Why King Charles Has A Complicated Relationship With His Sons

The following article includes mentions of mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and alleged racism.

The relationships between King Charles and his children, Prince William and Prince Harry, have been making headlines for years. There was a particular upsurge in interest after Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, sat down for a bombastic CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021. And now that Charles has taken the throne in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's death, many are asking how the new king and his sons are handling yet another dramatic shift in their family dynamic.

Their dynamic was unusual from childhood, since William and Harry both left home for boarding school when they were only eight. As William later recalled, it was his mother, Princess Diana, who helped him adjust. "My mother used to play all sorts of songs to kind of while away the anxiety of going back to school," he revealed in a 2021 episode of the Apple Fitness+ "Time to Walk" podcast, per People, admitting that Tina Turner's "The Best" had probably been his favorite. The young prince and Diana would sing along to the power ballad together as she drove him to his boarding school, sometimes accompanied by a policeman. "You'd be singing and listening to music right the way up to the gates of school when they dropped you off and that's when reality kind of sunk in — you really were going back to school," William observed.

Keep reading to find out how their relationship with their dad evolved over the years — and why we might not see any happy family reunions anytime soon.

William and Harry may have resented Charles for his affair

Prince William and Prince Harry were very young when their father's affair with Camilla Parker Bowles became the world's biggest scandal in the early '90s. Their mother, Princess Diana, visited William's boarding school to explain what had happened, as she later told BBC's "Panorama" (via Frontline). "William asked me what had been going on, and could I answer his questions, which I did. He said, was that the reason why our marriage had broken up?" she recalled. "And I said, well, there were three of us in this marriage, and the pressure of the media was another factor, so the two together were very difficult."

If this conversation with his mother hadn't turned him against his father's mistress, William's first meeting with future Queen Consort Camilla in 1998 might have done the trick, as The Irish Times reported. "I really need a gin and tonic," she reportedly announced at the end of her half-hour conversation with the 16-year-old prince. Decades later, an insider claimed to the Daily Mail, "There were huge family rows in the early stages of Charles and Camilla's marriage as everyone found their feet," particularly pointing to William's allegedly strained relationship with his father at the time.

William later served as a witness at Charles and Camilla's wedding in 2005, however, and Harry assured the press that there were no hard feelings. "William and I love her to bits," he told BBC News, insisting that they appreciated how happy she had made their father. "She's not the wicked stepmother."

Were King Charles' sons closer to their mother?

During their parents' extremely public divorce, Prince William and Prince Harry had to hear about their father's affair and their mother's struggles from every newspaper and TV in the country. As they have both admitted, this difficult period made them both very defensive Princess Diana. "We feel that, as her sons, we would be failing in our duty to her now if we did not protect her — as she once did us," they reportedly told William's private secretary a decade following her death, per Vanity Fair, after trying and failing to get uncensored images of her last moments banned from television.

One biographer told Express that William was always close to his mother and tried to console her after fights with then-Prince Charles. When he was 10, the young prince reportedly once slid tissues under the bathroom door to his crying mother, reportedly telling Diana: "I hate to see you sad." As Harry revealed in the 2017 documentary "Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy" (via (ABC News), he loved her rebellious side and tendency toward rule-breaking. "She was our mum. She still is our mum. And of course, as a son I would say this — she was the best mum in the world," Harry insisted. "She smothered us with love, that's for sure."

"She was very informal and really enjoyed the laughter and the fun," William added, describing the traits that made Diana a national treasure in the UK. "But she understood that there was a real life outside of palace walls."

Princess Diana's death was traumatic

The untimely death of Princess Diana shook the world in 1997, but no one was more affected than her sons. "Harry and I tried to talk as best we could about it," Prince William later reflected in the 2017 documentary about Diana, per Town & Country. "But being so small at that age, it was very difficult to communicate or understand your feelings." The boys were asked to walk behind her coffin during the funeral, in front of millions of viewers. In an interview with Newsweek, Harry revealed the emotional turmoil of that experience. "I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances," he explained. "I don't think it would happen today."

Harry has also spoken in recent years about how his mother's death was deeply traumatic for him. "I was so angry with what happened to her, and the fact that there was no justice at all," he recalled in his 2021 Apple+ docuseries "The Me You Can't See," per NBC News. "... The same people that chased her through that tunnel photographed her dying on the back seat of that car." It also put a strain on his relationship with Charles after the royal told his freshly bereaved sons that the media was always going to be part of their life and that they would have to cope with it. "That doesn't make sense. Just because you suffered, it doesn't mean that your kids have to suffer," Harry pointed out, criticizing his father's outlook. "Isn't this all about breaking the cycle?"

King Charles has controlled their finances for decades

As one palace source explained, King Charles' role in his sons' lives has always gone beyond that of a father. In addition to the well-known resentment around the affair Charles had with his current wife, Queen Consort Camilla, when he was married to their mother, the king was basically Prince William and Prince Harry's employer throughout their adult lives, which means that he controlled his sons' finances. "It's not a straightforward father-son relationship," the source revealed to People in 2021. "He is their father and their boss, and they are beholden to him to fund their offices and lives." Another palace insider pointed to another alleged reason for many of the clashes between the princes and their father: "Tension between Charles and the boys has always surrounded money because Charles is the one who holds all the power."

