Queen Elizabeth II gave the Duke of Sussex a “cryptic” response when he asked her permission to marry Meghan, he reveals in his memoir.
Prince Harry was unsure whether his grandmother was trying to tell him she wanted to refuse his request, was being sarcastic or playing word games.
The Duke feared he was “doomed to be the next Margaret”, he writes, in reference to his great aunt, Princess Margaret, who was not allowed to marry the love of her life, divorcee Peter Townsend.
The Duke recounts the moment he plucked up the courage to ask the Queen in his forthcoming book, Spare, which is officially published on Tuesday but was released early in Spain.
He admits he was “scared” and always nervous in her presence. And the moment was made even more awkward when the Queen simply replied: “Well then I suppose I have to say yes.”
Harry had no idea what she was saying.
‘She felt she had to say yes?’
He writes: “She felt she had to say yes? Did that mean that she was saying yes, but wanted to say no?
“I didn’t understand. Was she being sarcastic? Ironic? Deliberately cryptic? Was she allowing herself a bit of wordplay? I don’t remember my grandmother being a fan of wordplay and this would have been the strangest time to start being one (without mentioning tremendously inappropriate).”
The Duke had earlier confided in his aides, Ed Lane Fox and Jason Knauf, that he wanted to propose but was told there were “strict rules” governing such things and that first and foremost, he would have to ask his grandmother.
Harry suggests he was taken aback by the suggestion, asking if that was a “real rule”.
“It didn’t make any sense,” he writes. “A grown man asking his grandmother for permission to marry.”
However, he recalls the “absurdity” of his father, then 56, having to ask permission to marry the Queen Consort.
The Duke picked an October 2017 family shooting trip at Sandringham to make his move.
He opted not to tell Prince William of his plans because he had already warned him against it. “Too fast, too soon,” he is alleged to have said.
Harry claims his brother was “pretty discouraging” about him dating an “American actress” at all, implying that her nationality and profession was akin to being a “convicted criminal”.
On the day in question, he watched the late Queen drive a Range Rover into the middle of a field to look for dead birds, alone and with no security.
“I tried to engage her in some light chat to loosen her up,” he writes.
“The full seriousness of all this was finally starting to sink in.”
The Duke muses over what would happen if his grandmother said no. Would he dare to disobey her or would he have to end his relationship with Meghan?
“This moment was either the start of my life or the end,” he says. “It would all come down to the words I chose, how I delivered them and how granny heard them.”
With a dead bird in each hand, he chased after the Queen as she approached her vehicle, surrounded by hunting dogs.
“I needed to get to it without one more second of hesitation,” he writes.
“I saw her waiting for me to speak, and not waiting patiently.
“Her expression screamed: ‘Out with it.’”
Agonisingly long pause
He says: “Granny, you already know that I love Meg a lot, and I have decided that I’d like to ask her to marry me, and they’ve told me that… well…. I have to get your authorisation before asking for her hand.”
She replies: “You have to do that?”
“Yes,” he says. “That’s what your people have said and mine too.”
The Duke reveals her expression was impenetrable during an agonisingly long pause.
Eventually, she replies: “Well then I suppose I have to say yes.”
He finally realises that she has given him permission to marry and “splutters” thank you.
He was desperate to hug her, he says, but did not. Instead, he helped her into the vehicle and they made their way back to the rest of the family.