In the fifth episode of Harry & Meghan out Dec. 15, a Netflix docu-series produced by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Harry opens up about the “wedge” that has grown between himself and his brother over the last two years and the roots of that rift.
Harry says the brothers’ relationship has been strained since his announcement in January 2020 that he and Meghan planned to take a step back from royal duties.
Prince Harry recalled a tense family meeting shortly after at the royals’ estate Sandringham with his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, his brother Prince William, and his father Prince Charles—who is now the king.
“It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me,” Harry said in the docu-series.
Speculation about what’s behind the rift between the royal siblings is the stuff of tabloid leaks and rumors: That the brothers’ wives don’t get along, or that the Palace has covered up or turned a blind eye to alleged misdeeds by Prince William while Prince Harry and Meghan get dragged through the press, or that Prince William believes Harry is abdicating his royal duties.
For his part, Harry described he and his brother as maintaining two different views of how the monarchy should operate. Harry, who is fifth in line to the throne, suggested he held a more modern view and wanted to figure out a way to maintain some of his royal duties.
Prince William is the heir apparent to the British throne, and will be crowned king when his father, King Charles III dies. Prince Harry, as King Charles’ younger son, falls behind William’s three children in the line of succession.
“The saddest part of it was this wedge created between myself and my brother,” Harry said, “so that he’s now on the institution’s side, and part of that I get. I understand—that’s his inheritance. So to some extent it’s already ingrained in him that part of his responsibility is the survivability and the continuation of this institution.”
When rumors started circulating that Harry and Meghan were leaving the U.K. because William bullied them out, spokespeople for William released a joint statement Jan. 13, 2020 attributed to both brothers that denied that speculation. But Prince Harry revealed in the Netflix documentary that he was blindsided by the statement, and wasn’t consulted about it.
“I couldn’t believe it. No one had asked me permission to put my name to a statement like that,” Harry argued. The royal family’s staffers, he claimed, “were happy to lie to protect my brother and yet for three years they were never willing to tell the truth to protect us.”
Throughout the docu-series, the couple maintain that they did not receive enough help or sympathy from the royal family’s staffers to deal with the racist trolling that Markle endured.
The two brothers were always seen as sharing a special bond because of the horrific death of their mother Princess Diana 25 years ago in a car crash. They worked closely together for the Heads Together mental health initiative in recent years.
But there are signs that tensions may have been building between the two before things came to a head at Sandringham. For example, there’s an ongoing question of whether the Sussexes even get along with Prince William and Kate, the Princess of Wales. In the docu-series, Markle describes an awkward dinner party between the brothers and their significant others in which she claimed she caught William’s wife Kate off-guard by greeting her in ripped jeans and bare feet and trying to hug her.
“I started to understand that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside,” she said in the show, “that there is a forward-facing way of being, and then you close the door and you go, ‘whew, great, okay we can relax now’ — but that formality carries over on both sides.”
There is also a history of sibling feuds in the British royal family. Edward VIII and his younger brother George VI were close when they were young, but grew apart when Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson in 1936, leaving George VI to succeed him as king. Edward used to look out over George VI in a “quasi-paternal” fashion when they were growing up, but after he gave up the crown, “the two men soon fell out irreparably,” according to Alexander Larman, author of The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication and The Windsors at War: The King, His Brother and a Family Divided.
Larman says it remains to be seen whether Harry’s memoir Spare, due out Jan. 10, will have revelations as shocking as those in the couple’s 2021 Oprah interview—during which Prince Harry and Meghan alleged racism by the royal family.
“The problem that Harry now faces—and this may well hurt the sales and reception of his memoir—is that the same stories have now been told repeatedly,” says Larman. “What was shocking when first told on Oprah Winfrey has become a form of diversion, and the poor relationship between the brothers and their wives is now priced in to any understanding of the Royal Family today.”
However, Larman says that the Netflix show reveals that the public feud between brothers is likely to continue. “It may have been felt, briefly, that a truce was declared in the wake of the Queen’s death, but as the release of the Harry & Meghan documentary has shown, matters have reverted to business as usual, with added vitriol,” he says.