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The family controversies hanging over King Charles III's coronation

Disagreements and black sheep plague many families, but these royal dramas have played out largely in the public eye and could tarnish the new king.
Photo illustration of Queen Elizabeth and then-Prince Charles; King Charles; and Prince Andrew and then-Prince Charles.
Taking over from his hugely popular mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was never going to be easy, but certain scandals and issues will make it even harder.NBC News; Getty Images

King Charles III famously waited a lifetime to wear the crown. With his coronation this weekend, the real royal work begins, and it involves navigating scandals and tricky family relationships that could tarnish his reign and the monarchy itself.

Past and ongoing issues with Prince Andrew, Prince Harry, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and even his wife, Camilla, could overshadow the new king’s rule if they are not carefully managed, royal experts say.

“The royal family is one of the most visible and tenuous aspects of the crown’s overall brand,” said Cele Otnes, co-author of “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.” “It’s hard to manage people,” she said.


Top of the list of people to be managed is the king’s younger brother, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who has been tainted by allegations of sexual abuse related to his long association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his confidant, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who was found guilty of child sex trafficking in 2021.

Allegations by Virginia Giuffre that she had been trafficked to Andrew and forced to have sex with him dogged Andrew for years and, in November 2019, a high-profile BBC interview with the royal that was clearly intended to push back on the claims backfired spectacularly. Soon after, he stepped back from his public duties. 

Despite a widely circulated picture of the pair together, Andrew maintained that he never met Giuffre, who said she was 17 when the British royal sexually abused her.

In August 2021, a judge in the United States allowed a civil lawsuit brought by Giuffre to proceed. Buckingham Palace said in a statement that Andrew would fight the case “as a private citizen.” Andrew and Giuffre would later reach a legal settlement in which he agreed to make a substantial donation to her charity in support of victims’ rights. He also declared that he never meant to malign her character. 

In a brutal and humiliating exercise in damage control, in 2022, Queen Elizabeth stripped her second son of his military titles and patronages. As a result, Andrew can no longer use “His Royal Highness” in any capacity, a royal source told NBC News at the time, and gave up a dozen military titles and more than 100 patronages. 

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Andrew, 63, has also been marred by his alleged associations with Middle Eastern dictators and corrupt leaders, and by accusations that he was part of a “cash for access” scam with his former wife, Sarah Ferguson. Both have vehemently denied the allegations. 

Charles’ ability to keep a tight lid on his younger brother is essential if he wishes to maintain the respect of the British public, David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, a London-based consulting firm, said.

“Andrew is a disaster,” Haigh said. “For years, he’s had a reputation as a playboy and a very entitled guy. King Charles has done the right thing by freezing him out.”

Virginia Giuffre (then Roberts) with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell in a photo released with court documents.
Virginia Giuffre (then Roberts) with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell in a photo released with court documents.

Harry and Meghan

Andrew is not the only prince who’s been a source of controversy in the royal family in recent years. So has Prince Harry, Charles’ youngest son.

Harry and his wife, Meghan, stepped down as working royals on Jan. 8, 2020, in what the U.K.’s tabloids colorfully dubbed “Megxit.” 

The couple, now relocated to California, has given a series of high-voltage interviews in which they’ve explained their move and taken aim at the monarchy and the country’s tabloid press. Harry, 38, also published a tell-all memoir, “Spare,” in which he claimed his older brother, Prince William, physically attacked him, alleging that members of the royal family were cold, out-of-touch and exhibited “unconscious bias.” 

In a March 7, 2021, interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, Meghan said that in the months leading up to their son Archie’s birth, a royal insider expressed “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

A rare comment responding to the furor released on behalf of the queen was released two days later on March 9:

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

On March 11, Prince William answered a reporter’s question during a school visit in London by saying, “We are very much not a racist family.”

Harry and Meghan have also taken aim at the royal family in their Netflix documentary series, accusing them of actively fueling negative media coverage that they said helped drive Meghan to suicidal thoughts and resulted in the couple leaving the country. 

Harry has alleged that Meghan was forced to withstand bullying and racist coverage without support from the royal household while Camilla, his father’s former "mistress," was rehabilitated in the public eye. In fact, he claimed that the royal communications team would plant negative stories about him and Meghan. He reserves much of his anger at what he describes as an unhealthy relationship between the royals and an intrusive press.