Charles and his heirs are paid for by the properties belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall, according to The Wall Street Journal. In 2019 alone, the king pocketed $28.1 million from his tax-free estate; his sons, William and Harry, received a total of $6.5 million shared between them and their families. As Insider reported, the royal family gets their money through collecting taxes, owning land and properties across the United Kingdom, and buying other valuable resources, like expensive art. In theory, all current members of the family are banned from earning money through any other means. In 2020, however, everything changed for Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle.

Prince Harry was cut off financially

As Prince Harry told Oprah Winfrey, his father controlled his finances until their rift in 2020, when King Charles stopped funding his younger son after he officially stepped down from his role in the family. "My family literally cut me off financially," he explained (via Us Weekly), reflecting on how his resignation from senior royal duties meant that he and Meghan Markle had to pay for their own security. "... I've got what my mum left me, and without that, we would not have been able to do this." In a bizarre twist, the royal couple had to stay at a house owned by Hollywood mogul Tyler Perry while they sorted out their affairs.

A spokesman for Charles later told Vanity Fair that he had actually paid for Harry and his wife until the summer of 2020, insisting that their exit had been "a matter of enormous sadness to the family" and that nobody had wanted to suddenly abandon the couple. "But [Charles] wanted to help make this work, [and] allocated a substantial sum to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, to help them with that transition," the spokesman continued. An inside source also gave Vanity Fair the king's side of the story, claiming, "Charles was quite upset at the suggestion he had cut Harry off." 

Despite initially continuing to pay for his son, apparently "there was a point when Charles decided enough was enough," and called off their finances. "The bank of dad couldn't keep handing out indefinitely," the source added.

Charles didn't help when tabloids targeted Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle made headlines around the world when she told Oprah Winfrey that she had suicidal thoughts after being targeted relentlessly by the media. "Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he has suffered, but I knew that if I didn't say it, then I would do it," Markle admitted in the bombshell interview. "I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

In his documentary series "The Me You Can't See," Prince Harry claimed that King Charles didn't offer any assistance during that difficult time. "I thought my family would help, but every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is just got met with total silence, total neglect," he insisted, per People, explaining that they had tried their best over four years to fulfill their royal duties. "... We did everything that we possibly could to stay there and carry on doing the role and doing the job. But Meghan was struggling."

The royal also confessed that the situation made him feel a lot of shame. "I was ashamed to go to my family because — to be honest with you, like a lot of other people my age could probably relate to — I know that I'm not going to get from my family what I need," Harry added.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Harry accused his family of racism over baby Archie

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey left the world gobsmacked when Markle seemed to confirm certain members of the royal family's alleged racism toward her and baby Archie, revealing that there were several "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born."

"That was relayed to me from Harry," she told the shocked broadcaster (via CNN), claiming that some in the family had raised the topic in multiple different conversations. Their son, Archie, was also denied an official royal title at the same time as those talks, thanks to the rift between Harry and the rest of his family. "That conversation, I am never going to share," Harry stated, sharing his shock at the cringe-worthy line of questioning. "... What will the kids look like? That was at the beginning when she wasn't going to get security, when my family suggested that she might continue acting because there wasn't going to be money for her."

After the interview, Winfrey told CBS News that although she tried to push for an off-camera answer, the couple wouldn't admit who had speculated about their baby's skin tone. Harry did confirm that it was not his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, however — potentially leaving his father, King Charles, as a possibility.

The public prefers Prince William to King Charles

Before the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a lot of Britons preferred the idea of King William to King Charles: nearly half of respondents in a 2021 poll said that the crown should skip a generation.

"The popularity of the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge remains strong," one top political researcher at Ipsos told the Independent, revealing that, although Charles had been gaining popularity, he was still beaten in most studies by his own offspring. "... With the popularity of Prince William not far behind that of the Queen, Britons also wonder whether Prince Charles should step aside in favor of his eldest son." He also explained that the overall royal family was still popular with the majority of respondents: "At the moment, only a minority of people believe Britain would be better off without the monarchy."

Those kinds of numbers have got to be awkward for Charles, but William has long assured the public that he doesn't plan on being king anytime soon. In a 2016 BBC News interview, he reflected on how strange it was to anticipate succeeding his father. "It could be 40 years' time. It could be 60 years' time," he said. "I have no idea when that's going to be, and I certainly don't lie awake waiting or hoping for it because it sadly means that my family have moved on, and I don't want that."

Charles, Harry, and that Saudi billionaire scandal

King Charles faced scrutiny over his non-profit charity after it was alleged that he had accepted bags containing millions of euros in cash from a Saudi Arabian billionaire, who later received a prestigious honor from Charles. As The Times reported, Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz had been lobbying for a CBE for years and reportedly gave advisors close to Charles tens of thousands of pounds. After the allegations were published in 2021, the police and the Charity Commission launched an investigation into the story, which led to one of his executives leaving his position.

