Is the Duchess of Sussex staying home because of Archie’s birthday? Some say it points to a failure in negotiations
Some royal experts believe Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have not been able to get what they want from the coronation. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
The “Will they? Won’t they?” question of whether the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would attend has hung over King Charles’s coronation for months.
Even after the couple was formally invited by email one month ago, reply there came none, with the deadline reportedly passing last week and organisers said to be increasingly impatient.
But Wednesday’s announcement that Harry will attend, without Meghan and their children, Prince Archie, three, and Princess Lilibet, one, will probably fuel the narrative that difficulties between the couple and the palace remain very real, with some undoubtedly interpreting Meghan’s decision to stay away as a snub.
There was speculation that the fact that Archie’s fourth birthday falls on 6 May, the same day his grandfather is crowned and enthroned, played a part in the duchess’s decision to stay in California, with her son’s celebrations trumping his grandfather’s.
The royal commentator and author Omid Scobie, who is said to be close to the couple and co-authored their biography Finding Freedom, tweeted: “I understand that Archie’s fourth birthday (also on May 6) played a factor in the couple’s decision. Expect it to be a fairly quick trip to the UK for Prince Harry, who will only be attending the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.”
Others believe the decision for Harry to attend alone could be to be down to a failure in negotiations, with the Sussexes not being able to get what they want. With the invitation going out a month ago, “it seems the result of the best part of a month’s discussions and negotiations have not worked,” said the royal historian and author Robert Lacey.
The invitation had been on the table for a month, so negotiations were likely, said Lacey, “because it was possible for the Sussexes to reply a month ago”.
As non-working royals, it has been reported that the Sussexes were not expected to play any formal part in the Westminster Abbey ceremony, including any appearance on the palace balcony, though the palace has not confirmed this.
Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales will play a prominent role as heir, and his son Prince George, nine, has a substantial role as one of the pages of honour to the king.
Negotiations might have faltered on where the Sussexes could expect to be seated, or whether they should be included in the carriage procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace after the ceremony.
The Waleses, the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal and her husband, the Gloucesters and the Duke of Kent and his sister Princess Alexandra are understood to be part of that procession.
Harry was reportedly not happy over his seating at the Queen’s platinum jubilee service, said Lacey. “It’s all about negotiating over the Abbey equivalent of Siberia as to where Harry was going to be seated,” he added.
“There are invitations. And there are invitations,” said Lacey, adding that the seating plan “may have been the substance of what has not been resolved to their [the Sussexes’] satisfaction”.
For Harry, this will be the first time he will have appeared in a public setting with the king, Camilla and William since he attacked them in his bestselling memoir, Spare. In it he criticised Charles’s parenting, accused William of physically attacking him, called Camilla “dangerous” and accused her of sacrificing him on her “personal PR altar”, and alleged William and Kate encouraged him to dress up as a Nazi at a fancy dress party.
His inflammatory claims were seen as damaging his fragile relationship with his brother beyond repair, and as further troubling his dealings with the king and the rest of the family.
After the book’s publication, the king had “acted with a combination of firmness and conciliation”, said Lacey. Firmness in ending the couple’s lease arrangement of Frogmore Cottage, and conciliation “in that he made clear early on that they were both welcome at his coronation”.
“In view of what has happened, it is hardly surprising; the book, the Oprah interviews, the Netflix documentaries, they were sustained attacks on the family itself and on the monarchy. And, especially, an attack on the new queen.
“For the king to offer an invitation in those circumstances was good-hearted and forgiving. But the Sussexes clearly weren’t offered enough,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, it could be seen in a positive light. “The fact Harry is coming could be said to be a fruitful compromise. It actually says quite a lot of hopeful things, considering what Harry has said about his father, and his apparent condemnation of his father, and his being willing to put that aside. So, it could be a step forward.”