Prince and Princess of Wales And Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Walkabout Outside Windsor Castle Windsor
While Prince William and Catherine and Prince Harry and Meghan appeared together after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, relations between the brothers have been badly strained.Mark Kerrison / In Pictures via Getty Images file

This airing of grievances and the family’s dirty laundry has come at a crucial time in Charles’ life. 

“One thing that lots of people will find difficult is … the breakdown in the relationship,” according to historian Alice Loxton. “It is tragic on all sides that that relationship has fallen apart.” 

But while “Spare” and various “Megxit” interviews made international headlines, going directly against the royal family’s reputed maxim of “never complain, never explain,” the complicated relationship between Charles and Harry may have actually boosted Charles’ reputation, according to Haigh.

“I think there are a number of people who have sympathy for King Charles because of the Harry situation and because of his handling of it,” Haigh said.

Rather than publicly taking Harry to task for his tell-all book and interviews, Charles has refrained from making any formal comment. He has also invited Harry to the Saturday coronation. Harry will be there but Meghan will not -- it is unclear whether Meghan was also invited.

“Prince Harry’s on the sidelines, throwing bricks, and King Charles is trying very hard to hold out an olive branch,” said Haigh. “I think Charles is doing the right thing, marginalizing him, but trying to maintain a relationship with his son.”

It is a balancing act that may play well with the public, Otnes said.

“I think his ability to express empathy is one of the pleasant surprises of King Charles’ reign,” she said.

That’s not to say that Harry and Meghan’s allegations against the royal family won’t continue to make headlines, but polls indicate the couple’s popularity has waned: Meghan’s favor fell from 40% in the third quarter of 2020 to 23% in the first three months of this year, and Harry’s dropped from 45% two years ago to 25% earlier this year, according to a recent YouGov poll.

“There’s so much turmoil around them  that I think a lot of their allegations are losing credibility,” Otnes said.

Kensington Palace, which represents William, and Buckingham Palace, which represents Charles, declined to comment on the allegations made in “Spare.”


Beyond Harry, Meghan and Andrew, Charles also has to convince the public that his own scandals are things of the past.

Charles famously carried on a long-term extramarital affair with his current wife, Camilla, when he was still married to Princess Diana. This prompted Diana to say in a bombshell 1995 television interview, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Charles and Camilla went on to get married on April 9, 2005, in a groundbreaking event, since it entailed the heir to the throne marrying a divorcee — something previously taboo. 

The relatively low-key civil ceremony at the equivalent of a town hall, the queen’s absence from the wedding (but not the subsequent blessing) and the inclusion of vows to “earnestly repent” the “manifold sins and wickedness” of the past fed the perception that the couple were under a cloud. 

Camilla Parker Bowles, left, and Lady Diana Spencer at Ludlow racecourse in England on Oct. 24, 1980.
The then Camilla Parker Bowles, left, stands with Lady Diana Spencer at Ludlow racecourse in England in 1980, before Charles and Diana were married the following year. AP file

But some continue to hold Camilla at arm’s length. An April poll by Ipsos shows she’s tied with Meghan on the list of the least popular royals.  

“You will always see people who loved Diana who are resentful of Camilla,” said Otnes. “With the coronation, there will be a lot of talk about who might now be queen, had Diana lived.”

Crucially, Camilla appeared to have won the support of the late queen.

Her transition from the “other woman” to royal insider can be charted by the changes in her title. When the couple got married, it was announced that she would be called “princess consort” when her husband became king. In 2022, Elizabeth made clear that Camilla should instead be queen consort upon Charles’ ascension. And in recent weeks, it was confirmed she would simply be titled Queen Camilla.

Image: Britain's King Charles III inspects graduating officer cadets march during the 200th Sovereign's Parade at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, southwest of London on April 14, 2023.
King Charles has come to power during a profound cost-of-living crisis.Dan Kitwood / AFP - Getty Images

As Charles prepares for the coronation, surveys showed that he is not as popular as his wildly popular mother, Elizabeth, was. An Ipsos poll conducted in the spring of 2022 found that 86% of those surveyed were satisfied with the job Elizabeth was doing. 

Meanwhile, 49% of Brits surveyed said Charles was doing a good job as king, and 32% said he is doing neither a good nor bad job, according to a survey by Ipsos conducted last month,

Still, Charles may be doing better than many expected.

“King Charles’ authority has played an absolute blinder,” royal commentator and broadcaster Afua Hagan said, using a sporting term to describe something extremely well done. “I have never in my life seen someone have an image overhaul … as we have seen from them, Prince Charles and now King Charles III.”