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After Kate’s Cancer Diagnosis, William and Harry Should Reconcile—and Save the Monarchy

Toby Melville/Pool/Reuters
Toby Melville/Pool/Reuters

No previous Prince of Wales has faced a challenge like the one that Prince William now does. The future of the House of Windsor may well depend on how well he handles it. It’s a double whammy for him: His wife and his father simultaneously stricken with cancers of unknown type and severity; an intimate family emergency and a grave constitutional one, too, since his father is the king.

If it is true, as ITV News’ royal editor, Chris Ship reported late Friday, that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have reached out privately to Kate Middleton and William—after sending a public message wishing Kate “health and healing” following her cancer diagnosis—then perhaps Kate’s devastating news may yet help forge a fraternal reconciliation that, as well as harmonizing family relations, could positively bolster the monarchy as its most fragile modern moment.

Kate Middleton Reveals She Has Cancer: ‘Huge Shock,’ Focused on ‘Full Recovery’

William and Kate have fought hard to change the standard model of how the heir to the throne manages his (or her) life. They want their kids to enjoy a far less cloistered life than old palace protocols and habits dictated—of course, they can never be “normal” lives by any real measure but they hoped their children could escape anything resembling the long and tortured life of the king’s childhood, negotiated between a remote mother and a father, Prince Philip, vainly attempting to produce a replica of himself.

They felt they could reasonably expect at least a decade in which to make their model work—before the king allowed that they were ready for the more onerous schedule of the monarch and he could abdicate, rather than die on the job as his mother resolutely did. By then, the new Wales model would have been transformative, helping the House of Windsor look more like a twenty-first century outfit than one still riddled with Victorian social customs and practices, and pared down to a more decent size.

Now, nothing is certain. The communications disarray of the last few weeks, as William determined that they should keep their true family agonies secret until the kids were on school holidays and could be spared a paparazzi storm, is now understandable—but let’s be clear, that was just the overture to what now confronts William as the point man of a crisis that will bring new stresses every day.

Kate Middleton appears in this still image from a handout video released March 22, 2024, in which she announced that she is undergoing preventative chemotherapy after cancer was found to have been present, following abdominal surgery in January.

There are serious issues that cannot be avoided.

For example, nobody can yet know the outcome of King Charles’ treatment, especially since he chose (as is his right) not to disclose what type of cancer it is and, therefore, how taxing the treatment is—he certainly looks resilient and healthy in public and we must hope that this is a reliable guide to his actual condition. But his schedule is being cut back as far ahead as the early summer. This means William will have to fill at least some of those gaps while he supports his wife through her chemotherapy.

Although there has been more candor about the royal health crisis than during Queen Elizabeth’s reign (she died two days after publicly anointing a new prime minister without any outsider knowing how gravely ill she was and the cause of her death was given on the death certificate as “old age”) there are lingering questions about the king’s regime.

His first impulse, after announcing his cancer diagnosis, was to remove himself, with Queen Camilla, to the relatively remote pile of Sandringham. This was a good choice in terms of privacy, since the house itself is virtually paparazzi proof. But it was surely inconvenient for his doctors and he eventually returned to Clarence House where, presumably the medical resources he needs are always at the ready.

It is significant that neither the king’s nor Kate’s cancers were diagnosed on their first admissions to hospital. The king was being treated for prostate problems when tests revealed the presence of a cancer elsewhere—otherwise, presumably, it might have gone undetected for longer. Kate had surgery for an unrevealed abdominal condition and was, at first, declared clear of cancer until the diagnosis on February 27 that caused William to miss the memorial service at Windsor for his godfather.

The good news was that both cancers had been caught early. Nonetheless the experience remains traumatic for the family and the cause of alarm for the nation.

There is now a palpable tension between the very understandable desire of the royal family for the king and Kate to enjoy privacy on the terms they have themselves set and the incessant build-up of pressure and speculation in the palpitating celebrity media universe for the smallest scrap of information or grainy glimpse of an elusive royal.

Prince William, Kate Middletin, along with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive at St Mary Magdalene's church for the Royal Family's Christmas Day service on the Sandringham estate in eastern England, Britain, December 25, 2018.

Prince William, Kate Middletin, along with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive at St Mary Magdalene's church for the Royal Family's Christmas Day service on the Sandringham estate in eastern England, Britain, December 25, 2018.

Hannah McKay/Reuters

William is going to need all the help he can get. This might, therefore, be a good moment to end the often petty and fundamentally pitiful breach between the brothers and their wives. A reconciliation of the Sussexes and the Waleses would be a truly historic healing moment and a refreshing sign, at last, of maturity and, not the least, of a required durability in the House of Windsor.

Before being stricken, the king had struggled to make a convincing connection to his subjects. No matter how long an heir’s apprenticeship lasts—and his was the longest—nothing resembles the real weight of what the job actually involves on a daily basis until it is taken on. This seemed to come as a surprise to him. Suddenly the man who had frequently pledged to be a change agent wanted no changes. The whole creaking Victorian edifice was given a reprieve, to the relief of its many beneficiaries.

In contrast, William and Harry are the future, not the past. Few people have been as scarred as they are by the obscene intrusions of the hack packs. The brothers chose different paths in dealing with this menace. Harry’s full-frontal attack on hackers has been vindicated in the courts. William’s composure, reflecting his own sense of duty over personal anger, speaks volumes in its own way. Now they could together be the new face of a resolute monarchy, not the splintered force from the old bickering family of the past. Carpe diem.

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