Meghan Markle’s ‘bully’ claims are the worst royal crisis since the abdication writes RICHARD KAY 

When Jason Knauf left the Treasury to go and work for RBS — the bank that had been bailed out with £45 billion of taxpayers’ money following the 2008 financial crisis — he was dubbed ‘gamekeeper turned poacher’.

But his silky skills in crisis management were never tested there as they were in his next big job — working for Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex.

Yesterday, the quietly spoken American was revealed to have been the author of a sensational bullying complaint against former actress Meghan, which threatens a new royal crisis every bit as divisive as the War of the Waleses.

A sensational bullying complaint against former actress Meghan threatens a new royal crisis every bit as divisive as the War of the Waleses

A sensational bullying complaint against former actress Meghan threatens a new royal crisis every bit as divisive as the War of the Waleses

A sensational bullying complaint against former actress Meghan threatens a new royal crisis every bit as divisive as the War of the Waleses

That, of course, was the bitter and acrimonious battle for public sympathy waged between Princess Diana and Prince Charles throughout the 1990s.

Mr Knauf’s email, alleging that the Duchess’s intimidating behaviour had driven two personal assistants out of the household, reopens a rift far more critical and damaging for the future of the monarchy: the split between Harry and his brother, Prince William.

But last night the email had an even more shocking immediate effect.

Stung by Meghan’s astonishing statement in response to allegations of bullying — that she was the victim of a ‘smear’ and that the newspaper that published the email was ‘being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative’ — the Queen hit back.

Announcing an inquiry into the claims about the two employees who left their jobs and a third whose confidence was said to have been undermined is an astonishing development.

Never before has the Palace held a member of the Royal Family to account, and its move represents a serious blow to the Duchess’s carefully curated status of victimhood.

The crisis has echoes of the dramas that followed the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936

The crisis has echoes of the dramas that followed the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936

The crisis has echoes of the dramas that followed the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936

It also shows that the Queen’s deep reserve of patience for her grandson, Harry, has reached a tipping point.

The move was not just a result of the incendiary remarks of the Sussexes’ American public relations team, but also because of the implications that the Palace could face legal action over nothing being done when the complaints were first raised. In other words, a cover-up.

I also understand that individuals who fear their reputations will be damaged in the Sussexes’ upcoming Oprah Winfrey TV interview have demanded the protection of the Palace.

‘The Palace is taking the gravity of the situation extremely seriously,’ I am told.

Even to the most neutral and fair-minded of observers, the bombshell revelations coming just four days before the Oprah interview is broadcast, represent a moment of potential danger for the Royal Family.

It has echoes, too, of the dramas that followed the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, when the Queen’s father reluctantly took the throne as George VI, triggering years of hostility between the brothers and, crucially, their wives.

The Queen Mother blamed, and never forgave, the Duchess of Windsor — the former Wallis Simpson — for the premature death of her husband.

The Queen's father (pictured) reluctantly took the throne as George VI, triggering years of hostility between the brothers and, crucially, their wives

The Queen's father (pictured) reluctantly took the throne as George VI, triggering years of hostility between the brothers and, crucially, their wives

The Queen’s father (pictured) reluctantly took the throne as George VI, triggering years of hostility between the brothers and, crucially, their wives

Just who leaked Mr Knauf’s 2018 email to The Times scarcely matters. Its very existence suggests an escalation in the fraught relationship between William and Harry.

The reason? Mr Knauf’s current job as the Duke of Cambridge’s right-hand man.

For more than two years he has worked exclusively for Prince William, and is now chief executive of the Cambridges’ Royal Foundation.

His email was one of a series of claims about Meghan’s treatment of staff after former aides accused her of ’emotional cruelty and manipulation’, which had reduced them to tears and left them ‘shaking’ with fear.

The fact aides had managed to keep a lid on these troubling claims for so long demonstrates the unease over what might be unleashed when the Oprah interview is broadcast in the U.S. on Sunday night.

