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’.
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
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
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’s father (pictured) 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.
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.
Complaints about Meghan began to surface within weeks of her and Harry’s starry Windsor wedding
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.
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.
The Queen Mother blamed, and never forgave, the Duchess of Windsor — the former Wallis Simpson (pictured) — for the premature death of her husband
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.’
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.
The bombshell revelations coming just four days before the Oprah interview is broadcast represent a moment of potential danger for the Royal Family
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.
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 Mr Knauf 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.