After the high drama of their royal exit, it was a low-key reunion behind the walls of Windsor Castle for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with the Queen on Thursday.
Prince Harry and Meghan may not have announced their visit in advance, the first by the duchess to Europe in the two years since the couple left the UK in March 2020 and unshackled themselves from formal royal life. But this would have been classed as a family occasion, “like all private get-togethers”, and not an official engagement, so would not have been announced in advance, according to Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine.
“A very welcome if long overdue move on the part of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” he said of the meeting, which came one week before the Queen’s 96th birthday next Thursday.
The couple are also understood to have met Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who were at Windsor for the Maundy Thursday service at which Charles stood in for the Queen.
But for a busload of tourists, who saw the Sussexes looking “relaxed” and happily waving back to castle visitors, as one later told the Sun, news of the reunion may not have emerged until the Sussexes had departed the UK for The Hague to attend the Invictus Games for wounded service personnel, founded by Harry.
Harry, who last saw his grandmother in person at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral a year ago, had faced heavy criticism from UK tabloids over his absence from last month’s memorial service for Prince Philip. At the time, his spokesperson said he had plans to visit his grandmother in the near future.
Of Thursday’s meeting with the Queen, the couple’s spokesperson said they “can confirm that they visited the duke’s grandmother, as we previously said he hoped to do”. The couple did not bring their children, Archie, who will be three next month, and Lilibet, 10 months, who is named after the Queen but whom the monarch is yet to meet.
The visit was hailed by one royal observer as a way of Harry slowly starting to rebuild some bridges with his father, of whom he has been critical in interviews.
It is also seen as an “olive branch”, said another, after the bitterness of the Oprah Winfrey interview the couple gave, and the rockiness of their relationship with other members of the royal family since.
For their part, the Queen, Charles, and William will be mindful that Harry’s much-publicised memoirs are due to be published this autumn.
The Sussexes are understood to have stayed at their former marital home, Frogmore Cottage, on the Windsor estate, where Princess Eugenie and her family now live. They reportedly flew to the Netherlands after the visit, where they are due to appear at the Invictus Games, accompanied by a Netflix crew for a documentary, Heart of Invictus, as part of the couple’s $100m (£76.5m) deal with the streaming company.
While there, they are said to have been accorded VVIP status and Dutch police protection. The duke has cited security fears in the UK as one reason he was unable to attend Philip’s memorial.
He has launched a high court action against the Home Office claiming it is too dangerous to bring his family to the UK after being stripped of his official Metropolitan police protection, despite offering to pay privately for it.
The couple’s brief return to the UK came as concerns continue over the Queen’s health. She is expected to miss Easter service and, since recovering from Covid in February, which she said left “one feeling very tired and exhausted”, has also been experiencing mobility issues.