It is also a sign that the Palace will not sit back and allow the Sussexes’ partial and highly selective account of their brief life as working royals to go unchallenged.

Yesterday, royal officials were insisting that the complaints about Meghan, which began to surface within weeks of her and Harry’s starry Windsor wedding, were not being orchestrated by Buckingham Palace or by members of the Queen’s family.

Their focus, they said, was on 99-year-old Prince Philip, who remains a patient at Barts Hospital in London.

Complaints about Meghan began to surface within weeks of her and Harry's starry Windsor wedding

Complaints about Meghan began to surface within weeks of her and Harry's starry Windsor wedding

Complaints about Meghan began to surface within weeks of her and Harry’s starry Windsor wedding

All the same, some courtiers are privately describing developments as ‘the Crown getting its revenge in first’.

Whatever the case, you don’t have to be much of a conspiracy theorist to see a pattern in the revelations.

For on any reading of the claims, what appears to emerge is a streak of wilfulness in Meghan and a pusillanimous Harry torn between his family and his wife.

As someone who has reported on the royals for 35 years, I have heard of complaints about the failings of the royals’ internal human resources departments on a number of occasions — and they were a key factor in the war of words between Charles and Diana.

This probably accounts for Mr Knauf’s pointed observation in a 2018 email leaked to The Times this week. It said that while the household’s head of human resources, Samantha Carruthers, had ‘agreed with me on all counts that the situation was serious . . . I remain concerned that nothing will be done’.

The intervention of the Queen last night indicates that was almost certainly true.

Sources quoted by The Times claim HR attitudes were ‘How can we make this go away?’, rather that addressing it.

The Queen Mother blamed, and never forgave, the Duchess of Windsor — the former Wallis Simpson (pictured) — for the premature death of her husband

The Queen Mother blamed, and never forgave, the Duchess of Windsor — the former Wallis Simpson (pictured) — for the premature death of her husband

The Queen Mother blamed, and never forgave, the Duchess of Windsor — the former Wallis Simpson (pictured) — for the premature death of her husband

According to insiders, senior figures in all the major royal households knew of the reports that young women were being bullied to the point of tears.

‘The institution just protected Meghan,’ it was claimed.

How ironic that it should be ‘the men in grey suits’ — the very people whom the Duchess of Sussex has complained had been so hostile to her — who protected her from these sulphurous claims.

By now stories of Meghan’s behaviour were circulating openly. One story that reached my ears was of a very junior assistant who had gone from being Meghan’s favourite to being told that she had become ‘over familiar’.

Another was how morning staff meetings over coffee, which Harry himself made, had stopped when Meghan apparently engaged a butler, ending the informality at a stroke. Harmless enough, you may think, but there were other accounts, too.

One figure, working in a different part of the royal estate, was alleged to have been reprimanded for giving Harry a present to mark his engagement.

And there have been claims that behind the glowing headlines of the couple’s first big overseas tour, in October 2018, all was not well at Admiralty House, Australia’s governor general’s residence which hosted Harry and Meghan.

The bombshell revelations coming just four days before the Oprah interview is broadcast represent a moment of potential danger for the Royal Family

The bombshell revelations coming just four days before the Oprah interview is broadcast represent a moment of potential danger for the Royal Family

The bombshell revelations coming just four days before the Oprah interview is broadcast represent a moment of potential danger for the Royal Family

How conflicting this must all have been for Harry, who had been brought up by both his mother and father to respect the staff who work for the Royal Family.

But it was Mr Knauf’s devastating conclusion about bullying by ‘principals’ that was to have the greatest impact.

Prince William was appalled by the reports that reached his ears, and many now wonder whether it was this that ultimately led to the split between the brothers.

Initially, I understand, Harry acknowledged that something was not right, but he swiftly backed his wife.

At the time William and Harry shared their staff, but the issue of their treatment became so acute that William and his aides accelerated the process of splitting the household in two. ‘What was a long-term plan became an immediate plan,’ said a source.

Suddenly the ‘Fab Four’, as the two couples had been dubbed, were no longer quite so fabulous.

