parcel of draft chapters of his new book, Battle of Brothers, which have been returned unopened from Buckingham Palace.

he courtiers have told him they won’t dignify it with a reading, which seems a little high-handed, given the pivotal importance of intrigue and rumour in the royal soap opera.

Without these key ingredients, the Windsors would just be bland tourism mascots, but in Lacey’s skilled and experienced hands – he worked on the television series The Crown and authored another best-selling book on the queen – the supposed tensions between William and Harry are elevated almost to the level of constitutional crisis.

This should probably be considered a good thing by those in charge of vetting royal access. Just as Fungie was never more popular than in the week he seemed to go missing, so the royals are never more compulsive viewing than when they look like they’re in trouble.

‘Meghan Markle’ has been one of the most googled terms in the world for the last three years running. Omid Scobie’s book on the so-called Megxit – Finding Freedom – is still sitting high in the best-seller chart.

Lacey sees tragedy in a Britain which has “a prime minister who can’t even remember his lines and now a royal family which doesn’t seem much better than the government itself”, but royal infighting has been a balm for the seriousness of the times. We can’t get enough.

Two years ago, the narrative was that it was Kate and Meghan who didn’t get along; The Telegraph reported that the former had left the latter in tears over a bridesmaid’s dress.

But then Katie Nicholl, who reports on the royals for Vanity Fair and the BBC, amongst others, wrote that it was actually Harry and William who hadn’t been getting along. According to her sources, the brothers had a falling-out around Christmas 2018, when Harry told Wills he wasn’t doing enough to include Meghan in the royal family. Weeks later William was photographed seemingly ignoring Meghan on a family walk.

In June last year, Meghan and Harry split from the joint charity they shared with Kate and William. The following October Harry gave a type of official confirmation to the rumours during ITV’s documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.

“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.”

Lacey’s theory is that the conflict the brothers are experiencing now was set up in their childhoods, in that both brothers dealt with the embarrassment of their parents’ affairs and in which “the heir” – William – was privileged and protected from bad press and “the spare” – Harry – was cast as a sort of scapegoat, to be rescued by his father and older brother.

“The deeper issue in this story is the cruelty of the British system which supports the heir and denigrates the spare,” Lacey says.

“Harry is now the third heir in the British system to suffer under this during the reign of Elizabeth II – Princess Margaret and Andrew being the other ones. The spare is useful as an infant companion to the heir but as the years go by they have less and less function.”

This expressed itself, he says, in the way the brothers’ youthful japes were perceived by press and public. He points to the coverage of Harry’s notorious Nazi fancy dress costume – where William was at the same party and supposedly in on the joke – and to Club H, the disco which the brothers set up in the basement of Highgrove Castle.

“It was William who stocked the bar and threw the wild parties but it was Harry who got into trouble. William came out smelling of roses, he was the king of the castle and Harry was the dirty rascal. Harry understood it was a lifelong competition in which he could never win. The only exception to this was his active service in Afghanistan, which William was not allowed to do, and which gave Harry immense fulfilment.”

Whereas William embraced duty – picking “a dedicated middle-class girl who is committed to the ideas of the British monarchy” – Harry reacted to the broken home he came from, and the grief at losing his mother, by becoming determined to marry purely for love.

Meghan “is a girl who at the age of 11 took on Procter & Gamble”, Lacey says (she encouraged the company to change the tagline to an advertisement for dishwashing liquid, according to a speech she gave for UN Women on International Women’s Day in 2015).

“She is the only self-made millionaire in the royal family and, unlike the others who inherited their celebrity, she has created hers. So it’s not surprising she didn’t fit into the system.”

Some details from the brothers’ feud are more difficult to get a lather of outrage going for than others. Lacey writes that Meghan and Harry broke from royal tradition and kept the details of their son Archie’s birth secret and by having a ‘secret sponsor’, ie not naming the godparents.

But why should they have to? Surely part of the deal of fealty to the royal family is that not every decision they make is subject to questioning from their supposed subjects?

“The baby is supposed to be displayed on the steps of the hospital. Charles and Diana created this expectation”, Lacey begins.

“Previously the home secretary had to present at the birth. It was to ensure that this was a good Protestant baby, not some Catholic who had been smuggled in.

“Either Harry didn’t know about that or didn’t care.” And why would he, you can’t help thinking.

He calls Meghan and Harry ‘self-pitying victims’.

“Last October when Meghan was questioned in Africa by [ITV journalist] Tom Bradby, she was in the midst of deprivation and started complaining about her problems adjusting to palace life. It was tone deaf. After Archie was born, they decided he was too little to travel to Balmoral to visit the queen but then they could get a private jet to France to meet Elton John. They’re moral crusaders who preach too much and that’s something that the royal family traditionally doesn’t do.”

This, he says, is the main difference between the Megxit and the abdication of Edward VIII.

“Edward VIII shut up whereas Meghan and Harry are not going to do that. They will speak out on social change and Black Lives Matter. The prospect is of an alternative monarchy in exile.”

All of this is to be seen in the mixed feelings at the prospect of Charles ascending the throne, Lacey says.

“Britain as it looks ahead feels at best ambivalent about King Charles and Queen Camilla.

“They bring with them associations of the unhappy marriage Charles had with Diana and all of the unhappiness it brought to these two boys.

“We’re now seeing chickens come home to roost. We thought that the discord of the 1980s and 1990s had gone with that generation, but it lives on in these immensely attractive but troubled young men.”

Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, by Robert Lacey, is published by William Collins priced €20


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