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Prince Harry and Prince William were "bonded" by parents’ troubled marriage

Prince Harry and Prince William’s exposure to their parents’ highly “traumatic” marriage at a young age “bonded” them for a time, although both brothers went on to process this trauma in different ways, a prominent royal biographer has told Newsweek‘s The Royal Report podcast.

Sally Bedell Smith, a biographer of Princess Diana and author of the soon-to-be-released George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Shaped the Monarchydiscussed Harry and William’s relationship with each other, and their father King Charles, in a recent interview with Newsweek‘s chief royal correspondent, Jack Royston.

Harry and William’s relationship has been the focus of intense media scrutiny in recent years, since Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, made a shocking exit from the monarchy and moved with their young family to the United States. Speculation about tensions between the brothers was confirmed by Harry in his recent multi-million-dollar media projects: the Netflix series Harry and Meganand his memoir, Save.

Also in these projects, Harry laid bare a myriad of tensions with his father, King Charles, who he claimed had issues with showing affection and intimacy when his sons were growing up, particularly after the 1997 death of Princess Diana at the age of 36.

“I have always felt—what Harry said notwithstanding—that Charles was a loving father to his boys, particularly after Diana’s death,” Bedell Smith told Newsweek. “But he was also…an exceedingly busy person who was kind of determined to show the world that he deserved to be Prince of Wales, and he wanted to make a difference, and he even wanted to save the world.

“I think as a result,” she continued, “he probably didn’t spend as much time with his boys as his grandfather [King George VI] had with his two daughters [Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret]even though he was very busy as well.”

On Harry’s viewpoint of his bringing up, explored by the royal in his memoir, Bedell Smith said that the prince has “his truth” and that his memory may, in part, have been clouded by the trauma experienced during the public breakdown of his mother and father’s marriage in the 1990s.

King Charles (then Prince of Wales) married Princess Diana in 1981 and their children, William and Harry, were born in 1981 and 1984, respectively. The couple officially separated and finally divorced in 1996. During the period of the marriage breakdown, Diana and Charles’ issues were widely publicized in a media storm nicknamed the “War of the Waleses.”

“Harry hath his truth and his own memories and a lot of them were traumatic because his parents, marriage was,” Beddel Smith said. “It was a traumatic marriage.”

It is through this trauma that the author alleges, the brothers’ own relationship was strengthened.

“They [Charles and Diana] were fighting a lot,” she said. “They were just doing things in front of their children that I’m sure were very difficult to witness. And that obviously had a more profound impact on Harry than it seems to have had on William.

“For a long time, William and Harry were very bonded by having endured that very dysfunctional marriage. And William, I think, partly through marrying a woman who would understand that and who would support him, and particularly support him in his role as a future king, I think that made a big difference.”

The major difference between the brothers, according to Bedell Smith, is that Harry “wanted to get out,” whereas William “was all in,” in terms of the monarchy, and the parts they would play in its future.

Today, the brothers’ relationship has been described by Harry in his media projects and interviews promoting it. Most explicitly, the prince said he was, in part, inspired to write his memoir to dispel the public viewpoint that he was close to William growing up and that Meghan Markle was the reason they split. He argued that their relationship was never as it seemed.

Both William and Harry have not been seen together in public since the state funeral of their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022. Royal watchers may next get an opportunity to see them side-by-side during the events planned to mark the coronation of King Charles in May, though Harry has yet to confirm if he will travel to the United Kingdom for the milestone royal event.

“George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Shaped the Monarchy” by Sally Bedell Smith is available in the United Kingdom on April 13, published by Penguin Michael Joseph.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek’s royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.

Do you have a question about King Charles III, William and Kate, Meghan and Harry, or their family that you would like our experienced royal correspondents to answer? Email We’d love to hear from you.

Prince Harry and Prince William’s exposure to their parents’ highly “traumatic” marriage at a young age “bonded” them for a time, although both brothers went on to process this trauma in different ways, a prominent royal biographer has told Newsweek‘s The Royal Report podcast.

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