Inside the "Very Complicated" Relationship Between Harry & the Queen

·14 min read

Queen Elizabeth, Britain's longest reigning monarch, is known to her millions of subjects as "Her Majesty," but to her eight grandchildren, she is lovingly called "Granny." She has distinct relationships with each of her grandchildren, including the one who lives an ocean away, Prince Harry. The Queen became a mother figure to Harry when Princess Diana tragically died in 1997, and their relationship strengthened during his teen years. When Harry entered Sandhurst for his military training in 2005—eventually serving on the front lines in Afghanistan—Her Majesty (who was also his commander-in-chief) was deeply proud of her grandson, who served with honor. Throughout his life, Harry has always been especially close to the Queen, who loves his infectious sense of fun and infallible ability to make her smile. Who else could have gotten Her Majesty to co-star in that hilarious video challenge for the Invictus Games in 2016?

Sadly, the events of the past few years have chipped away at that closeness as Harry and Meghan have attempted to rewrite the royal rule book, causing plenty of conflict within "The Firm." The Queen has been a steadfast supporter of the couple since their engagement in 2018. When Prince William had advised his brother to take things slow, the Queen was determined to be welcoming to Meghan, due in large part to her deep affection for Harry. Despite all that, according to one royal insider, "Harry kept pushing for more and more changes, which would put him and Meghan on equal ground with William and Kate, which was impossible. He also felt Meghan wasn't getting her due. Even though he grew up in the system and knew the rules, Harry had grown tired of living in William's shadow." The source continued: "At first, Her Majesty did her best to accommodate her grandson, but there were protocols and royal tradition that needed to be followed, which Harry seemed to have forgotten. That concerned the Queen, but she was determined to keep her relationship with Harry intact."

As much as the Queen has wanted to keep the Sussexes in the royal fold, calling them "much-loved family members" in an official statement after their tell-all interview, Harry has acted, at least publicly, as if he wanted to blow everything apart. Insiders say his explosive comments about "The Institution" in a series of bombshell interviews have deeply hurt Her Majesty and left her "disappointed" with her grandson. Still, it's been reported that the Queen has invited Harry and Meghan to her Platinum Julibee next year and Her Majesty was spotted driving near Frogmore Cottage the day Harry arrived from California for the unveiling of the Princess Diana statue. While it may be playing out behind the scenes, it appears Harry and the Queen have maintained their relationship, however strained, when the rest of the family seems to have turned their backs on him.

Their relationship may confound royal watchers, but in the end, according to some sources, it won't be destroyed by the extraordinary conflicts of the past year. Read on to discover why the Queen will always keep Harry in the family, no matter how messy things become, and take a look back at the series events that have tested this very complicated relationship.

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It all started in the months leading up to Harry's wedding to Meghan when the Queen was "very upset" over a particular incident, an insider said.

Harry and his grandmother's relationship started to become very strained in the months before his wedding to Meghan in 2018, royal insiders told Best Life. "The Queen was very upset that Harry's requests were actually demands and he went about ordering staff around in a way she found distasteful," a source said. "Meghan may not have been aware of the protocol and traditions surrounding a royal wedding, but Harry certainly was. He was determined to give Meghan everything she wanted, regardless of the upset it caused within the Palace."

Things reportedly came to a head when the Queen learned that Harry had allegedly had a heated exchange with Angela Kelly, the Queen's longtime dresser and dear friend, over what Meghan could wear from the royal tiara collection. According to The Sun, the bride-to-be wanted a tiara with emeralds and the couple was extremely upset when they were told Meghan would not be permitted to wear the headpiece because the provenance of the tiara was unclear. The outlet reported a "well-placed royal insider" said: "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." The story was confirmed by royal biographer Robert Jobson, who reported that Harry told the staff: "What Meghan wants, Meghan gets."

