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Photos show just how divided the royal family has become

Photos show just how divided the royal family has become
  • The royal family has been in turmoil for years now.

  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped back from royal life in 2020, sparking ongoing tensions.

  • Kate Middleton's photo-editing scandal exposed new divisions in the royal family.

From Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's departure from their royal duties to the deaths of Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth to Kate Middleton's photo-editing scandal, the royal family has been in turmoil for years.

Popularity is essential to the survival of the monarchy. With taxpayers shelling out around £300 million, or about $381 million, to sustain the institution each year, nonstop royal scandals — as well as King Charles III's cancer diagnosis — have left the monarchy more vulnerable than ever.

A photo recap of the last four years of royal life shows how divisions in the royal family have grown.

Tensions appeared high at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's final royal engagement in March 2020, where they didn't interact with Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Prince William and Kate Middleton speak to Prince Edward and Sophie in 2020 while Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoid eye contact
Prince William and Kate Middleton chat with Prince Edward and Sophie as Prince Harry and Meghan sit behind them at Westminster Abbey as they attend the Commonwealth Service in London in March 2020.PHIL HARRIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

After announcing their decision to step back as senior working royals, Harry and Meghan reunited with royal family members at the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey.

William and Kate chatted with Prince Edward (then Earl of Wessex) and Sophie (then Countess of Wessex), but did not appear to speak to or make eye contact with Harry and Meghan, who were seated a row behind them.

In March 2021, Harry and Meghan dropped bombshell after bombshell in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey.

harry meghan oprah interview
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021.Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

The couple said that some royal family members expressed concerns about how dark Archie's skin would be before he was born, and that Meghan felt suicidal due to constant bombardment from British tabloids. Meghan also said that she was "silenced" by the royal family, unable to defend herself against numerous false reports while other family members' reputations were prioritized.

"That was hard to reconcile because it was only once we were married and everything started to really worsen that I came to understand that not only was I not being protected, but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family," she said. "They weren't willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband."

After the interview aired, Buckingham Palace issued a statement calling the issues Meghan and Harry raised "concerning."

"Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately," the statement said.

William and Harry didn't walk side-by-side at Prince Phillip's funeral in April 2021, which the palace said was a "practical change."

william harry philip funeral 1
April 2021.WPA Pool / Pool / Getty Images

At Prince Phillip's funeral procession, Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, walked between William and Harry.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson told People magazine that the arrangement was "a practical change rather than sending a signal."

"This is a funeral and we are not going to be drawn into perceptions of drama," the palace spokesperson said. "The arrangements have been agreed and represent Her Majesty's wishes."

While they didn't walk next to each other at the funeral, William and Harry were seen walking and talking together afterwards.

At Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022, Harry and Meghan were seated far away from other royal family members.

Members of the royal family attend the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral, London, on day two of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II.
Members of the royal family attend the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral on day two of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II in June 2022.Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images

Charles (then Prince of Wales), Camilla (then Duchess of Cornwall), William, and Kate were all seated in the front row on the left side of the church. Harry and Meghan were located on the opposite side of the aisle in the second row.

After Queen Elizabeth's death in September 2022, the former "Fab Four" made a rare joint appearance ahead of her funeral.

Prince William, Princess Kate, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle on a walk at Windsor Castle
Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle on a walk at Windsor Castle in September 2022.Kirsty O'Connor - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Entertainment Tonight reported that William reached out to Harry an hour before he and Kate were scheduled to walk around Windsor Castle to view tributes left in the Queen's memory to ask if he and Meghan wanted to join.

Greeting members of the public in black outfits, it marked the first appearance of the group formerly known as the "Fab Four" since Harry and Meghan stepped back from their royal roles in March 2020.

At Queen Elizabeth's funeral, Harry reportedly wasn't permitted to wear his military uniform, creating a stark contrast with his other family members.

