Heritage

The Tricky Relationship Between the Royal Family and Their In-laws

Thomas Markle is hardly the first royal relative to cause controversy.
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES/ WPA POOL
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While unflattering headlines about Meghan Markle's father and half-sister seem to be a weekly occurrence at this point, the Duchess of Sussex is hardly the first royal with a set of unruly relatives.

As soon as an outsider joins "the firm" as the House of Windsor is sometimes referred, existing family issues become visible for the world to see. The royal family's tradition of presenting a united—and discreet—public front means that bonds with certain in-laws can be strained or even broken.

Here's how the Windsors has interacted with their in-laws over the years.


PRINCE PHILIP AND THE ROYAL FAMILY OF GREECE AND DENMARK AND THE MOUNTBATTENS

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark had a chaotic childhood after his family was deposed by a military revolt. The event resulted in a forever-fractured family unit, and when Philip eventually married into British royalty, most of his own immediate family were out of the picture.


Prince Philip and his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Philip and his family were forced to leave their home country of Greece when he was just 18 months old. As a child, he, his parents, and four older sisters lived in Paris, but both parents were frequently absent, and Philip was often sent to stay with assorted aunts and uncles. The family came apart completely when he was nine years old, after his mother Princess Alice was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric clinic, and his father Prince Andrew moved to Monte Carlo.

The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.

Philip’s older sisters later married men with Nazi connections, while Philip was raised predominantly in Britain by two of his maternal uncles—Georgie, second Marquess of Milford Haven, and Lord Louis Mountbatten. Philip was unsentimental in his adult descriptions of the family's chaos. “It’s simply what happened” he later said. “The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.”

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When Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, only his mother was invited to the ceremony.


Philip’s mother is second from the left in the front row here.

His uncle Georgie had died in 1938, but Lord Louis Mountbatten remained an important figure in not only Philip’s life, but that of the next three generations of the royal family. 

He was made godfather to Philip’s son Prince Charles, and was a beloved figure in the young prince's life until he was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979. Charles honored his late godfather by giving his own son Prince William the middle name Louis, and William has further paid tribute by not only choosing the name for his youngest child, but also as one of the middle names of his eldest, Prince George.


PRINCESS DIANA AND THE SPENCERS

Over the past few decades, the relationship between the Windsors and the Spencers has been decidedly mixed.


Princess Diana with her sister Sarah.

Diana’s family already had strong royal connections before she married Charles—both of her grandmothers had been ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, and her maternal grandfather had been equerry to King George VI. The Queen is also godmother to Diana’s brother Charles, and the Queen Mother was godmother to Diana’s sister Sarah. When Diana’s parents married in Westminster Abbey, the Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret were all guests.

There was also the fact that Prince Charles had once dated Diana’s sister Sarah, and her other sister Jane married the Queen’s assistant private secretary.

But despite all these connections, the families' ties were really just historic society affiliations, and not based on strong personal relationships.

Diana soon discovered that if there was ever a choice to be made, the royals came first. Christmases were always spent at Windsor Castle and later Sandringham; summer vacations were taken with the rest of the family at the Queen’s Scottish residence of Balmoral. Between family vacations, a diary of official engagements was the first priority, and Diana felt the strain on her relationships with the members of her immediate family.

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Perhaps the most contentious point between the Windsors and the Spencers came at Diana’s funeral, when her brother Charles gave a controversial eulogy. During the speech, he appeared to criticize the royal family for stripping his sister of her HRH title after her divorce, and he honored Diana as someone who: “proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her own particular brand of magic.”


Charles Spencer walking behind Princess Diana’s coffin alongside Prince Philip, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Charles.

Charles also appeared to be critical of the influence the royal family had over Princes William and Harry. “On behalf of your mother and sisters I pledge that we your blood family will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men," Charles continued, "so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned.”

In recent years, whatever rift there was between Charles Spencer and the royal family has started to heal. Earl Spencer attended the weddings of both Diana’s sons William and Harry, and the two princes have maintained a close relationship with their maternal aunts and cousins over the years. Specifically, Lady Jane Fellowes gave a reading at Harry’s wedding, and her daughter Laura is Princess Charlotte’s godmother.


CATHERINE, THE DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE AND THE MIDDLETONS

It's possible that the royal family—or at the very least Prince William—learned something important from his mother's difficult experience.


The Middleton family in Prince Louis's official christening portraits.

It has always been clear that Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton are strong figures in the lives of their daughter, her royal husband, and their children, and they have been welcomed as such. Carole and Michael have been guests of Charles and Camilla at their Scottish home Birkhall, and they were also invited to ride in the royal procession with the Queen at Ascot. And of course, the whole Middleton fam was invited to Prince Harry’s wedding.

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Kate's siblings, James and Pippa, have forged their own relationships with the younger royals to such an extent that Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie were both invited to Pippa’s wedding, and Harry has played soccer with James. Meanwhile, William and Kate have made it clear that both sides of the family are equally important to them. While they have spent many of their married Christmases with the rest of the royal family at Sandringham, the couple has also spent several with Kate’s family in Berkshire.


The Cambridges and Middletons attend a Christmas Day service near the Middleton home in Berkshire in December, 2016.

Additionally, soon after Prince George was born, William and Kate went to stay with her parents at their home, rather than remain in Kensington Palace.

“Kate’s got a very, very close family” said William in his engagement interview. “I get on really well with them and I’m very lucky that they’ve been so supportive. Mike and Carole have been really sort of loving and caring and really fun and have been really welcoming towards me, so I’ve felt really a part of the family and I hope that Kate’s felt the same with my family.”


MEGHAN, THE DUCHESS OF SUSSEX AND THE MARKLES

The Duchess of Sussex has been warmly embraced by Prince Harry's family but it's clear that her transition from fiancée to royal has not been entirely easy.


Meghan Markle and her mother Doria Ragland before the royal wedding.

Meghan’s mother and father, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, split when she was very young, and while the Duchess maintained a close relationship with both parents, she has maintained her distance from both her half-sister Samantha Grant(who now goes by Samantha Markle) and her half-brother Thomas Markle Jr., who are 17 and 16 years older than Meghan respectively. When Meghan’s relationship with Prince Harry become public, both of these siblings from her father's first marriage began to appear in the press, often speaking disparagingly of their younger half-sibling.

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Neither Samantha or Thomas Jr. were not invited to the royal wedding, and both have continued to speak publicly to the tabloid press.

Her father, Thomas Markle, was schedule to walk his daughter down the aisle in Windsor Chapel but abruptly announced, in an interview with TMZ just days before the wedding that he had suffered a heart attack and would not be able to make it.

Meghan said in a statement at the time, “I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health.”

Like his older children, Markle has continued to speak to the press about Meghan, though it is unclear if they are in direct communication. Shortly after the wedding Thomas then gave an interview with Good Morning Britain where he spoke about private moments between himself and his daughter, and revealed details of personal conversations with Prince Harry.

These are the kind of private details that royal in-laws typically don't share—and a sign that Markle will have a hard time getting back in the fold.

In contrast, Meghan remains close to her mother, who was with her throughout her wedding day and sat close to the royal family in the chapel. She has said almost nothing to the press about her daughter and her new husband.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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