Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall dazzle alongside VIPs at Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse. Video / SNTVOPINION:
Back in the day if the Sovereign was unhappy or peeved with a family member, there were easy ways to demonstrate One’s displeasure: having their head removed from their shoulders (which King Henry VIII did to wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard); literally locking them out of Westminster Abbey during their coronation (King George IV was being crowned, Queen Caroline was not allowed in) or forcing them to live in France (King George VI sent brother the Duke of Windsor better known as Edward VIII, to France, though to be fair he had abdicated the throne.
Indeed, what greater punishment could there be than consigning a Brit to a lifetime of “foreign muck”, not a spotted dick in sight).
Her Majesty the Queen has none of those options these days but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways that she can subtly communicate her feelings about her various family members.
This week Ascot kicked off, an event which is usually the highlight of the Queen’s calendar thanks to the preponderance of horseflesh and chance to see One’s fillies run. (You’ll be hard-pressed to find more photos of the 95-year-old smiling than at the exclusive race meeting.)
But this year, for the first time in her 69-year reign, Her Majesty was absent from the famed race meeting, which was taking place with extremely reduced crowd numbers and pandemic-related restrictions.
However, take a look back at Ascot 2018, the one and only time Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex attended and there is something of a red flag that was largely overlooked, which might have suggested that all was not hunky-dory behind the scenes.
The clue lies in the annual day one carriage procession.
In a normal, non-pandemic year, the Windsors arrive en masse at Ascot in a series of horse-drawn landaus, with the Queen, for obvious reasons, always taking pole position.
In June 2016, there alongside his grandmother in the first carriage was Prince Harry. (Coincidentally, we now know that was the same month he was set up on a blind date with Suits star Meghan.)
That year his stature in the royal firmament grew, with the Duke being tasked by his grandmother to undertake his first solo overseas tour on her behalf several months later.
Harry’s star was wholly on the rise and he earned rave reviews for his two-week trip around the Caribbean, establishing his chops as an exemplary ambassador for the royal house.
(Don’t lose sight of the fact that neither William nor Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have ever been granted the honour of riding in the number one carriage with Grandmother.)
The next time Harry popped along to Ascot was 2018 when he was newly married and with wife Meghan on his arm, the freshly minted Duchess donning the requisite four-figure Philip Treacy hat for the occasion.
But, there was one marked difference between this and the previous time Harry had attended: no longer was he in the first carriage. This time, he and Meghan had been shunted to the third carriage, alongside Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
Ahead of the Sussexes in the second carriage were Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall along with cousins Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
At the time reports were breathlessly focused on Meghan’s outfit for her debut Ascot outing but, in hindsight, could Harry and Meghan’s lowlier spot in the carriage procession have been an early warning sign things were coming unstuck for the newlyweds?
By that point in time, the fairytale had already begun to fracture the world just didn’t quite know it yet.
Later reporting would reveal that there had been an incident involving Meghan and her sister-in-law before the couple’s wedding that had left an “emotional” Kate in tears, according to the Telegraph.
This year Meghan told Oprah Winfrey that in fact “the reverse happened”.
“It was a really hard week of the wedding, and [Kate] was upset about something. But she owned it, and she apologised, and she brought me flowers and a note apologising.”
Meanwhile, longtime royal reporter Camilla Tominey, who authored the original Telegraph story, after the Sussexes’ Oprah appearance wrote of the contentious incident.
“What actually happened was that the dress itself did not fit Kate’s then nearly 3-year-old daughter. According to a well-placed source, ‘demands were made about when subsequent fittings would be, and Kate left sobbing’.”
So too did reports later emerge that there had been drama involving a tiara in the lead-up to the Sussexes’ big day.
The Sun later reported: “The Queen warned Prince Harry over Meghan Markle’s behaviour and attitude before their wedding following a row over the bride’s tiara.”
The paper cited a well-placed royal insider saying: “Meghan had her heart set on this tiara with emeralds and Prince Harry hit the roof when they were told it was impossible for her to wear it.”
Last year’s biography Finding Freedom framed the situation differently, denying that Meghan had wanted another tiara. However, it did say there was a “dust-up” between the Queen’s longtime dresser and confidant Angela Kelly and Harry after the LA-native was denied access to the diamond topper for a hair trial, leaving the Prince “furious”.
(A source close to the Duke told the Telegraph that allegations he had shouted or sworn at his grandmother were “totally untrue”.)
We now also know that by the time Meghan and Harry said “I do”, the relationship between the Wales brothers had deteriorated badly. Things had reportedly gone off the rails after the elder Prince urged his younger sibling to “take as much time as you need to get to know this girl”, Finding Freedom revealed. Harry reportedly took offence to the phrase “this girl”, viewing it as snobbish and condescending and after the conversation, the brothers “hardly spoke”.
The wider world, of course, knew none of this back then (ah, to be so young and innocent again) and in the week before Ascot in June 2018, Meghan undertook a solo overnight engagement with the Queen, travelling by royal train to open a bridge in Merseyside. It was an extraordinary and unprecedented gesture from Her Majesty towards the family’s newest recruit and they were photographed laughing and smiling.
Again, reporting since then has cast the engagement in a grimmer light with the Daily Mail’s royal editor Rebecca English saying that that it offered “one of the earliest signs that Meghan was determined to do it her way”.
English reports that in the run-up to the jaunt, “the Queen’s powerful personal assistant, Angela Kelly, sent a ­message that Her Majesty would be wearing a hat polite Palace code for ‘You should be wearing one too’.
“The message came back that Meghan preferred to go bare-headed. The new Duchess was clearly unwilling to acquiesce.”
Anger. Tears. Fury. Defiance. This was the emotional backdrop against which Harry and Meghan found themselves in that third carriage trundling along the famed Ascot turf.
If alleged wounds hadn’t been quite so raw, might they have found themselves enjoying a loftier position?
Contrast all of this with the experience of William and Kate. In 2011, her parents Michael and Carol were invited and took part in the carriage procession.
When the Cambridges made their own Ascot debut together in 2016 they might have been in the fourth carriage but it was with their old friends, Wentworth Beaumont, heir to Viscount Allendale, and his wife Vanessa, the Cambridges seemingly “gifted” a carriage of their own.
In 2017, William and Kate were in the third carriage with Edward and Sophie but come their next appearance in 2019, they were in the second with Charles and Camilla.
Today, Harry and Meghan (along with son Archie and newborn daughter Lili) are living a life a world away from one of carriages, tiaras and rigid hierarchical adherence.
Still, might there ever come a day when we see the Sussexes back at Ascot? All I know is, the house of Windsor loves a good bet.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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