Harry and Meghan moved out of Kensington Palace and went to live at their new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, taking their own staff with them.

Mr Knauf, meanwhile, took up a job as an adviser to the Duke of Cambridge.

To the public, the unravelling of the special relationship of two brothers who had been so close because of adversity — as well as their unique circumstance — was as perplexing as it was heartbreaking.

The picture of the princes and their wives barely acknowledging one another at last year’s Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey could not have contrasted more than with that joyful Christmas Day at Sandringham in 2017, when all four had been wreathed in smiles.

William has looked on with mounting dismay as his brother and sister-in-law have used their new Californian pulpit to wage war on the Press and, more recently, on their own family and the institution that serves it.

His hope that Harry, who more than anyone else knows the burdens William faces as the future king, would be at his side has vanished to be replaced by a fear that his disgruntled brother and sister-in-law are morphing ever more into a modern-day version of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

That may also indicate William’s hand in last night’s Palace intervention. Bullying and remedies to prevent it, are, after all, at the heart of his mental health charity, Heads Together.

Even when such damaging allegations are made on the Palace’s own doorstep, doing nothing is not an option.

Palace probes claims Meghan bullied staff: Sensation as Queen orders investigation as aide alleges that duchess drove staff out

By Rebecca English and Sam Greenhill for the Daily Mail 

The Queen launched an unprecedented inquiry last night into allegations that Meghan and Harry bullied their staff.

Devastating claims that the Duchess of Sussex inflicted ’emotional cruelty’ on aides and ‘drove them out’ were ‘very’ concerning, Buckingham Palace said.

Harry and his wife were both also labelled ‘outrageous bullies’, according to sensational claims reported yesterday. 

‘Broken’ royal aides told of feeling humiliated, ‘sick’, ‘terrified’, left ‘shaking’ with fear, and being reduced to tears by the duchess.

In an extraordinary statement, Buckingham Palace announced a formal probe into the allegations surrounding the Queen’s grandson and his wife. Members of staff will be invited to contribute in confidence.

The Palace said: ‘We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

‘Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Royal Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned.

The Queen (pictured with the couple in 2018) launched an unprecedented inquiry last night into allegations that Meghan and Harry bullied their staff

The Queen (pictured with the couple in 2018) launched an unprecedented inquiry last night into allegations that Meghan and Harry bullied their staff

The Queen (pictured with the couple in 2018) launched an unprecedented inquiry last night into allegations that Meghan and Harry bullied their staff 

Devastating claims that the Duchess of Sussex (pictured during her Oprah interview airing next week) inflicted 'emotional cruelty' on aides and 'drove them out' were 'very' concerning, Buckingham Palace said

Devastating claims that the Duchess of Sussex (pictured during her Oprah interview airing next week) inflicted 'emotional cruelty' on aides and 'drove them out' were 'very' concerning, Buckingham Palace said

Devastating claims that the Duchess of Sussex (pictured during her Oprah interview airing next week) inflicted ’emotional cruelty’ on aides and ‘drove them out’ were ‘very’ concerning, Buckingham Palace said

‘The household has had a dignity at work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace.’

It does not appear that the duke and duchess will be consulted at this stage. However, Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, have strenuously denied any bullying.

In response to the reports, they accused the Queen’s staff of orchestrating a ‘calculated smear campaign’ ahead of their explosive two-hour ‘tell-all’ interview with Oprah Winfrey being broadcast this weekend.

In an extraordinary statement (pictured), Buckingham Palace announced a formal probe into the allegations surrounding the Queen's grandson and his wife. Members of staff will be invited to contribute in confidence

In an extraordinary statement (pictured), Buckingham Palace announced a formal probe into the allegations surrounding the Queen's grandson and his wife. Members of staff will be invited to contribute in confidence

In an extraordinary statement (pictured), Buckingham Palace announced a formal probe into the allegations surrounding the Queen’s grandson and his wife. Members of staff will be invited to contribute in confidence 

Daily Mail scoop that signalled a scandal 

The first sign there was a problem within the Sussexes’ household came in a Daily Mail story from November 2018.

