The Duke and Duchess of Sussex reached a decision about attending King Charles and Queen Camilla's coronation that puts them half in, half out
Buckingham Palace announced last week that the Duchess of Sussex, 41, will stay back in California with the couple's children Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet while Prince Harry, 38, supports his father at the May 6 crowning ceremony in London. King Charles is said to be "pleased" his son will be there, but the wider reconciliation so many have hoped for within the family hasn't happened.
"At this point, it's become so personal," a close friend tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story. "Maybe what they wanted wasn't achieved, but at the end of the day, he's going there to support his dad."
The ongoing rift between Prince Harry and his family was evident in late March, when the Duke of Sussex was in London for a court hearing in his claim against Associated Newspapers but didn't see his father King Charles or brother Prince William.
"Things are strained," says a palace insider.
King Charles, 74, was deeply saddened by the accusations of disloyalty and media manipulation that Prince Harry made against the royal family in his memoir, Spare, released in January. But it would be Charles's "first wish" for Harry to join them at the coronation, says a source who knows the royals.
The coronation will be bittersweet for Prince Harry, who, in addition to attending without Meghan, likely has no official role and is not expected to participate in any of the other planned events, including a Buckingham Palace balcony appearance. However, a source who knows the royals tells PEOPLE Harry "will happily go along with whatever the plan is" and that his main concern about attending was the issue of his security, which has been addressed.
With Prince Archie's 4th birthday falling on the same day as King Charles' coronation, Meghan will be able to celebrate their son at home alongside his little sister, Princess Lilibet, 22 months.
"It's an elegant solution," royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith tells PEOPLE, adding that Archie's birthday "gave them a reasonable out for Meghan not to come." But those closest to the couple know that the media backlash Meghan faced in the U.K. during Queen Elizabeth's funeral last year — and in the seven months since — played a significant role in her decision not to come.
"Meghan wants to be there to support her father-in-law, but at the same time, the scrutiny she receives outweighs the support," the close friend says. "There's always going to be that other side challenging their reasoning, and who wants to put themselves in that position?"
A palace insider also tells PEOPLE, "It would have been quite significant if Harry hadn't attended his father's coronation, but I'm not surprised Meghan isn't going given the circumstances."
Meghan's relationship with her in-laws seemingly started on a positive note. King Charles memorably stepped in for Meghan's father, Thomas Markle, and walked her down the aisle of St. George's Chapel on her royal wedding day in 2018.
But behind the scenes, tensions were mounting within the family, eventually leading to Meghan and Prince Harry's 2020 announcement that they were stepping back from their royal roles.
Whatever happens during Prince Harry's upcoming trip to the U.K. — where he will likely stay at Frogmore Cottage for what could be the last time following King Charles's decision to evict Harry and Meghan from their U.K. home — "he will look back on it and think it is better to come and play his part and say, 'I saw my father crowned,' " says a source close to the royal household. "And tell his children about it."
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