Prince William & Prince Harry's Strained Relationship: A Complete Timeline

Whether you're a royal watcher or not, you're probably well aware of the fact that Prince William and Prince Harry have had a bit of a falling out. Anyone who's had half an eye on celebrity news will have seen the various tabloid headlines describing how they've given one another the cold shoulder at events or had less than flattering things to say about their sibling behind closed doors. And with the release of Harry's memoir, "Spare," in which he describes William as being more like a foil than a brother, it's become perfectly clear that this falling out has escalated from a mere rift to full-on alienation.

In an interview with "Good Morning America" during the lead-up to his book's release, Harry told host Michael Strahan, "There has always been this competition between us, weirdly. I think it really plays into or is always played by the heir [and] spare [labels]." His comment had us taking a closer look at the fight between the princes, and led us to realize that their relationship had been strained for far longer than we'd even realized. So below, we've crafted a complete timeline of the breakdown in Prince Harry and Prince William's relationship, from their childhood years to the present day.

The brothers had a rough start

From the jump, it seems Prince Harry and Prince William weren't really given a fair shot at having a normal brotherly relationship. Even as children, the boys were well aware of their places within the line of succession — William as the future king, and Harry as the less-important "spare." That sort of hierarchy couldn't have done much to foster an ordinary sort of love and affection.

In Robert Lacy's unauthorized tell-all "Battle of Brothers" (via Us Weekly), a former bodyguard to Princess Diana and her two young sons recounted a story from the boys' childhood that perfectly illustrates how this awareness may have affected their relationship. During a journey from London to Highgrove the children had gotten into an argument over something trivial. While their nanny was attempting to squash the fight a four-year-old Harry allegedly declared, "[William] will be king one day, I won't. So I can do what I want." Princess Diana, stunned by Harry's grasp of the situation, reportedly responded, "Where the hell did that come from?"

According to Prince Harry's memoir, "Spare," it came from other members of the family. In the book, he writes that his father, grandmother, and other family members and staff openly referred to him as "the spare" and frequently highlighted the differences in position between him and his elder sibling. This dynamic had to have planted the seed for a deep sense of sibling rivalry, even if the brothers weren't aware of it at the time.

Their teenage years were slightly more typical

Teenage angst didn't seem to have done much to dissipate that tension between the princes. In excerpts from "Spare" (via Insider), Prince Harry claimed that when he began attending the elite boys-only boarding school Eton, in 1998, Prince William told him to pretend as if they didn't know one another. "For the last two years, [William] explained, Eton had been his sanctuary. No kid brother tagging along, pestering him with questions, pushing up on his social circle. He was forging his own life, and he wasn't willing to give that up," Harry wrote. He continued to claim that William despised it when people didn't treat the two brothers as individuals — but rather as an indistinguishable set. "I told him not to worry," he added. "I'll forget I ever knew you."

The elder prince's desperate desire for space could have stemmed from the fact that he had always felt as if Harry got away with everything. In another excerpt of "Spare," the younger royal alleged an incident in which the boys were fighting in the back of King Charles' car. Rather than disciplining them both for their rowdy behavior, Charles only reprimanded William, sending him to another vehicle in the convoy while ignoring Harry's role in the incident entirely. Royal or otherwise, many older siblings will likely identify with this preferential treatment of younger siblings and understand William's need for spaces and places of his own.

A tentative peace

It seems that entering young adulthood and pursuing separate paths after graduation helped to alleviate some of the hard feelings that had been brewing between the brothers for years. Publicly, at least, Prince William and Prince Harry seemed to be closer than ever, making joint appearances and even living together in a cottage in Shropshire.

But that period of felicity was short-lived. Things reportedly took a sad turn for Harry when his older brother decided to make his relationship with long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton official. In "Spare" (via Insider), he noted that watching his brother tie the knot was bittersweet. Although he was overjoyed for his sibling, he also felt as if he'd now lost William for good. "I loved my new sister-in-law, I felt she was more sister than in-law, the sister I'd never had and always wanted, and I was pleased that she'd forever be standing by Willy's side," he wrote. "She was a good match for my older brother. They made each other visibly happy, and therefore I was happy too. But in my gut, I couldn't help feeling that this was yet another farewell under this horrid roof."