This newspaper’s Eden Confidential diary column reported that Meghan’s personal assistant had ‘quit suddenly’ just six months after the duchess married into the Royal Family.

The aide was later named as Melissa Touabti.

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But Palace sources last night slapped down the smear claim as utterly ‘disingenuous’.

The allegations and resulting probe – as well as accusations by the duchess that Buckingham Palace, and therefore the Queen, are deliberately moving against her – sees a new low in relations between the two parties.

When the couple acrimoniously quit last year as working royals, the elderly monarch made clear her regret and made a point of saying they were still much loved members of her family.

Aides said the hope was that they could still return for family events such as Trooping the Colour, the official celebration of the Queen’s birthday when royals gather on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and other important occasions.

Last night a royal insider commented: ‘I can’t ever see those two back on the balcony.’

There is no timetable to the investigation but it is understood that any changes in policies and procedures will be shared publicly in an annual review expected later in the year.

Palace officials will be asked why the initial claims of bullying that were made in October 2018 were not acted on at the time.

The Times revealed allegations that the duchess (pictured in a trailer for her Oprah interview with Harry) bullied two assistants and shattered the confidence of another member of staff, and 'drove them out' of Kensington Palace. It published a litany of alleged bullying and 'emotional cruelty'

The Times revealed allegations that the duchess (pictured in a trailer for her Oprah interview with Harry) bullied two assistants and shattered the confidence of another member of staff, and 'drove them out' of Kensington Palace. It published a litany of alleged bullying and 'emotional cruelty'

The Times revealed allegations that the duchess (pictured in a trailer for her Oprah interview with Harry) bullied two assistants and shattered the confidence of another member of staff, and ‘drove them out’ of Kensington Palace. It published a litany of alleged bullying and ’emotional cruelty’

In October 2018, an official complaint was lodged by Jason Knauf, (pictured on Meghan and Harry's wedding day) himself one the couple's most senior advisers

In October 2018, an official complaint was lodged by Jason Knauf, (pictured on Meghan and Harry's wedding day) himself one the couple's most senior advisers

In October 2018, an official complaint was lodged by Jason Knauf, (pictured on Meghan and Harry’s wedding day) himself one the couple’s most senior advisers

A royal source told the Daily Mail last night that the emergence of the bullying claims yesterday had ‘shaken’ many staff, both past and present, and brought up ‘many unhappy memories’ about a particularly ‘toxic period’.

The Times revealed allegations that the duchess bullied two assistants and shattered the confidence of another member of staff, and ‘drove them out’ of Kensington Palace. It published a litany of alleged bullying and ’emotional cruelty’.

A Palace source told the paper: ‘There were a lot of broken people. Young women were broken by their behaviour.’ The source described one member of staff as ‘completely destroyed’.

A former aide branded both Harry and his wife ‘outrageous bullies’. Another source claimed that Samantha Cohen, the couple’s private secretary, had also been picked on.

In October 2018, an official complaint was lodged by Jason Knauf, himself one the couple’s most senior advisers.

Mr Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan and now heads the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's charitable foundation, sent his 2018 email of complaint to Simon Case (left), then William's private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary at Downing Street

Mr Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan and now heads the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's charitable foundation, sent his 2018 email of complaint to Simon Case (left), then William's private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary at Downing Street

Mr Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan and now heads the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s charitable foundation, sent his 2018 email of complaint to Simon Case (left), then William’s private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary at Downing Street 

He wrote: ‘I am very concerned that the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of [X] was totally unacceptable.

‘The duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying Y and seeking to undermine her confidence.

‘We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards [Y].’

Harry and Meghan, whose ‘no holds barred’ CBS interview with Miss Winfrey will be broadcast on Sunday in America and in the UK on Monday at 9pm on ITV – which reportedly paid £1million – hit back at the allegations in The Times. A spokesman claimed the newspaper was being ‘used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative’ before the interview.

