The Daily Telegraph
The Sussexes hold their own amid shifting family dynamics
Under the weight of the moment, the couple occasionally wavered, but are finding their feet in the new royal order
IT WAS the culmination of a difficult week, shock and grief precariously balanced with the frustrations arising from deep-rooted family discord.
For the Duchess of Sussex, as Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey and into the September sunshine before being carefully lifted onto the State Gun Carriage, it almost became too much.
Standing alongside the Queen Consort, the Princess of Wales and her children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Meghan visibly steeled herself. Closing her eyes for a moment, she appeared to take a second to gather her thoughts. Lifting a gloved hand to her eye, she quickly brushed away a tear.
For the Duke and Duchess, in common with other members of the Royal family, the unconditional love and support offered by the Queen in recent years had been much-needed and hugely valued.
The Duchess had enjoyed a close relationship with the Queen, one of few among the family with whom she had remained in personal contact.
She is said to have cherished the support the monarch showed to both herself and Prince Harry as they moved abroad, not least as relations with others disintegrated.
Last year, the Duchess described how the monarch had “always been wonderful” to her, making a clear distinction between the Queen and those who were “running the institution”.
“I’ve loved being in her company,” she said. “She’s always been warm, welcoming, and inviting.” She has described the moment she met the monarch as “incredible”, later describing the experience as “lovely and easy”.
The Duke and Duchess are understood to have met the Queen on several occasions when they briefly returned to the UK for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.
They greatly appreciated being able to introduce their one-year-old daughter Lilibet, named in the Queen’s honour, to the sovereign and enjoy precious time with her and their son Archie, two.
The couple had arrived in the UK on Sept 3 expecting to return to California within days following a brief, quasiroyal tour.
In the event, they were in the right place at the right time. The Duke was able to fly to Scotland as his grandmother died, without having to endure an eleventh-hour transatlantic dash.
But the week has proved a difficult one. Separated from their young children for much longer than intended, they have also found themselves at the heart of a series of family dramas that have caused increased anxiety behind the scenes.
First, in the chaotic hours as the Queen’s health rapidly deteriorated, the Duke was not invited to travel to Balmoral with other members of his family and instead faced a desperate scramble to make travel plans.
He was contacted by the King just minutes before Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had died. He cut a lonely figure as he was driven, ashen-faced, into the castle gates, several hours behind the rest of his family.
Then there was the commotion over the Duke’s right to wear military uniform. Initially, it was made clear he could not, despite the fact that disgraced uncle, Prince Andrew, was given special dispensation to mount a vigil.
Determined to ensure the focus remained on the late Queen, publicly at least, Prince Harry accepted the decision with good grace. His spokesman insisted he would wear whatever Her Majesty had planned, noting that his decade of military service was not determined by his uniform.
However, an apparent about-turn meant that, in the event, the Duke was allowed to wear the Blues and Royals No1 dress uniform as he mounted a vigil alongside his brother and his cousins at Westminster Abbey on Saturday evening, even if it did not contain his grandmother’s cypher as he had hoped.
Then there was the humiliating debacle over the invitation to the state reception for world leaders held at Buckingham Palace on Sunday. The invite, it eventually transpired, had been sent in error. Behind the scenes, were eyebrows raised in disbelief.
The couple ploughed on. The tensions behind the scenes have been palpable, and there appears to be little chance of imminent reconciliation with the Prince and Princess of Wales.
At the funeral yesterday, the weight of the moment, the significance of what was unfolding before them as Queen Elizabeth was laid to rest, was plain to see.
The Duke and Duchess were seated in the second row of Westminster Abbey, directly behind the King and Queen Consort. The front row was reserved for working members of the Royal family, including all four of the late Queen’s children and the Prince and Princess of Wales with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
However, alongside them were also Peter Phillips and Zara and Mike Tindall, none of whom are working royals, prompting some suggestions they had been snubbed. It was unclear how the seating plan had been decided.
A palace source insisted that the Queen’s grandchildren were placed in approximate age order, with efforts taken not to split families up.
The Duchess sat alongside Princess Beatrice. She wore a pair of pearl and diamond earrings given to her by the late Queen.
Earlier, the Sussexes joined the procession into the Abbey, walking behind the Waleses and ahead of the Earl of Snowdon, Peter Phillips, the Duke of Gloucester, Prince Michael of Kent and the Duke of Kent.
The Duchess clasped her hands in front of her while the Duke looked pensive. Meghan appeared upset as the late Queen’s coffin was placed on a catafalque.
Prince Harry, who was not permitted to wear military uniform, had earlier taken part in the procession from Westminster Hall. When members of the Royal family saluted at the Cenotaph, and again as the late Queen’s coffin was carried into the Abbey, he gazed straight ahead, his new status as a nonworking royal brutally apparent. Disappointment was etched on his face. His appearance in civilian clothes meant he was not permitted to offer a salute.
The death of a family matriarch often prompts a distinct shift in family dynamics, and for the Royal family, it is no different. The Sussexes may feel that shift more distinctly than anyone else.
The Sussexes are expected to fly back to the US to be reunited with their children as soon as possible.