Love, money and betrayal: are Harry and William at war?
A new documentary looks at reported tensions and how they may have led Harry to step back from royal duties
According to observers, a great divide has been growing inside the Royal Family. In Harry & William: What Went Wrong?, a documentary presented by The Passionate Eye, royal watchers report that a secret feud has been brewing between Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William — with elements of it tying all the way back to their childhood.
'Why can't we do it a bit differently?'
When William married Kate Middleton, he and Harry were perhaps the closest they'd ever been, according to royal watchers in the documentary. The three became virtually inseparable, working from the same office and launching multiple charitable efforts together. But as William and Kate began having children, some observers believe Harry may have become frustrated by his supporting role.
"There's perhaps more of a sense of urgency of making your life count before your brother's children push you further and further down the pecking order," says Camilla Tominey, associate editor at the Daily Telegraph.
Even before Harry met Meghan Markle, Harry had begun questioning why things couldn't be done a certain way, Tominey says. "[Harry was] saying … 'I want to do this, and why can't we do it a bit differently?' And then Meghan comes on the scene, and I think gives that rocket fuel."
When Harry began dating Meghan, a celebrity in her own right, he had found a potential wife the Royal Family had never seen before. "Meghan Markle is an independent woman. She is an intelligent woman. She's a woman who's passionate about causes," lawyer and activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu says in the film. And, according to Harry & William, she would dramatically change the brothers' relationship.
Rumours of bullying, a divided household
Katie Nicholl, author of William and Harry, says tension between the brothers grew when William sat Harry down and urged him to take things slow with Meghan.
"Harry felt that he didn't have his brother's support," Nicholl claims in the documentary. "And I think he had doubts as to whether William actually liked Meghan."
If William had suggested slowing down, Harry didn't take his advice. 18 months after they first met, he and Meghan were engaged, and in May 2018, the two married with William standing next to Harry as his best man.
It was a time of great joy at Windsor Castle as the crowds looked on, says royal biographer Penny Junor. Some reports suggested that the Royal Family was moving into the 21st century with two young, married princes ready to be a rock for the institution. Harry and Meghan moved into Kensington Palace, near William and Kate.
But just a few months later, trouble was brewing behind palace doors. The princes' press secretary brought forward a dossier of complaints from female staff members about how Meghan had allegedly treated them. (When the dossier was leaked to the press in 2021, the couple firmly denied the allegations.)
"The 'bullying' word was used," says Robert Lacey, author of Battle of Brothers. "I am told William exploded. He was furious that [palace staff] … should allegedly have been treated with such disrespect."
It was a divisive moment for the brothers, Lacey says. "Harry flew off the handle in defence of his wife, and there was this huge confrontation … which resulted in the division of the household."
Harry and Meghan — now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — later moved out of Kensington Palace and settled on the Windsor estate, where they believed they could run their own affairs.
While Harry and Meghan's departure from Kensington Palace was reported to be an amicable decision, Lacey believes it was William who made the call. "The original impetus was William, who no longer wished to have Harry and Meghan in his household," he claims. "For William, the monarchy mattered more than his brother."
'The heir' and 'the spare' are not on equal footing
Now living apart from the Cambridges, the Sussexes were ready to run their own charities and affairs — and that would require money. But, being "the spare," Harry's access to the family's finances was a bit more complicated than it was for his brother.
"The real wealth lies with the sovereign and the heir to the throne," says royal commentator David McClure. "And they use that money… to cross-subsidize some of the poorer members of the Royal Family."
According to the documentary, Harry and Meghan were told that, instead of getting their own office, their affairs would be rolled into those of Buckingham Palace. They found themselves, once again, without control of their own business or finances.
"In a way, that's the final straw," says Tominey. "Once again, the Sussexes are saying, 'Well, why can't we have what the Cambridges are having? We should be on equal footing.'"
Harry was determined to protect Meghan from press attacks
After Harry and Meghan left Kensington Palace, the press began to report more and more on rumours from the inside. At first, the stories didn't focus on the brothers. Instead, several publications turned toward Meghan and began their attacks.
"Newspapers love nothing more than two women pitted against each other," says journalist Emma Jones. Reports claimed that Meghan made Kate cry leading up to Harry and Meghan's wedding, and that arguments were occurring behind closed doors.
"The truth was," says Nicholl, "it was the brothers who had fallen out."
Still, the press continued to criticize Meghan and social media scrutiny quickly intensified. The film notes that Harry felt that some of the commentary had racist undertones, not unlike the discourse surrounding Meghan before she joined the Royal Family (which had prompted Harry to release a public statement condemning it in 2016).
The coverage may have also triggered traumatic childhood memories for the prince.
Royal watchers believe both Harry and William's view of the media was shaped by how their mother, the late Princess Diana, was hounded by reporters and paparazzi, ultimately to her death. But the film suggests Harry has shown more anger toward the press than William.
Now, Harry was seeing things unfold in a familiar way. "Essentially, Harry believed the press had murdered his mother, and they were going to do exactly the same thing to his wife," says Jones. He appeared determined to protect Meghan — at any cost.
Leaving their royal duties behind
In early 2019, while heavily pregnant, Meghan revealed to Harry that she'd been having suicidal thoughts. Harry has said that he pleaded with the palace for help.
"He had seen his mother's distress and he had been unable to help her because he was a child," says Junor. "Now he was an adult, he saw a woman in distress that he loved and he could do something about it."
But no public comments were issued by the Royal Family in Meghan's defence. Some observers noted that they appeared to be more active in defending another royal, Prince Andrew, against sexual assault allegations.
Then, four months after their son was born, while on a tour of South Africa, Harry gave a revealing interview that laid bare the fractured relationship between himself and his brother, as he described them as being "on different paths."
The documentary suggests that seeing a loved one reveal personal secrets on TV, as his parents had, may have triggered painful childhood memories for William, too. "William is so beside himself with fury about his brother," says Lacey. "He says he can't sit in the same room with him."
By Christmas of 2019, Harry and Meghan were living in a rented mansion on Canada's West Coast. Over the following months, plans were prepared for the Sussexes to change their working relationship in the Royal Family, an approach royal watchers in the film characterize as "half in, half out."
Ultimately their proposal was rejected, and the couple stepped back as senior royals. After relocating to California, Harry and Meghan signed lucrative deals with Netflix and Spotify to support their goal of becoming financially independent.
A nation invested in William and Harry
The interview's revelations split public opinion on who deserved sympathy. "I was appalled by the interview," says Junor. "[Meghan] talked about feeling suicidal, she talked about her mental health and she talked about racism. These are statements that should not be made for public consumption."
"I heard somebody that was tired," says Mos-Shogbamimu. "Somebody who was tired of being silenced, somebody who was tired of being bullied."
Probes into alleged bullying and racism are said to be ongoing at the palace. But Harry and Meghan continue to live outside of the Royal Family, and the relationship between brothers still appears to be broken, with William reportedly refusing to allow Harry and Meghan's daughter, Lilibet Diana, to be christened at Windsor.
Nevertheless, the two are bound together by blood and the loss of their mother at a young age, and many hope they may reconcile in the future and forge their brotherly bond once again.
"As a nation, we have invested in William and Harry," says Nicholl. "To see them fractured and at loggerheads like this has a very real impact on the future of the monarchy because it undermines everything that the monarchy stands for, which is unity."
Watch Harry & William: What Went Wrong? on The Passionate Eye.