Prince Harry’s Bridge-Burner of a Memoir Signals a Bigger Royal Rift
LONDON — King Charles III has long pushed the idea of slimming down the British royal family. If his younger son’s unsparing new book is any indication, he has achieved his goal, though not in the way he intended.
The publication of Prince Harry’s memoir on Tuesday — with its scorched-earth details about his rupture with his family — seems likely to dash any near-term prospects that Harry will return to the fold by reconciling with his father; with Camilla, the queen consort; or with his older brother, Prince William.
The book, titled “Spare,” paints a portrait of a hopelessly divided House of Windsor. Far from the smooth-running operation known as The Firm, it comes across as a collection of warring fiefs, where family members jockey for advantage with a complicit tabloid press, trying to buff their images by dishing dirt on each other.
With Harry and his wife, Meghan, estranged and living in Southern California; the king’s disgraced younger brother, Andrew, in internal exile following his settlement of a sexual assault lawsuit; and the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September, the family’s senior ranks have dwindled to a handful of figures.
Even those who remain are caught in a poisonous public-relations contest that pits family members against one another, according to Harry. He writes that an aide to his father and stepmother planted negative stories in the London newspapers about William and his wife, Catherine — a practice that he said also tormented him and Meghan and contributed to their decision to leave.
“I was displeased about being used this way, and livid about it being done to Meg,” Harry said in the book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “But I had to admit it was happening much more often lately to Willy. And he was justifiably incandescent about it.”
Buckingham Palace has stuck to its policy of not commenting on the book or on the cavalcade of television interviews Harry has done to promote it. But as the disclosures reach a clattering peak this week, royal experts predicted Charles and William would have to reach a some kind of accommodation with Harry, if only to prevent the rift from overshadowing the king’s coronation in May.
The Harry-and-Meghan drama, several royal experts said, has become the gravest crisis confronting the monarchy since the fraught aftermath of the death of Harry’s mother, Diana, the Princess of Wales, in a car crash in the late summer of 1997, when the queen came under rare criticism for not showing enough sympathy.
“The key thing that rescued them every time in the past was that the queen was above reproach,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “But we now have a king who is himself a divisive figure.”
The palace has signaled that Harry and Meghan might be invited to the coronation, suggesting that Charles still hopes to play a healing role. But in an interview Sunday with an ITV correspondent, Tom Bradby, Harry was noncommittal about attending. “There’s a lot that can happen between now and then,” he said.
More on the British Royal Family
- Harry vs. William: In the latest installment of the Netflix documentary “Harry & Meghan,” Harry made several incendiary allegations about his brother, William.
- Aide Resigns: Two weeks after she was pressed repeatedly by a royal household member about which country she came from, a British-born Black woman returned to Buckingham Palace to receive a face-to-face apology from her interrogator.
- Boston Visit: Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales recently made a whirlwind visit to Boston. Swaths of the city were unimpressed.
- ‘The Crown’: Months ago, the new season of the Netflix drama was shaping up as another public-relations headache for Prince Charles. But then he became king.
So much has already happened that it is hard to imagine Harry in dress uniform, marching to Westminster Abbey with his father and brother.
“This seems unsustainable,” said Ed Owens, a historian who has written about the relations between the monarchy and news media. “It suggests an institutional failure, and a complete contradiction to how historians think of The Firm as always working together. They’re just as often at odds with each other.”
Mr. Owens said William, one of the most popular royals, had been particularly damaged by the book. Harry, the “spare” to William’s heir, portrays his elder brother as ill-tempered, entitled, and prone to violence, knocking Harry to the floor in one altercation and grabbing his shirt in another.
“They’ve got to get a grip on how they deal with Harry,” Mr. Owens said.
The latest drip of disclosures began last week with teasers for promotional TV interview Harry did with ITV and another with the CBS program “60 Minutes.” It accelerated after the book, published by Penguin Random House, leaked out nearly a week before its publication date, first in The Guardian and later in other papers after it was mistakenly put on sale in Spain. The Times obtained its copy in London.
For days, nuggets from the book have been splashed across front pages. “Outrageous boast,” The Daily Mirror said Saturday of Harry’s claim that he had killed 25 Taliban fighters as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. “Wills lunge at me after Philip’s funeral,” The Sun said on Sunday, referring to Harry’s account of a tense meeting with his brother after they buried Prince Philip, their grandfather, in 2021.
On Monday, after the TV interviews, the tabloids played up the claim that Harry had walked back one of the most explosive accusations made by him and Meghan in their interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021: that a member of the royal family had spoken in racist terms about their unborn child.
The episode is not mentioned in “Spare,” which is curious since Harry skips little else, from his recreational drug use to how he lost his virginity in a field behind a pub. Speaking to Mr. Bradby, Harry did not retract the couple’s claim that a family member had speculated anxiously about the skin color of the child. But he said it was an example of “unconscious bias” rather than racism.
Questions of racism reverberated for weeks after Ms. Winfrey’s interview, forcing William to deny that the royal family was racist. They resurfaced again recently when a former lady-in-waiting to the queen, Susan Hussey, was stripped of her duties and forced to apologize after subjecting a Black British guest at Buckingham Palace to insistent questioning about where her family came from.
For a few royal watchers, Harry’s decision not to reprise those accusations left the door open for some sort of peacemaking.
“Now is the time for it, ironically,” Mr. Hunt said. “If they really want to seize the initiative, if they really want to shift the dial, they’ve got to somehow rise above it. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for them.”
The risk, he said, is that Harry’s unfiltered details will rob the royal family of its mystique with the public. “It’s harder to have that mystery when we know they fight and call each other names,” Mr. Hunt said.
If Harry tried to ease the pressure on the family concerning race, he most likely complicated matters with his stepmother. He and his brother, he writes, pleaded with their father not to marry Camilla after the death of their mother, though they did not begrudge him the relationship. And he claimed that Camilla was behind several negative stories he said were planted with London papers.
“With a family built on hierarchy, and with her on the way to being queen consort, there was going to be people or bodies left in the street because of that,” Harry said to Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes.”
In the book, Harry claims that this betrayal dated all the way to when he was a high school student at Eton College. A tabloid editor, whom he does not name, called the palace with what she said was evidence that Harry was using drugs. Harry denied it and, he writes, he hoped his father would back him.
Instead, on the advice of a communications aide to Charles and Camilla, the palace decided to cooperate with the story.
“Amid all this unpleasantness, all this extortion and gamesmanship, the spin doctor had discovered one silver lining, one shiny consolation prize for Pa,” Harry writes. . “No more the unfaithful husband, Pa would now be presented to the world as the harried single dad coping with a drug-addled child.”