Prince Harry, wearing a morning suit, stands with royal family members wearing military uniforms
Prince Harry stands next to King Charles, Princess Anne, and Prince William as they salute during the state funeral and burial of Queen Elizabeth in September 2022.Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Only working members of the royal family were allowed to wear military uniforms to the Queen's funeral events, The Telegraph reported. Hello! magazine reported that Harry didn't salute at the funeral for the same reason.

When Harry stepped back from his role as a working royal, he was stripped of the title "His Royal Highness" and his military patronages, despite two tours in Afghanistan throughout his 10-year military career.

Harry was ultimately allowed to wear his military dress to stand guard over the Queen's casket before the funeral but still wore a morning suit to the funeral itself.

"His decade of military service is not determined by the uniform he wears and we respectfully ask that focus remain on the life and legacy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II," a spokesperson for the Duke of Sussex told Business Insider in a statement.

In December 2022, the Netflix docuseries "Harry & Meghan" shared new details of their tumultuous royal life.

harry and meghan docuseries
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in the second promo for their docuseries, "Harry & Meghan."Netflix

In the docuseries, Harry said that it's "normal" for royal family members to exert financial control over other members, and called the palace's relationship with the British press a "dirty game" that involves leaking and planting stories to sabotage some family members in order to protect others.

"If the comms team want to be able to remove a negative story about their principal, they will trade and give you something about someone else's principal," he said. "So the offices end up working against each other."

The docuseries began with a title card reading "Members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content within this series." Palace sources reportedly disputed this statement, saying they weren't given the chance to comment, but a source at Netflix told Business Insider in 2022 that Charles' and William's offices were contacted ahead of its premiere.

A month later, Harry's explosive tell-all memoir, "Spare," hit shelves worldwide.

Prince Harry's book "Spare" on sale at a bookstore in London
Prince Harry's memoir on sale in January 2023.Matthew Chattle/Future Publishing via Getty Images

"Spare" sold a record-breaking 1.43 million copies on its first day, surpassing first-day sales of both Michelle Obama and Barack Obama's best-selling memoirs, The New York Times reported. Harry reportedly was paid a $20 million advance in a multi-book deal.

With anecdotes from Harry's upbringing, rivalry with William, and courtship with Meghan, the book provided an unprecedented glimpse into the personal lives of the royal family.

In the book, Harry referred to William as his "beloved brother and archnemesis" and wrote that William physically attacked him after an argument. He also wrote that he'd asked Charles not to marry Camilla and suspected her of leaking private conversations to the press.

At Charles' coronation in May 2023, Harry was seated two rows behind Kate with Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank.

Prince Harry seated a few rows behind Kate Middleton at Queen Elizabeth's funeral
Royal family members and guests at the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Meghan did not attend the coronation and stayed home with their children, Archie and Lilibet, instead.

It was a quick 28-hour trip to London for Harry, during which he was not seen interacting with William.

After Kate's extended absence from public life while recovering from surgery, an altered Mother's Day photo exposed cracks in her and William's once-united front.

A tabloid story about the edited Mother's Day royal photo of Kate Middleton
Stories in Britain's national newspapers,about the altered Mother's Day photo released by Kensington Palace in March 2024.PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

In January, the palace announced that Kate would undergo "planned abdominal surgery" and pause public engagements until after Easter while she recovered.

When William issued a rare solo statement about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and missed a church service in February due to a "personal matter," speculation about her prolonged absence erupted on social media.

In a statement to Business Insider, the palace clarified that Kate was "doing well" and that they would not be providing daily updates.

Then came Mother's Day.

Kensington Palace released a photo of Kate posing with Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis thanking the public for their "kind wishes and continued support over the last two months" — the first official photo of her since surgery.

After numerous inconsistencies in the photo sparked questions about its authenticity, photo agencies issued kill notifications, with the AP saying that it would no longer distribute the photo because "it appears the source has manipulated the image."

The official response from the palace — a post on X signed by Kate in which she apologized and wrote, "Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing" — only intensified public scrutiny.

Royal commentator Kristen Meinzer told Business Insider that she was "surprised" that the palace "chose to essentially hang Kate out to dry" — a departure from the united front that had sustained the couple as the future of the monarchy.

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