For as long as there has been a British monarchy – since dirt or sheep or daughters were still acceptable forms of currency and ‘there be dragons’ was still being inked onto maps – it’s women who have been left to tidy up royal messes. Princesses, Queens, Duchesses – not only have they always been required to turn out children and ignore the fact their husbands hadn’t had a bath since the Battle of Crécy but to have cooled regal tempers and helped smooth things over with the Continent.
Take Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, who persuaded her husband to not slaughter much of Calais after the Hundred Years War or Margaret of Anjou, who married Henry VI to help broker a peace deal between England and France.
That’s a tradition that now, more than 500 years that Kate, the Princess of Wales is done with. Over. Next please.
Now, after years of reportedly playing peacemaker in the often vicious trans-Atlantic fraternal feud that has riven the brothers Wales, and launched a thousand newspaper front pages, the princess has “decided to get on with [her life]” and has given up her metaphorical blue beret.
That’s according to Jennie Bond, who was the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years.
In dashed bad news for anyone hoping for some sort of Richard Curtis-worthy happy ending between Prince William, the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, Bond has, in an interview with OK! Magazine, revealed that Kate has come to the conclusion that the relationship “cannot be fixed,” for the time being anyway.
Hear that? No one will be waiting with some large homemade sign at the airport arrivals gates in London or Los Angeles with ‘mea culpa’ done in glitter pen anytime soon.
This new line in the sand comes after a good two years of Kate seemingly trying to mend things.
Take the events of April 2021. Barely a month before, Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex had sat for a lengthy interview with Oprah Winfrey and dished more royal dirt than a fleet of shiny new backhoes could have managed. (The fact that 99-year-old Philip had been in hospital for weeks and things not looking good did not seem to have given the Sussexes any pause.)
On April 9, the prince passed away and Harry soon jetted back to the UK for his grandfather’s funeral on April 17. (Meghan was heavily pregnant at the time and there were still heavy Covid travel restrictions so she stayed back in the US.)
With claims about skin colour, bias and an alleged callous disregard for Meghan’s mental health still reverberating, the question on the day was, how would the duke be treated by his family at the funeral? Leprous outsider? Stonily blanked by grimacing pasty faces? A few awkward nods.
Kate, of course, came to the rescue and was the first member of la famille Windsor to actually speak to him after the service, in full court view of the press. After several moments of what one would have to assume was the politest of polite chitchat, William then joined them and Kate tactfully peeled off, leaving the brothers.
It was the sort of diplomatically adroit manoeuvre such that the princess should be giving classes at the UN.
We now know, thanks to Harry’s memoir Spare, that what followed later that same day was some outdoors yelling with ‘Willy’ and King Charles pleading with them, “Please, boys – don’t make my final years a misery.”
So much for Kate’s attempts.
Another thread in this tangled skein: That for years Kate and Harry seemed like a cheeky, giggling-at-the-back-of-the-class pair who got along as well as gin does with tonic. (Does that make William the lemon?)
The years since then have seen a similar pattern play out, with reports suggesting that Kate was working behind-the-scenes to bring her husband and brother-in-law back together for some fence-mending and breach-fixing.
As Bond has said: “When you come from a happy, united family – as Catherine does – it’s incredibly hard to understand how people can become estranged. I think she believed the rift could be fixed.”
However, that was very much before – before the Sussexes’ Harry & Meghan and before Spare, which made William out to be an petty bully boy who felt threatened by the Sussexes’ popularity and Kate a frosty sort who refused to extend the hand of sisterhood and the occasional shared, cathartic glass of post-engagement pinot grigio to Meghan.
Since the Oprah detonation, more water has flowed under the proverbial bridge than could fit in the Hoover Dam.
Last month royal biographer Tom Quinn, author of Gilded Youth: An Intimate History of Growing Up in the Royal Family, told the Daily Express US: “I interviewed people that worked for Harry and Meghan when they were in England. I also interviewed people that worked for Kate and William. They say that privately there’s a lot more anger than there is publicly.
“William and Kate are especially furious about the accusation that William physically assaulted Harry.”
Thus we are now very much in the after – an after, that to Bond’s way of telling, won’t see Kate trying to get William and Harry to have a go at some trust falls any time soon.
“There comes a point when you just have to accept that happy families are not a game that everyone can play,” she has said.
“Catherine has been hurt and insulted by things that Harry and Meghan have said, but she and William are a very strong team, and I suspect that, together, they’ve come to the conclusion that the rift with Harry cannot be fixed in the foreseeable future. They’ve closed their minds to that possibility and decided to get on with their lives.”
It’s an interesting image of the Princess of Wales. Kate might often still look like a fragrant, smiling good gum drops head girl-type but under her new wardrobe of power separates would seem to be a steely force to be reckoned with.
This is not the first time this year that this little known side of the princess has been exposed.
In July when the updated edition of Valentine Low’s must-read Courtiers revealed that it was Kate who was instrumental in ensuring there was some backbone into Buckingham Palace’s official response to the Sussexes’ Oprah interview. In the hours after the prime time special, aides had drafted a statement and were umming and ahhing about the inclusion of the now famous phrase, “recollections may vary.”
As an insider told Low: “It was Kate who clearly made the point, ‘History will judge this statement and unless this phrase or a phrase like it is included, everything that they have said will be taken as true.’”
Interestingly, the Princess of Wales has never once – not ever – publicly commented on Harry’s years worth of attacks, potshots and griping and aside from one off-the-cuff line in March 2021, neither has the Prince of Wales. Instead, the couple has relied on the very British strategy of Getting On With Things.
Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that “William himself has been determined to focus on the long term rather than the immediate drama of the past few turbulent years.”
A source who “knows the prince well” told the paper’s Hannah Furness that the Waleses’ “long-term role is to stay out of the world of celebrity culture … There is a sense of calm consistency and service.”
It’s an approach that has paid off, and how, with William’s recent trip to New York a bang up success and with the father-of three having been recently voted by a Gallup poll the most popular world leaders among Americans.
The Prince of Wales is also doing well on home soil, with a recent survey by the Daily Mail finding that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of respondents want King Charles to give his eldest son more duties in the years to come and view William as a King in waiting.
And Kate? She has a Royal Foundation of her very own to run, three children to raise with Willy, blazers to buy in bulk and a Netflix account she keeps meaning to cancel. (Well, I’m guessing anyway.)
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.