That's when the Queen essentially said "enough." Multiple outlets reported that Her Majesty told her grandson: "Meghan cannot have whatever she wants. She gets what tiara she's given by me." A royal source told The Sun: "The message from the Queen was very much Meghan needed to think about how she speaks to staff members and be careful to follow family protocols." In the end, the bride wore a diamond and platinum headpiece, which was chosen for her by the Queen. Six months later, Princess Eugenie wore the tiara Meghan wanted at her wedding to Jack Brooksbank. The alleged conflict over the tiara damaged the Queen's relationship with Harry and made the Palace staff wary of Meghan. It did not bode well for the future.

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Harry and Meghan's surprise announcement that they were leaving "The Firm" made things "very complicated" for Harry and the Queen, a source said.

When Harry and Meghan announced they were stepping away from their roles as senior royals in Jan. 2020, there were numerous reports of royal rifts within the family that exposed plenty of cracks in the once-impenetrable wall of "The Firm." The British media offered conflicting reports about the Queen's reaction and the timing as to when she learned of the Sussexes' plans, but one thing rang true in all of them: although the Queen knew the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had been unhappy for some time, the Palace was caught off-guard by the timing of the announcement. ( In their now infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey from earlier this year, Harry said he didn't surprise the Queen with the news. "I never blindsided my grandmother," he said. "I have too much respect for her.")

According to a royal source, the Queen was "very hurt" by the couple's decision to announce a detailed roadmap of their post-royal plans on a brand-new website launched within hours after the news broke. Determined to have the matter resolved as quickly as possible, the Queen gave Charles, William, and Harry just days to hammer out an official exit agreement that grew so contentious, the two brothers were barely on speaking terms.

The Queen invited both William and Harry to lunch at Windsor Castle on the final day of the Sandringham Summit, but only Harry accepted her invitation and reportedly spent the time making his case to his grandmother. "Harry spoke to the Queen and tried to influence her. It is a testament to the Queen's great affection for both her grandsons that she wanted to make peace," said a source. "When everyone else was furious at Harry, at the end of the day, the Queen wanted to try to make this work for both sides and have the family stay intact."

By this time, Harry's relationship with the Queen became "very complicated," said one insider. "When Harry decided to leave and it somehow turned into an 'escape' in his mind, the dynamic between him and the Queen changed. He was fighting for his freedom on a personal level, while she was dealing with something so unprecedented that the only thing that came close was the abdication of King Edward VIII."

Harry and Meghan's sharp rebuke to the Palace after Megxit made things worse, but an insider said the Queen was hopeful they'd return to the fold.

After the Palace released an official statement on the Megxit agreement, which prohibited Harry and Meghan from using "royal" for any future commercial ventures, the Royal Family and Palace aides were stunned by the sharp tone of Harry and Meghan's swift rebuttal. They said neither the British government nor the Queen has the authority to ban them from using the word "royal" internationally, but they would stop using the Sussex Royal title. According to the Daily Mail, the Sussexes had already applied for a trademark for "Sussex Royal" to be used on everything from bandanas to teaching materials and they spent tens of thousands of dollars on their new website.

"Their behavior after the terms of the final agreement were announced, painting themselves as the injured party, was an outrage," an insider told Best Life. "The Queen bent over backward for them during their 20 months as senior royals, only to have it all thrown back in her face. It infuriated a lot of people, but Her Majesty did as she's always done, which is to get on with it. Palace aides knew she was quite thrown by this counterattack, but at that point, she had a wait-and-see attitude. The agreement also stipulated the terms would be reevaluated in a year and it was her hope that Harry and Meghan would come back into the fold."

But there had been signs for months that the couple wanted no part of the Royal Family. The Queen missed Archie's christening because Harry and Meghan did not give the Palace aides who manage the Queen's diary enough advance notice. "The Queen was very disappointed and the rest of the Royal Family was aghast at what Meghan and Harry did. It was so disrespectful," a royal source told Best Life.

Some time after the christening, the Sussexes were invited to Sandringham for the holidays, but they never replied, leaving the Queen to personally inquire, only to be told they would be spending their first Christmas as parents with their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, in California with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland.

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Harry and Meghan's revelations in the interview with Oprah Winfrey was a "line that should never have been crossed," a source said.