Yesterday a senior Palace source told the Mail: ‘This is absolutely untrue. We haven’t been ‘peddling’ anything. It’s disingenuous [to suggest that]. There are far more important things going on in the world [a reference to the pandemic and Prince Philip’s hospitalisation] that have been focusing our attention, rather than the circus around a media interview.’

Another source added: ‘The Palace has 100 per cent refused to discuss in any way, shape or form the interview.

‘Every journalist that has been asking them about it for the last week or so knows that.

‘The view from the start is that nothing good is to be gained from doing that. Their view has not changed. The suggestion that this is a Palace-orchestrated smear campaign is deeply offensive and patently false.’

Mr Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan and now heads the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s charitable foundation, sent his 2018 email of complaint to Simon Case, then William’s private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary at Downing Street. 

Mr Case, who is said to have had no managerial responsibility for Harry’s staff but took a keen interest in what was happening, passed it to human resources director Samantha Carruthers.

Harry had 'pleaded' with Mr Knauf (pictured left with the duke) not to pursue the allegations, The Times claimed. Lawyers for the couple deny this happened

Harry had 'pleaded' with Mr Knauf (pictured left with the duke) not to pursue the allegations, The Times claimed. Lawyers for the couple deny this happened

Harry had ‘pleaded’ with Mr Knauf (pictured left with the duke) not to pursue the allegations, The Times claimed. Lawyers for the couple deny this happened

According to the report in The Times, Mr Knauf, who had already consulted Miss Carruthers, said in his email that she ‘agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious’.

Harry had ‘pleaded’ with Mr Knauf not to pursue the allegations, The Times claimed. Lawyers for the couple deny this happened.

The newspaper said it had been approached by former staff to tell their story before the couple’s interview with Miss Winfrey. They claimed that when Meghan was urged to support Palace staff she replied: ‘It’s not my job to coddle people.’

Meghan’s lawyers have vehemently denied she was a bully and claimed that one of the staff had left the job because of misconduct.They said the former actress was ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma’. They added: ‘Let’s just call this what it is – a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation.’ 

Revenge of the Sussex survivors’ club: The extraordinary inside story of how a fairytale turned into a nightmare of ‘traumatised’ staff – by Royal Editor REBECCA ENGLISH, who saw so much of it herself

It is the one royal group that no one wants to join. Referred to only half-jokingly as the ‘Sussex Survivors’ Club’, its membership is sadly rising.

But its select band of members have one thing in common: all have worked for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and lived to tell the tale.

Joking aside, some even believe they may have a form of post-traumatic stress, defined by doctors as an anxiety disorder caused by distressing or frightening events.

Such experiences, of course, are now widely acknowledged not to be limited to soldiers who have undergone traumatic experiences on the battlefield, but also to people at work.

Even if that work is in a palace.

And today, many former palace staff look back on the moment that Prince Harry introduced to the world his beautiful, intelligent and passionate bride-to-be as the beginning of one of the most traumatic periods in their lives.

Let us be clear: Harry is a complex man but one with a strong sense of natural justice and charity, given to acts of compassion and kindness.

‘He wears his heart on his sleeve and genuinely wants to do good in the world,’ one admirer tells me.

But he is also equally capable, say those who know him well and like him, of behaving ‘like an absolute brat’.

Aides at the centre of palace intrigue

Melissa Touabti (right) is pictured with Robbie Williams' wife Ayda for whom she previously worked

Melissa Touabti (right) is pictured with Robbie Williams' wife Ayda for whom she previously worked

Melissa Touabti (right) is pictured with Robbie Williams’ wife Ayda for whom she previously worked

PA WHO QUIT AFTER WEDDING:

Melissa Touabti, the duchess’s former personal assistant, had previously worked for Robbie Williams and Madonna.

She played a key role in preparations for Meghan and Harry’s wedding in May 2018, but quit after just six months.