The wedding can arguably be pinpointed as a key moment from which the princes' relationship began to crumble. While things may not have turned sour just then, the distance the new marriage created between them allowed space for miscommunications, negative feelings, and everything else that would happen next.

A contested engagement caused tension

In contrast, the introduction of Meghan Markel into Prince Harry's world seems to have been what really fanned the flames of the brothers' resentments, turning things from a manageable blaze to a full-on inferno. Meghan and Harry met and began dating in early 2016. It would take about six months before their relationship was made public, but once it was out there things moved rather quickly — at least, in terms of what we've come to expect from royal relationships. About a year after they confirmed they were dating, the pair announced their engagement.

The Queen was reportedly thrilled for Harry and Meghan and was happy her grandson had found the kind of love she had shared with Prince Philip for so many years. But not everyone in the family felt the same way. In an excerpt from "Battle of the Brothers" (via Us Weekly), Robert Lacy claimed that Prince William was vocal about his concerns that the relationship was moving too fast. Upon realizing that Harry was planning to go ahead with the engagement and wedding in spite of his misgivings, he even went as far as enlisting the help of their uncle, Charles Spencer, asking him to convince his brother to slow things way, way down.

Lacy alleged that despite some subsequent public shows of affection and peacekeeping, this period of time created the foundations for the bitter and unstable relationship the two brothers would continue to share years later. 

Was William ever lined up to be Harry's best man?

Potentially because of the arguments they'd had about his relationship with Meghan Markle, Prince Harry didn't ask Prince William to be the best man at his wedding. In fact, in "Spare" (via Harper's Bazaar), Harry suggested that his decision to ask an old friend of his to do the honors rather than his older brother caused some additional hard feelings between the two men. 

He also claimed that it may have resulted in William abandoning his younger brother on the eve of his wedding — when the two had planned to have dinner and drinks together. Instead, his older brother canceled at the last minute. "He'd told me, just before he attended tea with Granny, 'Can't do it, Harold. Kate and the kids,'" Harry wrote. "I'd reminded him that this was our tradition, that we'd had dinner before his wedding, that we'd gone together and visited the crowds. He held fast. 'Can't do it.'" Reflecting on why his brother would ditch him at such a big moment, he came to the conclusion that William was likely hurt at not being asked to have a bigger role in the day and was acting in revenge.

This revelation is in stark contrast to the official statements released by the Windsor family which held that William had been chosen as his brother's best man, per Town & Country. These contrasting reports seem to be perfectly in line with the Sussex's claims that members of the royal circle will often publish false or spun stories in an effort to save face.

Some distinctly unhappy holidays

The best man squabble wasn't the only drama to come out of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's big day. In fact, the tabloids were busy for weeks reporting on rumors like battles over bridesmaid dresses and bad attitudes about tiaras. But by Christmas 2018, it appeared that the worst of the fighting had blown over and a lot had been forgiven and forgotten. That idea was certainly helped along by Harry, Meghan, Prince William, and Kate Middleton making a Christmas Day appearance together.

Then a video clip was released that had fans speculating that William had clearly snubbed his sister-in-law during the occasion. As the two prepare to greet the public, Meghan appears to say something to her brother-in-law. Rather than respond to her, he simply turns away and spends an eternity adjusting his scarf. Of course, the entire exchange could have meant absolutely nothing — maybe Meghan wasn't speaking to him in the first place, or maybe her comment wasn't one that required a response — but of course, the media ran with it, declaring that the couples were still locked in a bitter argument.

Months later, the couples were reported as having arrived separately at an Easter Sunday service at Windsor's St. George's Chapel and they purportedly didn't speak a word to one another the entire time they were there. Additionally, it seemed as if other family members, namely Zara Tindall and her husband Mark Tindall, had been instructed to act as a buffer between the princes during the festivities. 