This has been a difficult and tumultuous year for the Queen and for Harry. In February, a month before the one-year review of the Sussexes' exit agreement, unnamed friends of the prince said Harry would fight to regain his military affiliations that he had lost when he departed for America. Before the Zoom meeting that had been scheduled for March took place, the Sussexes announced they would not be returning to their roles as senior royals as it was officially announced Harry would be stripped of his remaining titles. The Queen did not believe they could be "half-in, half-out" royals. Last month, Best Life reported Harry's decision to do the televised interview with Winfrey was fueled by his anger over the loss of his titles.

Soon after the announcement, news came that the Sussexes would be sitting down with Winfrey for a tell-all interview that they taped while 99-year-old Prince Philip was hospitalized and as we later learned, in the final stages of his life. Days before the interview with Winfrey aired, Harry appeared on James Corden's late night show and spoke lovingly of both his grandparents, revealing that the Queen had sent Archie a waffle maker for Christmas.

Then, the interview with Winfrey aired and blew up everything. The couple's shocking allegations of racism within the Royal Family and claims they were treated with cruel indifference rocked the royals and escalated tensions between both sides. "It was a line that should never have been crossed," an insider told Best Life of the interview. "Bashing the Royal Family and outright criticizing William, [Duchess Catherine], and Charles broke every rule in the royal handbook. The mere fact that they did this tell-all interview on American television was bad enough, but the things that were said were just beyond the pale."

It took two days for the Queen to respond in a statement, which said "some recollections may vary" and "Harry, Meghan, and Archie will always be much loved family members."

Insiders say Harry was an outsider to his own family at Prince Philip's funeral.

The Duke of Edinburgh died in April, just two months shy of what would have been his 100th birthday. Harry had not visited his grandfather during his extended hospital stay, but he did attended his funeral. In the days leading up to the service, his alleged insistence that he be permitted to wear a military uniform resulted in the Queen making the decision that all male members of the Royal Family would wear black suits, which further infuriated many people. "His behavior was inexplicable. Harry's insistence on being in uniform was unnecessary given all that the Queen was dealing with at that time," a source said.

Harry was ignored at the service by many members of the Royal Family, which only angered him more. He headed back to California one day before the Queen's 95th birthday, her first as a widow. "There were some reports he'd talked privately to the Queen before leaving, but what would have been the harm to stay one more day?" the insider added.

"The Queen is clearly a very forgiving person who has gone to great lengths to make sure Harry does not break with the family," said a source. "She has shown over and over again, while other members of the Royal Family may be at each other's throats, she remains above the fray and does not appear to take sides. That is what has made her a great monarch and a very understanding grandmother."

The Queen's duty is to protect the monarchy, but she will forgive Harry—and he knows it, a source said.

Since March, Harry's airing of grievances—during his interview with Winfrey, on his Apple TV+ series The Me You Can't See, and on the Armchair Expert podcast—were largely unchallenged by the Queen, which allowed the Sussexes to control the narrative. But last month, plans were afoot to change the Palace's approach dealing with the allegations coming out of the couple's camp.

It became clear that the Queen had finally reached her breaking point with her grandson last month when Harry and Meghan's daughter was born and the BBC reported that they had not asked or informed Her Majesty beforehand that they were planning to name their baby Lilibet, using the nickname given to the Queen by her grandfather when she was a child and only used by Prince Philip. Harry threatened legal action saying the BBC's reort was false, but when the Palace was asked about the story by ITV, they did not deny it. "That certainly would not have happened if the orders did not come from the top," said a source, referring to the Queen.

There have been reports claiming Harry and the Queen have talked privately about this and he is looking for a way to reconcile, so there's no clear sense of where the grandson and grandmother stand now. "It's heartbreaking to see what the Queen has had to endure from her own grandson, having lost her husband in the middle of all this. There is love between them, no doubt," said a source. "The Sussexes have talked about 'The Institution' and the Royal Family separately, when in reality, they are one and the same." The source continued, "The Queen's love for Harry remains unchanged, but it is her duty to protect the future of the monarchy. She will not allow Harry and Meghan to inflict any more damage. It's hard to see how Harry will reconcile with his father and brother, but Harry holds a special place in Her Majesty's heart. She will surely forgive him and he knows it."

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Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.