World·Royal Fascinator

Family grievances: New book on Prince Harry and Meghan offers royal dé​​​​​​​jà​​​​​​​ vu

A sense of history repeating itself has been emerging for the past few days, as the first excerpts of a highly anticipated book about Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have been published in the U.K.

Published excerpts provide greater detail about stories already reported

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the annual Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5, during their last round of official and public duties before stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

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The names are different. So are the details.

But a sense of royal déjà vu has been spreading for the past few days, as the first excerpts of a highly anticipated book about Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have been published in the U.K.

The portions of Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Family by journalists Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie that have seen the light of day have not offered major revelations about the couple, who stepped back as senior royals earlier this year.

But they have offered more detail and fleshed out stories that have been reported over the past few years. And in doing so, they provide an uncanny parallel with the publication of another book 28 years ago, which focused on Harry's mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

For some royal observers, there's a sense of history repeating itself.

"Harry and Meghan are airing their grievances about their family in public. This is exactly what Diana did," biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son, said via email.

Much speculation about the nature of the relationship between Prince Harry and Meghan, and Harry's elder brother, Prince William, and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, in the front row, followed their attendance at a church service in London on March 9. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

Publication of the excerpts in the Times and the Sunday Times has set off a flurry of commentary in the U.K. media.

"After finding their freedom at last, Harry and Meghan have never appeared more trapped," read the headline on a story by associate editor Camilla Tominey in the Telegraph.

ITV's royal editor, Chris Ship, wrote about the excerpts under the headline: "The Sussexes and the Royal Family: a relationship that was never going to work."

But are there blockbuster revelations? Not in what we've seen, some observers say.

"Some flesh is put on the bones of a story that we know quite well, but despite the headlines there are no new properly sourced revelations in the book as serialised so far," the BBC's royal correspondent, Jonny Dymond, wrote on the BBC website.

"We knew that William and Harry's relationship was badly damaged; Harry told ITN's Tom Bradby that in the interview he gave in late 2019. We knew that Meghan felt abandoned by the palace; she went out of her way to make that point to Bradby in the same program."

Reports quote a spokesperson for Harry and Meghan as saying they did not provide interviews for the book or contribute to it. 

But the level of detail it contains has given rise to questions of just where the information in the book, which will be published on Aug. 11, comes from. 

"The intimate nature of some details raises questions over who the sources were — and whether Harry and Meghan gave them their blessing before they revealed such closely guarded insights to the couple's private lives," the Daily Mail reported.

"Extraordinary personal details littered throughout Finding Freedom include particulars of the moment ... Meghan confessed she wrote her estranged father Thomas Markle one final message while on FaceTime in a bathtub." 

Rewind to 1992, and Diana denied having contributed directly to Andrew Morton's book, Diana: Her True Story, which rocked the House of Windsor and revealed details of the unhappy marriage between her and Prince Charles, along with her own suicide attempts and eating disorders. 

Shortly after Diana's death in 1997, Morton revealed she had, through an intermediary, given him six taped interviews. 

Junor doesn't see the current book doing as much harm to the monarchy as Morton's did.

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, during a Korean War commemorative service in November 1992, five months after publication of Andrew Morton's book that revealed strains in their marriage. (Reuters)

"Harry is not likely to become King, so this is not as damaging as Andrew Morton's book in 1992 was," she said.

At that time, Diana was married to the heir to the throne and in line herself to become Queen.

"By denouncing her husband and his family, she damaged the future King and in many ways the Queen herself," Junor said.

In this book, Junor said, Harry and Meghan "have emerged as victims of a system that couldn't cope with their popularity."

While we haven't seen the whole book yet, no one other than Harry and Meghan "seems to come out of it well," Junor said.

"The public do not need to feast on the misery of others. That is what happened in 1992 and what, to a lesser extent I suspect, is happening today."

A private — but not a secret — wedding

Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi leave the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge after their wedding in Windsor, England, on July 17. (Benjamin Wheeler/Pool via Reuters)

When Princess Beatrice married Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in a small church near Windsor Castle, some reports suggested the ninth in line to the throne had enjoyed a "secret" wedding after the pandemic forced cancellation of plans for a larger ceremony in the chapel at St. James's Palace in central London in late May.

And certainly there's no sense that word of the nuptials on July 17 leaked out before the couple said their vows in front of a small gathering that included her grandparents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

But those nuptials weren't secret in the sense of royal weddings that no one would have known were coming or had taken place until they were revealed months later.

"It's very important not to confuse the term 'secret wedding' and 'private wedding,'" Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview. 

"What Princess Beatrice did was have a private royal wedding."

And there are royal precedents for that, often dictated by circumstances at the time (much like the COVID-19 pandemic dictated what happened for Beatrice).