A house divided

By Spring 2019, it was clear that the in-fighting hadn't ended once Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding was over. It was also clear there may have been some truth to the rumors that the Christmas and Easter holidays were strained. In April 2019, the Windsors and the Sussexes were said to have split households. Up until that point, both couples had been living in apartments at Kensington Palace (where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor still live) and had shared a comms team as well as several other staff members. But then Harry and Meghan shocked everyone when they abruptly moved to Frogmore Cottage, on the grounds of Windsor, and set up their own offices, comms team, and staff at Buckingham Palace.

The brothers took things a step further just a few months later when they announced that they'd also be splitting their charitable organization. The Royal Foundation was first set up by William and Harry in 2009, with Kate joining in 2011, and Meghan in 2018. The fab four had all been seemingly running the venture together for at least a year. But now they'd each have their own foundations which focused on different causes. The Guardian published an official statement from Kensington Palace that suggested the decision was made to help the couple's respective charities achieve a wider reach. But many royal watchers weren't convinced — this seemed to be yet another indication that things were less than rosy behind closed doors.

Archie's privacy caused a deeper rift

Weeks after Prince William and Prince Harry split their households and charities, the Sussexes announced that they were expecting their first child. Many folks wondered how this news would affect the brother's strained relationship — would Harry have more understanding for William now that he was a father himself? Would the new baby act as a salve for the wounds the couples were reportedly inflicting on one another? It didn't take long for us to find out, and things didn't go in the direction most royal fans were hoping.

In "Battle of Brothers" (via Elite Daily), Robert Lacy claimed that William was annoyed that Harry and Meghan Markle had intentionally concealed the birth of their firstborn. He claimed that the pair had announced that the new mom had gone into labor eight hours after she'd already given birth. Thinking the move more fitting of a prima donna than a public servant, the Prince and Princess of Wales reportedly waited a full eight days to visit their nephew and were among the last of the extended family to see him.

Things didn't get smoother from there, either. A royal insider claimed to Us Weekly that William was also unhappy with the new parents' decision to keep their son so private. He thought Harry and Meghan were being excessive by doing things like not releasing many photographs, keeping Archie's christening a media-free event, and refusing to have any live-in staff. His alleged criticism of their parenting style was apparently not received very well.

Harry fesses up to some brotherly bad blood

In October 2019, there was finally some acknowledgment from the palace that things weren't as hunky-dory between Prince William and Prince Harry as they had been trying to convince people. In fact, the admission came directly from the mouth of the Spare himself. 

In the ITV documentary, "Harry and Meghan: An African Journey" (via Us Weekly), the younger of the two brothers suggested that conflict was inevitable due to the pressure of their respective positions. Regardless, he indicated that the feud had been somewhat misreported and that there was still a lot of love between himself and William. "We're brothers, we'll always be brothers. We're certainly on different paths at the moment but I'll always be there for him and as I know he'll always be there for me," he insisted. "... The majority of this stuff [in the press] is created out of nothing, but as brothers, you know, you have good days, you have bad days."

Still, the bad days seem to have been outweighing the good near the end of the year, judging by the fact that Harry, Meghan, and little Archie spent Christmas 2019 in Canada, away from the rest of the extended family in Sandringham. While an insider assured Harper's Bazaar that the couple simply wanted to enjoy an intimate Christmas together as a family, many were left wondering why Archie's first Christmas would be celebrated in such an isolated manner unless something bigger was going on.

The Sussexes step back

By January 2020, it became clear that something much bigger may have been going on with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle than a simple need for some family time. In an Instagram post shared on January 8th, the Sussexes announced they'd be stepping back as senior members of the royal family. Instead, they intended to look for new and progressive ways to support Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy. The announcement took the world by storm and had many folks looking to other members of the royal family, particularly Prince William and Kate Middleton, for their reactions.

An insider close to the Windsors told Us Weekly that the announcement apparently caught the Prince and Princess of Wales completely by surprise. "There's still a rift between the two brothers. It's sad because when they were younger, William would be the first person Harry would go to with big news like this," they claimed. "William is incredibly hurt, but at the same time he has his own family to focus on and is trying to move forward with his life."