The Frenchwoman, 41, took a job with the billionaire Livingstone family – owners of the stately home Cliveden. 

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR:

Jason Knauf joined the royals in 2014, having acted as a ‘crisis management expert’ at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The 36- year-old American, who completed his master’s at the London School of Economics, served as communications secretary to the ‘Fab Four’ of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan before the Cambridges and Sussexes created separate offices in March 2019.

Mr Knauf now heads William and Kate’s charitable foundation. 

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR: Jason Knauf (left) walks behind the couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR: Jason Knauf (left) walks behind the couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR: Jason Knauf (left) walks behind the couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto 

Simon Case in Dundee in 2019

Simon Case in Dundee in 2019

Simon Case in Dundee in 2019 

THE WHIZ-KID WHO RUNS WHITEHALL: 

Simon Case became the youngest head of the civil service for over a century when he took the post at the tender age of 41.

The Cambridge history graduate – a noted fan of tweed suits and Barbour jackets – had previously been the principal private secretary to successive Tory prime ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May. He also worked at spying centre GCHQ as a ‘director of strategy’.

His most recent role before becoming Cabinet Secretary last year was serving as private secretary to Prince William.

THE TOUGH TALKING AUSTRALIAN: 

Formerly the Queen’s assistant private secretary, Samantha Cohen had planned to quit Buckingham Palace in 2018. Instead, she agreed to stay on and help the duchess through her first months in the Royal Family.

The well-liked but tough-talking Australian became the Sussexes’ private secretary, but left in 2019 to work for the environmental charity Cool Earth. 

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Samantha Cohen) attend a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Widnes, England

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Samantha Cohen) attend a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Widnes, England

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Samantha Cohen) attend a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Widnes, England 

THE PRINCES’ HR HEAD HONCHO: 

Experienced human resources director Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royals.

Head of HR for Prince Charles and Prince William until 2019, she is now deputy chairman of the board of trustees for child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish. 

Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royal

Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royal

Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royal 

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It had been clear for years to anyone he came into contact with that he wasn’t happy working with the palace machinery – or, particularly, the British media (sometimes understandably so).

He was, they say, always capable of self-destructively ‘pressing the nuclear button’ on his royal life.

Meghan, they stress, was simply the catalyst.

But the result was more toxic, more personally harmful, than anyone could ever have imagined.

To begin with, however, the atmosphere at Kensington Palace was heady and exciting.

Here was a glamorous couple, clearly deeply in love. Meghan was the missing piece of the jigsaw that poor, motherless Harry had been searching for all those years.

Famously she once paid for an ice cream stand for her new staff at Kensington Palace, with the event later – surprise! – being breathlessly revealed in People, a ‘pro-Sussex’ American magazine, as the ‘best day of work, ever’.

More than that, they were a couple determined to do good on a world stage – at the same time sprinkling a little stardust on Britain’s ‘fusty’ old Royal Family.

And their small team of loyal staff believed in them – until, that is, the scales fell from their eyes.

Notoriously, within a few weeks of Meghan’s arrival in England and the announcement of the couple’s engagement in November 2017, word was leaking out about the couple’s ‘autocratic’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour.

Occasionally it slipped into print: that Meghan (a claim robustly sourced by the Mail) had refused to wear a hat on her first official engagement with the Queen in Chester, despite being strongly advised it would be appropriate and respectful to do so.

Then came the famous row over which tiara she wanted to wear to the couple’s wedding, resulting in Harry publicly admonishing one of the Queen’s most senior members of staff, Angela Kelly: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’

There were also claims that the Duchess of Cambridge had told Meghan she shouldn’t speak to her staff so dismissively and that there was so much friction at a pre-wedding bridesmaid fitting that Kate was left in tears.

The Times has reported that the ‘febrile’ atmosphere within Kensington Palace saw staff, on occasion, weeping. Two say they were bullied by the duchess, a third that they had been ‘humiliated’ by her.

The paper quotes one aide, who was anticipating a confrontation with Meghan, as saying: ‘I can’t stop shaking.’ At first, my sources tell me, Harry tried to keep the peace, gently placating his wife and quietly apologising to staff.