In 1935, King George V's third son, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester — an uncle of the current Queen — was set to marry Alice Montagu Douglas Scott in a large wedding at Westminster Abbey. But her father had died recently of cancer, and his father's health was uncertain.

"So the wedding plans changed and Henry and Alice had their wedding in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace," Harris said.

In 1862, Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Alice, married Prince Louis of Hesse in front of their immediate families in the dining room of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. 

The wedding came just months after the death of Victoria's husband and Alice's father, Prince Albert.

"It reflected the deep court mourning of that time and Alice wore a white dress for the wedding, but her whole trousseau was in black, reflecting that she had just lost her father," Harris said.

For a secret wedding, she looks back to the 15th century.

"A secret royal wedding is closer to what King Edward IV had when he married Elizabeth Woodville, where the wedding was not announced until six months later," Harris said.

The newlyweds stand with Beatrice's grandparents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, outside the Royal Chapel of All Saints. (Benjamin Wheeler/Pool via Reuters)

Beatrice married in considerably different circumstances.

"The public knew that Princess Beatrice was engaged, that a wedding was planned and that the wedding had been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic," Harris said.

Pictures that have emerged of Beatrice and Edoardo's wedding show only the newlyweds, or the newlyweds with her grandparents. 

There is no sign of her father, Prince Andrew, who has been the focus of renewed attention over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein after the arrest of Esptein's friend, Ghislaine Maxwell.

Headlines out of the wedding also focused on Beatrice's attire. In a regal take on "something borrowed," she wore a vintage dress loaned from the Queen, along with the tiara the Queen — as Princess Elizabeth — wore on her own wedding day in 1947.

Beatrice wore the same tiara as her grandmother did on her wedding day in 1947. (The Associated Press)

"Princess Beatrice's wedding very much emphasizes Princess Beatrice as the Queen's granddaughter," Harris said. "It's clear that the Queen wanted to make this a special occasion in spite of all the constraints that were imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Spry at 99

Those pictures from Beatrice's wedding also drew attention for their glimpse of another member of the Royal Family who has not often been seen lately.

And observers couldn't help noting that her grandfather, Prince Philip, was looking quite spry at 99.

Philip, who retired from official duties in 2017 and has had some health worries since then, was also front and centre at Windsor Castle a few days later. 

He was in the quadrangle of the castle, where he has been staying with the Queen during the pandemic, to take part in a physically distanced ceremony to pass a military role to his daughter-in-law, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. 

"Prince Philip looks five years younger than last Christmas and has regained his zest for life," tweeted Phil Dampier, who has written a biography of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Royals in Canada

Queen Elizabeth and then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau attend a reception at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Aug. 1, 1973. (The Canadian Press)

Not once, but twice, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip landed in Canada in the summer of 1973.

They arrived in Ottawa on July 31 for a four-day official visit as the Canadian capital hosted the second Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

That visit came after an 11-day tour in late June and early July to take part in events marking the centennial of the RCMP, the centennial of Prince Edward Island's entry into Confederation and an extended tour of Ontario.

For the Queen, who has placed a high priority on her role as head of the Commonwealth,  the Commonwealth meeting was significant. 

"The Queen is passionate about her role as the head of the Commonwealth, and being present at these meetings means a lot to her," Harris said.

Getting to the meeting in Ottawa, however, was the apparent result of a bit of manoeuvring by the Commonwealth secretariat and the palace at a time when the British prime minister of the day — Edward Heath — wasn't so keen on regular heads of government meetings.

In the end, according to author Philip Murphy in his book, Monarchy and the End of Empire, the palace accepted an invitation from the Canadian prime minister of the day — Pierre Trudeau — for the Queen to attend, with her accepting as the Queen of Canada.

Royally quotable

"I know what Twitter is but I wouldn't go anywhere near it if you paid me, frankly."

— Princess Anne, in an ITV documentary that aired this week, ahead of her 70th birthday on Aug. 15.

Royal reads

  1. Just as her elder brother Charles did when he turned 70, Anne guest edited an edition of Country Life magazine to mark that milestone birthday. In the current issue, she writes of how her parents instilled in her a lifelong love of nature and urges more care about waste and energy in the hope of a better future for the countryside.

  2. It was another virtual first for the Queen when she attended the unveiling of a new portrait remotely. [ITV]

  3. Arise Sir Tom Moore — Queen Elizabeth honoured a 100-year-old fundraising captain at Windsor Castle. [CBC]

  4. In a wide-ranging chat on a BBC Radio podcast, Prince William offered a novel way to ward off a schoolboy football opponent: get your protection officer to pose as a mock sniper. [Evening Standard]

  5. Another royal birthday, another set of photos taken by Mum, as pictures snapped by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are released to mark seven years since Prince George was born. [BBC]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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