The hurt on both sides was evident in the way both William and Harry handled the Sussexes' last official engagement in May 2020. In "Battle of Brothers" (via Newsweek), Robert Lacy claimed that William barely acknowledged his younger brother during the entire Commonwealth Day Service. Meanwhile, Harry looked visibly dejected with one eyewitness suggesting he even seemed to be batting back tears.

Harry makes a deal with the enemy

If things were tense in May 2020, we can only imagine how much worse it got that fall after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their deal with Netflix. In September of that year, the couple signed a lucrative deal with the streaming giant that would allow them to produce everything from documentaries to children's programming through their newly established production company. The move was huge for the couple who were now required to be financially independent instead of relying on the Mountbatten-Windsor family wealth and taxpayer's money.

Prince William was apparently unhappy about the way in which his brother had secured his financial independence. An insider told The Sun that he was uncomfortable with the idea of Harry working in partnership with the company behind "The Crown," an explosive TV show that dramatizes much of their family's troubles — including the death of their mom, Princess Diana. "It's the latest in a long line of flashpoints between the brothers," the source told the tabloid.

The partnership with Netflix wasn't the first time the brothers had butted heads over the Sussexes' involvement in the media, as they were said to have clashed over Meghan's 2020 collaboration with Vogue for the "Forces of Change" issue. In "Battle of Brothers" (via The Mirror) Robert Lacy claimed that William, along with other senior royals, was irritated by the lack of impartiality the issue showcased in regard to several sensitive issues.

An omission in William and Charles' Christmas photo

In the chaotic months that followed the Sussexes' bombshell announcement that they were stepping back, a lot was said to have gone down between Prince William and Prince Harry. However, all of it was alleged well after the fact. For example, in "Battle of Brothers" (via The Mirror) Robert Lacy claimed that William refused a family lunch with his brother until they shored up the details about what his new role in the firm would be. It turns out there were plenty of slights like this one that illustrated just how big the rift between the princes had become.

One such story is the tale of the 2019 Christmas card. The now infamous picture that accompanied the palace's official holiday greeting depicted four members of the family — the direct line of succession, starting with Queen Elizabeth, who was then surrounded by King Charles, Prince William, and Prince George. Many were quick to point out the exclusion of Harry, who at that time was still one of the more prominent senior working royals, albeit one much farther down the line of succession. For William, the oversight wasn't accidental. Lacy further claimed (via Us Weekly), that he was well aware of the snub and enthusiastically supported the decision to keep Harry out of the picture, writing, "[He] wanted to send his younger brother a message." Ouch!

The Oprah interview caused shockwaves

In the Spring of 2021, just a little over a year after they stepped down, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down for a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey. They discussed everything with the TV host, from the upcoming birth of their second child to their mental health struggles, courtship timeline, and fractured relationship with the rest of the family. It was this last talking point that likely really set Prince William on edge.

A source told Us Weekly that the Windsors were in total shock after the interview aired. They were apparently as stunned by specific things the couple shared as they were by the fact that the couple was so frank and open — traits that are almost antithetical to being a Mountbatten-Windsor. "What shocked them the most was Meghan's suicidal thoughts and their quotes on a royal family member mentioning Archie's skin color. William and Kate knew about some of their troubles with palace aides, but nothing to this extent," a source told the outlet. The insider added that while the Prince and Princess of Wales felt horrible for Harry and Meghan, the interview still felt like a public slight against the entire family. 

Per Us Weekly, an official statement from Buckingham Palace expressed sorrow for the way the Sussexes had been treated. However, the firm reiterated that it felt the situation wasn't one for the public to be involved in. "While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately," the statement read. 

Putting on a public face at Prince Philip's funeral

After the Oprah Winfrey interview aired, things between Prince William and Prince Harry got even frostier, to the extent that at the next three events they both attended they were alleged to have barely had anything to do with one another. For starters, at Prince Philip's funeral in April 2021, the brothers reportedly spent quite a bit of time quarreling behind closed doors. A source told the Daily Mail that the duo was friendly, if cold, while out in the public eye. But as soon as they stepped into the family's private sphere they were at one another's throats as much as ever.