On one occasion described to me by several sources, he even gently admonished Meghan about the way she behaved with palace staff – many of whom work long hours for relatively little money out of pride for the institution – after a particularly explosive encounter.

The details are subject to conjecture (and have become something of a palace legend) but resulted in Harry speaking to one of his close protection officers, who confirmed his fiancee’s behaviour.

But as the weeks went on, the prince became increasingly hostile to his once-loyal aides.

Rebecca English with Prince Harry to learn about the work of his new charity Sentebale in Lesotho in 2006

Rebecca English with Prince Harry to learn about the work of his new charity Sentebale in Lesotho in 2006

Rebecca English with Prince Harry to learn about the work of his new charity Sentebale in Lesotho in 2006

The Times has claimed Harry knew of a complaint made by the couple’s former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, that Meghan had driven two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member. Harry is said to have had a meeting with Mr Knauf in which he begged him not to pursue it. The Sussexes deny this.

They also describe the allegations as ‘old’, ‘distorted’ and aimed at ‘undermining’ Meghan. It has been suggested by others that staff may have ‘misunderstood’ Meghan’s more direct, American style. But I have personally witnessed more than one member of staff driven to tears by the treatment they were subjected to by the duke and duchess before the couple acrimoniously quit as working royals.

One person sobbed down the phone to me after a particularly harrowing day. They clearly felt emotionally broken and could no longer cope with the pressure they were being subjected to.

Others have indicated to me they were being asked to behave in a manner they did not feel professionally comfortable with, particularly in their dealings with the media. Several aides have also told me that Meghan in particular was very good at ‘drawing’ staff into her confidence, flattering them as if they were the only person in the world she could trust and asking them to help her with various duties.

Often these were things that were far beyond the scope of their normal work – in one case being instructed to make plans for her father Thomas to be flown from his home in Mexico before the wedding and taken to a fully-stocked ‘safe house’ in LA for a few days in order to fool any waiting media.

And then, when things didn’t go to plan, the sun would no longer shine on them. It was made ‘horribly clear’ they were out of favour.

Toxic, hostile, distrustful, poisonous: all words I have heard regularly used over the past few years to describe people’s experiences working in the Sussexes’ household.

The Times reports matters became so bad that Mr Knauf, an experienced PR operator who cut his teeth defending the bank RBS at the height of its financial scandal, decided to put his strongly held concerns in writing.

He made clear in October 2018, little more than six months after the couple married, that he believed the duchess had already driven two members of staff out and another was being targeted.

‘I am very concerned that the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of [redacted] was totally unacceptable,’ he wrote.

‘The duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying ‘Y’ and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.’

The Times has chosen not to match incidents to individual names, but the members of staff leaving the Sussexes’ employment were all women and all seasoned professionals. A well-placed source said: ‘[One woman’s] job was highly pressurised and in the end it became too much. She put up with quite a lot. Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears.’ One member of staff, a seasoned professional, was initially said to have left on good terms.

But I have since been told that this popular aide was deeply unhappy about her experience working for the duchess and had been ‘desperate’ to get out as long as she could professionally put a brave face on it. Likewise a third member of staff. Mr Knauf makes clear in his email, as reported by The Times, that he was also concerned about the couple’s hugely experienced deputy private secretary, Samantha Cohen. She had worked for the Queen for more than 20 years and was personally persuaded by the monarch to stay on and help the couple navigate their first few years of royal life.

He indicated that she was experiencing extreme stress and said: ‘I questioned if the Household policy on bullying and harassment applies to principals [the term used to refer to a member of the royal family].’

One source tells me wryly, with an eye to Meghan’s much-hyped championing of female empowerment: ‘Note that everyone concerned was a woman.’

Another adds: ‘Sam always made clear that it was like working for a couple of teenagers. They were impossible and pushed her to the limit. She was miserable.’

