No doubt you’ve heard the news: ROYAL FEUD! According to the notoriously bloodthirsty British tabloids, anyway.
Recently, news broke that Harry and Meghan would be moving from Kensington Palace, in London, to Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor. It’s really not a particularly shocking move from someone steadily working his way down the line of succession, but it had an important bit of traction in that it suggested maybe—just maybe—Harry wasn’t quite as cozy with his brother anymore. And maybe—just maybe!!!—that had something to do with their wives not being the best of friends.
Gossip stories quickly came fast and furious, veering wildly from Meghan demanding air fresheners at St. George’s Chapel to Kate crying over a bridesmaid’s dress fitting for Princess Charlotte. The through-line: A clear attempt to generate some drama over the notion that the brothers are falling out because their wives don’t get along while painting Meghan as a demanding Hollywood diva who doesn’t understand the hierarchy at the palace.
This is a particularly tricky installment of Unwrapping the Beef because there’s some question as to whether there is beef at all, or if the press is just serving “beef stew” made from ground horse meat and triple the potatoes. Critics say that this is just more bullshit from the Brexiteers of the notoriously racist British tabloid press; Twitter dunked on the rash of ridiculous stories with #MyPalaceSource.
But it wouldn’t do to dismiss the possibility of internal palace drama too quickly—after all, if there’s one thing the early ’90s War of the Waleses teaches us, it’s that beef has a way of spilling out into the public sphere.
Let’s unwrap whatever’s in this blood-spattered butcher paper, shall we?
Rewind to late October, which brought news reports that Will and Harry were considering splitting their royal courts, rather than continuing to share. Royals do indeed still maintain courts—not a falconer, a Master of the Horse, and a troupe of women who sit around and do needlepoint, but modern office staff. “It effectively covers the private secretaries, the press operation, the dressers, the PAs, the valets, the security – anyone employed specifically as part of William and Harry’s team,” a palace source—who went ahead and dismissed any talk of a rivalry—told the Telegraph. Remember this in the future: It would mean that each of the various players in the Royal Family Saga has their team shaping their own agenda, which conceivably be at odds with other royals’ teams and agendas. That means multiple possible levels of beef in the months and years to come.
Then, in mid-November, Meghan Markle’s personal assistant resigned. The Daily Mail’s framing was a clear case of fishing: “Working for the Duchess of Sussex must be one of the most glamorous jobs, so how surprising to discover that she’s apparently struggling to hold on to key staff members,” wrote columnist Richard Eden. On top of the mystification that she would quit, “in a highly unusual move, a Palace source has been authorised to pay tribute to her,” lavishly complimenting her as “a hugely talented person,” who “played a pivotal role in the success of the Royal Wedding” and will be widely missed.
But it was the announcement of Harry and Meghan’s move that precipitated the current frenzied news cycle, bringing together all these various elements and rendering them into a proper running narrative. By itself, this wasn’t particularly surprising—even Will and Kate spent as long as they possibly could rusticating up near Sandringham and only the fact that they are eventually going to become king and queen brought them back to London. But the move was quickly pegged to the idea of conflict between Kate and Meghan; “Kate and Meghan are very different people,” a source told the Daily Mail. “They don’t really get on.”
And then it was off to the races, with the tabloids in fierce competition for the most absurd anecdote painting Meghan as a demanding interloper. Among the stories:
This one comes courtesy of a reporter at the Daily Telegraph, who said he’d “spoken to two separate sources who claim Kate was left in tears following a bridesmaids dress fitting for Princess Charlotte.” Of course, Kate would have been newly postpartum at the time, when you will cry at literally anything. But that’s not as good a story as BRIDEZILLA MEGHAN MADE KATE CRY.
Not to be outdone, the Daily Mail dug up this incredible piece of information, which—if true—is probably more of a California luxe touch than anything else, although I’m sure it probably does smell like musty ass in that chapel.
