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With Jabs, Nicknames and a Dose of Rancor, Harry Skewers Palace Culture

LONDON — Prince Harry’s new memoir features an all-star cast of characters, from Granny (Queen Elizabeth II) to Pa (King Charles III) to Willy (Prince William). And then there’s the mysterious trio of Bee, Wasp and Fly.

Those are the nicknames Harry has given to three senior courtiers in the British royal household, who he said handled the tensest negotiations between him, his wife, Meghan, and the royal family, including the deal under which they withdrew from public duties and moved to Southern California in 2020.

Harry never names the three officials, but he makes clear he blames them, almost as much as his father and brother, for failing to protect him and Meghan from a poisonous drip of negative stories in the London tabloids, which Harry said tormented the couple and precipitated their decision to break with the family.

For all its juicy details about royal sexcapades, shoving matches and drug use, the book, titled “Spare” and released Tuesday after days of hyperventilating promotion, may be most intriguing for its revealing, if at times cryptic, look at how the institution of the monarchy operates behind closed doors. Amid all his sharing, Harry does not name, or uses nicknames for, many of those he is disparaging.

Bee, Wasp and Fly, in Harry’s telling, are central to the operation — and to his jaundiced view of palace culture. They are at the apex of a sprawling hierarchy that he claims undermined him and his wife. It includes communications secretaries, ladies-in-waiting, and a passel of junior aides who jockey on behalf of their royal bosses, sometimes to the detriment of other family members.

“I’d spent my life dealing with courtiers, scores of them,” Harry wrote. “But now I dealt mostly with just three, all middle-aged white men who’d managed to consolidate power through a series of bold Machiavellian maneuvers.”

Two people with ties to Buckingham Palace identified the courtiers as Edward Young, who served as private secretary to the queen; Clive Alderton, the private secretary to Charles; and Simon Case, who was private secretary to William and is now the government’s Cabinet Secretary, the highest post in the British civil service. The two people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Prince Harry Gets Personal

The release of Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” had been a hotly anticipated affair, with leaked passages and pre-publication interviews.

  • Release in Britain: As bookstores placed the book in window displays across the country on Jan. 10, reaction among the British public appeared muted.
  • The Book Cover: “If Harry is bidding to position himself, like his mother before him, as the people’s prince, this is his heraldic banner,” Vanessa Friedman writes of the prince’s portrait.
  • The Ghostwriter: J.R. Moehringer has a reputation for intense work habits, along with a good sense of humor and strong opinions. He is also known for his discretion.
  • A Chaotic Rollout: A litany of leaks and interview clips before the book’s publication made the process hard for the publisher to control but also drove early interest.

The palace, asked about the role of the three courtiers, declined to comment on employees, as it has withheld a response to anything in the book. The Cabinet Office also declined to comment when asked about Mr. Case.

In the week since morsels from the book began leaking out, Harry has come under criticism from some quarters for reciting a litany of grievances and for violating his family’s privacy, the same practice for which he has long condemned the tabloids.

That was a sentiment some customers expressed on Tuesday morning at a Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly Circus as the book went on sale. “It feels like they’ve gone the tabloid aspect of dishing dirt,” said one customer, James Broadley. He added that he understood the financial motives behind it and was nevertheless considering buying the book.

While Harry has unapologetically named close family members, he has avoided it in the case of some outside antagonists. For example, in the case of Rebekah Brooks, a former tabloid editor who runs Rupert Murdoch’s News U.K., he turned her into “Rehabber Kooks.” Harry filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Mr. Murdoch’s Sun and other papers, saying it had hacked his phone.

He referred to two especially persistent paparazzi as Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber. Another tabloid reporter is called the Thumb, so named for having written what Harry recalled as an overblown story about him breaking a bone in his thumb while playing rugby at Eton College.

He cited a well-known 2013 essay in the London Review of Books by the historical novelist Hilary Mantel, in which she compared the royal family to pandas — “expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment” — but he did not identify either Ms. Mantel or the publication.

Harry is less shy about Mr. Murdoch himself, writing that his politics were “just to the right of the Taliban’s.”

Rupert Murdoch in 2018. He is heavily criticized in Prince Harry’s book. Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

And Harry did name some staff members, albeit more often with initials or first names: J.L.P. and Elf are Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton and Ed Lane Fox, each of whom he recalled fondly for serving as his private secretary before his marriage.

Sara, a former communications secretary to Harry and Meghan, is Sara Latham, an American who once advised Hillary Clinton and later worked for the queen, planning her Platinum Jubilee (Buckingham Palace made Ms. Latham a lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order for services to the monarch).

Lady Susan is Susan Hussey, who served as a lady-in-waiting to the queen for more than six decades. In the book, Harry wrote that he ran into her in the halls of Sandringham, the queen’s country estate, when he excused himself from the meeting at which the terms of his exit were being hashed out.

Ms. Hussey, 83, came to public attention recently when she was stripped of her duties and apologized after repeatedly asking a Black British guest at the palace where her family came from. In an interview with ITV on Sunday, Harry said he was glad Ms. Hussey had reconciled with the guest, Ngozi Fulani, and he seemed to defend her conduct.

Susan Hussey meeting Ngozi Fulani in December at Buckingham Palace.Credit…Buckingham Palace

“I also know that what she meant, she never meant any harm at all,” Harry said. “But the response from the British press, and from people online because of the stories that they wrote, was horrendous.”

Harry’s gripes aside, “Spare” does offer a sobering peek at the cloistered, highly formal world in which the royal family lives — a circuit of black-tie dinners in Windsor Castle and tartan-clad shooting trips in the Scottish Highlands.

His description of the Sandringham meeting, in January 2020, places special emphasis on the role private secretaries play. Though the queen, Charles and William all attended the session, two of the three secretaries essentially ran it, according to Harry’s account. They laid out five options for the couple that ran the gamut from no change in their status to a wholesale break with the family.

When it was time to pick an option, Harry said, one of the officials produced a paper copy of the most extreme one. When Harry asked whether he had printed out the other options, he wrote, the official said his printer had stalled.

“Everyone was staring away or down at their shoes,” Harry wrote.

Such a passive reaction from the queen and the next two people in line for the throne might seem surprising. But experts on the royal household said it accurately captures the wide latitude that private secretaries have, from setting agendas to brokering meetings, even with other family members.

Private secretaries are often drawn from military or diplomatic ranks; some have had formidable jobs before going into royal service — or go on to big ones after it. Mr. Alderton, for example, was Britain’s ambassador to Morocco before working for Charles; Mr. Case has since worked for three prime ministers.

“The private secretaries run the place, basically,” said Valentine Low, royal correspondent for the Times of London and the author of “Courtiers: Intrigue, Ambition, and the Power Players Behind the House of Windsor.”

“On a banal level, they write their principals’ speeches and organize their diaries,” Mr. Valentine said. “But they run their lives. They’re their gatekeepers. They’re kind of joined at the hip.”

Euan Ward and Isabella Kwai contributed reporting.

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