When it was pointed out that Prince Harry's charity had also met with the billionaire, Harry released an official statement via his spokesperson distancing himself from his father's alleged decisions rather than excusing them. "The duke and his advisors, as well as his non-profit charity Sentebale, severed ties with Mr. Mahfouz and his associates in 2015, no longer accepting further donations to Sentebale and discontinuing any plans for a fund-raising event amid growing concerns over the motives for his support," the statement read, seemingly implying that Charles ignored Harry's worries. "The duke had one planned meeting with this donor nearly eight years ago, did not introduce him to any members of the royal family, and expressed his concerns about the donor."

Harry couldn't wear his military uniform at the queen's funeral

Prince Harry's military uniform became a controversial subject after it was announced that he wouldn't be allowed to wear it to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, unlike the rest of his family. A spokesperson for Harry told Town & Country, "Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, will wear a morning suit throughout events honoring his grandmother," confirming the news. "His decade of military service is not determined by the uniform he wears and we respectfully ask that focus remain on the life and legacy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II," the statement continued.

Many people questioned why King Charles didn't allow Harry to wear a uniform reflecting the 10 years he spent serving in the military, but the dress code was strict: only working members of the royal family could attend official events in uniform. Harry had been stripped of his honorary military titles in 2020 after he and Meghan stepped down as senior royals. Prince Andrew was also asked not to wear his uniform as a non-working member of the family, since he resigned from his public duties in 2019 over his controversial connections with Jeffrey Epstein.

Despite his statement to the press, Harry was allowed to wear his Blues and Royals dress uniform in Westminster Hall for a special vigil, where all of Elizabeth's grandchildren stood next to her coffin. But he still had to wear a dark morning suit to other events, including the actual funeral.

They have to bow to Charles and Camilla now

The death of Queen Elizabeth II meant that her son, King Charles, finally ascended to the throne at the age of 73. As of this writing, his reign is set to begin with a series of upheavals, including a coronation that will supposedly be slimmed down, eco-friendly, and less expensive than his mother's 1953 ceremony. And this promotion to head of state would have consequences for his relationship with his sons, since Prince Harry and Prince William would now have to change how they address him.

"The personal impact is likely the protocol changes that roll into action almost immediately," a palace source told Page Six. "The family will now have to bow or curtsy to King Charles and Queen [Consort] Camilla." Another royal expert added that although they might not have followed etiquette while gathering for Elizabeth's last moments, everyone would be expected to fall in line from now on: "Any time the royal family meets the new king and queen, the done thing would be to bow or curtsy to them."

Despite years of doubt over whether William and Harry's stepmother, Camilla, would be called queen consort due to her status as the king's second wife and former mistress, the queen announced at her platinum jubilee that Camilla would receive the title. At the time, Us Weekly reported that the princes were shocked by the unexpected decision. And William's own title has now also changed, as he has officially become the new Prince of Wales.

Charles is reportedly worried about Harry's autobiography

King Charles has a lot to worry about during his first months on the throne, but his son's upcoming autobiography might be at the top of the list. In his description for publisher Penguin Random House, Harry promised that the book, which is set to be published in late 2022, would tell the real story of his life. "I'm writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become," he insisted, revealing that the book would cover different periods of his life. "... I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to share what I've learned over the course of my life so far and excited for people to read a firsthand account of my life that's accurate and wholly truthful."

Amid reports that palace staff members had already prepared for lawsuits over the potentially scandalous memoir, Charles reportedly arranged a meeting in April 2022, where he tried to discuss the details of this upcoming book. A royal expert alleged to Express that Harry wasn't going to take the bait, however, and refused to give his father any information at all. "Charles wanted to have a one-to-one chat but that ended up being a very brief meeting," the expert continued, claiming that it had been cut short by Charles after his son didn't cooperate. "... It has been pushed back, and Charles will have to wait and see like the rest of us."

King Charles may not give Harry's children royal titles

There's still one tricky question that's remained unanswered since Queen Elizabeth II's death in September 2022: Do Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's children now technically have royal titles?

During her interview with Oprah Winfrey, Markle had previously suggested that her first-born child had been deliberately denied a title, possibly due to the controversy around his race. But as CNN later explained, Archie and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor should have automatically become prince and princess once King Charles ascended to the throne, as the grandchildren of the reigning monarch usually receive those titles. But the official royal website has no mention of this development, as of this writing, and Charles himself hasn't made any announcements about the status of his grandchildren. According to The Times, Harry reportedly met with his father before departing back to America but didn't manage to get a confirmation from him that they could be called prince and princess, which the prince found frustrating.

Charles' youngest son reportedly stated that he wanted his children to have the titles until they were older, when they could make up their own minds about being senior royals or not, but Charles seemingly didn't give any clear answer. "For [Buckingham Palace] not to make those changes suggests that something is off," one royal source claimed. "Why not just change everything and do it in that moment?"