The Sun followed up the bridesmaid story with a second report: “Sources claimed the Duchess of Cambridge told Meghan not to berate members of her team at Kensington Palace.” Their palace source told them that “Her and Kate fell out when she b******ed Kate’s staff” before the wedding with, Kate telling Meghan, “That’s unacceptable, they’re my staff and I speak to them.”
“It’s a tricky situation but it was a one-off and they are determined to maintain a positive relationship even though they are obviously very different in their approach,” the source added. Frankly, smells more like Kate asserting her place in the hierarchy than Meghan being a bitch.
A “well-placed royal insider” told the Sun that, “Meghan had her heart set on this tiara with emeralds and Prince Harry hit the roof when they were told it was impossible for her to wear it,” adding that the Queen had to intervene. While this story actually first emerged in early November, it gained new life when paired with the stories about the bridesmaid’s dress fitting and the air fresheners.
Of course, Piers Morgan had to get in on the fun, with a column about how he and Meghan used to DM on Twitter but she “ghosted” him when Prince Harry arrived on the scene. Headline: “Meghan Markle is a ruthless social climbing actress who has landed the role of her life and is determined to milk it for all she can - and that’s why the Palace is beginning to turn on her.” Wow—an ambitious actress cultivated a thirst-bucket television anchor. Somebody have this woman removed to the Tower of London, immediately!
Closer spoke to a “royal expert,” who told them: “I was told by insiders in the summer that Kate was making a big effort with Meghan and inviting her to her home in Kensington Palace for tea. But I think what happened was the two women realised they are very different people and can’t force a friendship.” So we’ve reached the “well, I suspect” stage of this news cycle.
Critics have called bullshit on this whole song and dance. Read this Hadley Freeman column; the idea that Meghan Markle could out-entitle the royals is prima facie bullshit. Prince Charles barely wipes his own butt, as it would be against the God-given social order for a prince to demean himself by wiping his own butt. Meghan surely must have some sort of appetite for dealing with the limelight—she was a professional actress, after all—but the notion that she is more spoiled than the rest of these people? Try offering me a good deal on Buckingham Palace, while you’re at it.
What’s more, at the Guardian, Yomi Adegoke pointed out the racist dynamics of the bridesmaids’ dress story in particular:
The Daily Telegraph said a “bridezilla-like” Meghan even reduced a “sensitive and hormonal” Kate to tears during a dress fitting for Princess Charlotte. The rumour itself is enough – the “angry black woman” making a defenceless white woman cry is exactly the kind of thing the press has prepped for since Meghan entered the royal family. The related articles have an air of “I told you so”, as if foresight, not stereotyping and bias, is behind this alleged behaviour. It is a tale as old as time: women of colour being held to impossibly high standards and then pilloried when they fall short or are rumoured to have done so. Meghan’s casting as a Disney villain – a black female divorcee with a penchant for black dresses (another protocol breach) – practically writes itself.
It does look a bit like people within the palace are worried about how all this is playing, however. First came the firm confirmation that all four would absolutely be spending Christmas together at Sandringham with the Queen. Then followed a flurry of positive pieces. For instance, on the evening of December 4th, the Telegraph revealed that Meghan Markle had attended Michelle Obama’s talk in London and met with her afterward, in a meeting they described as “warm.” The firm also released full-length action shots from inside the diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace, much to the delight and mild astonishment of royal bloggers.
The weirdest touch of all is that Kate’s mom, Carole Middleton—who has never given an interview before—just offered up two. Who even knows what to do with that information?
Perhaps the most likely scenario here is that we’re mostly dealing with tabloid storytelling, but there’s a small core of beef—something like an 80/20 ratio. It seems very likely that some part of the palace power structure—whether that’s the older royals, Will and Kate, or simply all the flunkies who work for the royals and are probably the biggest hierarchy-humping snobs of all—don’t like Meghan. Maybe she has made mistakes but it wouldn’t be surprising that an American would struggle with the system of deference in which the royals have been pickling for a thousand years. But never forget that it’s the royals who are, quite literally, entitled.
Besides, they don’t need to actively beef—not when their most unhinged fans
are fighting a proxy war online.