Just a few short weeks later, the princes then insisted on giving separate speeches at the unveiling of a statue erected in honor of Princess Diana's 60th birthday. Of course, this could just be chalked up to each of them wanting to share their own memories and love for their mother. However, The Sun reported that there were concerns behind the scenes that the event might only further highlight the rift between the two. 

Finally, at Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, insiders told Page Six that the brothers didn't see each other once outside of the organized family events. While they were said to be able to keep things civil enough that the focus could remain on Queen Elizabeth, there was purportedly zero effort made by either one to spend any quality time together.

The spare continued to get shunned

After Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, rumors began swirling that Prince Harry had a forthcoming memoir that would spill all the tea about his royal upbringing, relationship with his brother, and romance with Meghan Markle. Given all the drama of the previous years, this news reportedly put the rest of the royal family on edge. The Oprah interview had proven that Harry wasn't keen on holding anything back and given the distance between the Sussexes and the rest of the family, there was really no way to find out what he'd be writing about ahead of time.

As a result, Prince William made even more of a point to steer clear of Harry, at least until the book was out and he knew what he was up against. In the fall of 2022, Harry and Meghan made a brief trip to the UK, staying in their old home, Frogmore Cottage. William and Kate had moved into another house, Adelaide Cottage, just a half-mile down the road. But the families apparently didn't see each other once the entire time the Sussexes remained.

According to one source who chatted with The Sun, Kate and William had made it clear that they wouldn't see their counterparts until "Spare" was released. A lot of trust had apparently been lost between the two couples. And for the Prince and Princess of Wales, that meant that any conversation they had with Harry and Meghan felt vulnerable to exposure.

Grieving together ... separately

Unfortunately, fate had a different set of plans in regard to the brothers' intentions to keep their distance. On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II died. Naturally, both princes rushed to the U.K. to be with family, mourn their loss, and prepare for her funeral. This obviously threw the brothers back into close proximity to one another and ensured they would have to communicate.

Their reunion was awkward, to say the least. While we aren't privy to what went on behind the castle walls, the whole world witnessed some of the uncomfortable interactions that Prince William and Prince Harry had at the services. On the walk from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey behind the queen's coffin, the brothers didn't so much as utter a word or exchange a look. Once they were joined by their wives at the abbey, there was also seemingly no interaction beyond discussing the order in which they would move down the aisle, as a lip reader suggested to the Daily Mail

However, months later, Harry claimed that he and his brother had actually shared a handful of lighter moments in those days together. In an interview with ITV (via Hello!), the royal said that while walking in the procession, he and his brother had joked about completing the same route decades earlier behind their mother's coffin, quipping, "At least we know the way." Dark? Yes. But their ability to find shared humor in even the saddest situation gives hope that an eventual reconciliation may be possible after all.

Will William and Harry ever reconcile?

As of this writing, there still seems to be quite a bit of distance between Prince William and Prince Harry. After "Spare" hit shelves in January 2023, a source told Us Weekly that William was absolutely horrified by the content of his brother's memoir and who Harry had become. "He wants to believe that there's hope for peace down the line, but it's hard," the insider told the tabloid. "... At this point, he's got no plans to speak to Harry. He's come to terms with the fact [that] he's lost his little brother and quite possibly for life."

Harry, on the other hand, seemed to be holding out hope for a reconciliation. In an interview with ITV (via E! News), the prince told a reporter, "Forgiveness is 100% a possibility because I would like to get my father back. I would like to have my brother back." Later in the conversation, he stressed that accountability was of the utmost importance to him. The healing process would likely be long, but he was certain it was achievable if all parties were willing to put in the effort.

However, judging by the fact that the Windsors reportedly made no effort to see the Sussexes when they were both on the east coast of the United States at the end of 2022, it seems that journey towards reconciliation hasn't begun just yet. Still, we're remaining optimistic that with a little more time and space Diana's boys could be able to find their way back to one another.