Not even the death of his grandmother warranted a ceasefire in the social media war of words against Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan. Five days after the Queen was buried, an unadorned Google search for Harry and Meghan generated 7m results, a mark of the outpouring of commentary in the past fortnight on the couple.
On social media platforms there was no letup either. “Vicious, vile criminals have received less abuse and criticism from the British media than the daughter-in-law of the new King,” LBC’s James O’Brien noted after they were criticised for holding hands.
The Centre for Countering Digital Hate found satanic conspiracy theories doing the rounds on social media about the Queen’s death , along with claims Meghan was wearing a hidden microphone.
The chief executive, Imran Ahmed, said: “Our research has proved that virtually all women with a public profile on social media receive a stream of abuse and harassment, and platforms are systematically failing to act on the problem.
“Meghan Markle is another example of a high-profile woman targeted with racist abuse, misogynist attacks and conspiracy theories on social media platforms. The truth is that platforms are safer for abusers than the women users, and that has to change.”
Elsewhere much of the commentary has focused on the apparent family rift between Harry, William and the King. It included remarks by the CBS host Gayle King, one of the couple’s “main allies” according to the Daily Mail, which reported she said the couple had returned to Los Angeles “without a peace deal”. On closer inspection there was little supporting evidence.
“Big families always go through drama, always go through turmoil. It remains to be seen – are they going to be drawn closer together or are they going to be drawn apart? I have no idea, I have no inside information on that, but I will tell you this: It was good to see Harry standing with his family,” King said.
More questions are being asked about the publication of Harry’s book, due out later this year, possibly November. Penguin Random House in New York has declined to comment but it is thought discussions about the book’s future are at board level.
When announced earlier this year, Harry said the book would be his story “the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned” to show he has more in common with the public than many realise. But some believe if the rift between Harry, his brother and King Charles were to heal, the memoir would disappear – albeit with financial consequences for Harry if he had received an advance.
Royal watchers believe King Charles’s first address to the nation after his mother’s death singling out Harry and Meghan was a move towards a rapprochement. “I want to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas,” he said.
The respected former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt suggested King Charles should let Harry back into the fold. “He should turn his declaration of love for Harry and Meghan into action. He could give Harry back his honorary military appointments and find the couple space on the Buckingham Palace balcony every now and then … In return for Charles’s magnanimity, Harry’s soul-baring autobiography could disappear into the long grass,” he wrote in the Spectator.
Kate Woodthorpe, co-director of the Centre for Death and Society research unit at the University of Bath, said death generates “all sorts of disappointments” and frequently exacerbates tensions, but also “opportunities to modify a relationship or think more about what comes next”.
What sociologists term “family morality” plays out with people watching for “who is going to step up, who has got responsibility towards others in the family” when a parent dies.
The rift between Harry and his father could be seen as a “testimony to how powerful the shift in prioritising one’s own personal happiness over tradition, in this case tradition that includes the tradition of the royal family and lineages that go along with that,” said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and therapist in San Francisco and author of Rules of Estrangement. “The desire to further one’s happiness is strong enough, unlike prior generations to give some people freedom.”
But he believes family rifts are fixable as long as someone takes responsibility to shift the gridlock. Typically it starts with a letter from a parent where they “acknowledge mistakes to the adult child”, seek to show “empathy and responsibility where they show a kernel of truth in the child’s complaints”.