The Times also makes reference to an incident during the couple’s tour to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga in 2018, which was a particularly difficult one for all concerned, Meghan included. She was, of course, pregnant at the time.

The newspaper reports how Meghan cut short a visit to a market in Fiji because she was concerned about the presence of a UN organisation promoting women, with which she had worked before and made clear she no longer wished to have anything to do with.

At the time officials had suggested that it was because it was humid and the crowd was oppressive in the market.

I was there at the time and witnessed Meghan turn and ‘hiss’ at a member of her entourage, clearly incandescent with rage about something, and demand to leave.

I later saw that same – female – highly distressed member of staff sitting in an official car, with tears running down her face. Our eyes met and she lowered hers, humiliation etched on her features.

At the time I was unable to document anything as I couldn’t conclusively link the two incidents together, despite my suspicions. I have subsequently found out from other sources that my instincts were right.

It should be stressed that lawyers for the duchess said she met other leaders from UN Women later on the tour and denied she left for the reason alleged.

So why has this all come out now, you might ask?

The Times makes clear that these aides have ‘hit back’ before Meghan’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey this Sunday.

The newspaper says it was approached by sources because they felt ‘only a partial version had emerged of Meghan’s two years as a working member of the royal family and they wished to tell their side’.

They were also concerned at how such matters were handled by the palace.

One source put it more succinctly to me yesterday. ‘Those concerned are fed up with the sheer hypocrisy of it all. The suggestion that they [the Sussexes] were being bullied and forced out when others were experiencing that very treatment at their hands!’ exclaimed the source.

Another insider told me they believed some staff had even sought psychological therapy over their experiences – something that Harry, who moved the nation when he revealed how he had himself sought professional help to cope with the emotional fall-out over his mother’s death and has long campaigned on mental health issues, should know all about.

‘People have been broken by this, genuinely so. Absolutely traumatised,’ I am told.

Lawyers for the duchess say she wished to fit in and be accepted and had left her life in North America to commit to her new role.

What a sad, sorry mess.

The irony, another source says, is that no one wanted a battle. But the Sussexes have waged this war and enough is enough.

Those aides who have broken the royal omerta say they refuse to sit by and watch Harry and Meghan’s ‘duplicitous’ behaviour, especially when ‘good people and brilliant professionals’ are having their reputations unfairly traduced. One source warns: ‘The royals cannot fight back. ‘Never complain, never explain.’ But they can.’

A spokesman for the Sussexes has told The Times that they are the victims of a ‘calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful information’.

They have said the duchess is ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma.’

Wedding gems from ‘murderous’ ruler 

Meghan Markle was criticised last night for preaching about human rights in Saudi Arabia yet wearing priceless earrings from its rulers.

She was photographed wearing the earrings, a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, three weeks after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose death the prince has accepted responsibility for.

Meghan was claimed to have been ‘unaware’ of the global outrage at the time about reports the prince had ordered the murder. She wore them at a dinner in a visit to Fiji in October 2018.

Her staff told journalists the jewellery was ‘borrowed’, without stating from whom.

Meghan has campaigned for women in Saudi Arabia to be allowed to drive, appearing with Loujain al-Hathloul, an activist who has since been jailed. 

Lawyers for the duchess denied to The Times that she had misled anyone about the provenance of the earrings. 

Meghan Markle wears the earrings at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018, three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Meghan Markle wears the earrings at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018, three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Meghan Markle wears the earrings at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018, three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

The Duchess of Sussex was again seen wearing the earrings one month later on November 14, 2018 as she was photographed leaving Kensington Palace to attend Prince Charles's 70th birthday party at Buckingham Palace

The Duchess of Sussex was again seen wearing the earrings one month later on November 14, 2018 as she was photographed leaving Kensington Palace to attend Prince Charles's 70th birthday party at Buckingham Palace

The Duchess of Sussex was again seen wearing the earrings one month later on November 14, 2018 as she was photographed leaving Kensington Palace to attend Prince Charles’s 70th birthday party at Buckingham Palace

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