Prince Charles made “an offensive” comment about his ex-wife Princess Diana just days after she had died in a 1997 car crash in Paris, a new book claims.
Charles made the remark to Diana’s brother, Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, in the days between the princess's death and her funeral, writes historian Robert Lacey in Battle of Brothers: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, which is excerpted exclusively in this week's PEOPLE cover story.
Heated discussions about the funeral arrangements had been going on between Spencer and palace officials for a few days, as Diana’s brother believed his young nephews, Prince William, then 15, and Prince Harry, 12, should not walk behind their mother’s coffin for the procession to Westminster Abbey. The funeral on September 6, 1997 took place just six days after her death.
“Spencer felt quite sure that Diana would have been horrified at the idea of her sons having to endure such an ordeal,” Lacey writes. “He had already told Charles as much.” One call “had ended with the earl slamming down the phone on his brother-in-law after Charles had made a particularly offensive comment about Diana.”
Neither Charles Spencer nor a spokesperson for Prince Charles has commented on the book's claims.
Chronicling the debate that took place between Diana’s family and the royal household, Lacey writes, “Prince Charles had no doubt that he should walk the long route with both his sons beside him. But Uncle Charles Spencer did not agree. He was already angry on his family’s behalf that his sister’s funeral had been hijacked into a royal occasion, and he was particularly opposed to the idea that his young nephews should have to walk the best part of a mile behind their mother’s coffin through the streets.”
In the end, the young princes joined their father as well as Spencer and and their grandfather Prince Philip for the grim walk.
Some 20 years after Diana's death, Harry opened up about the trauma he and William felt at having to participate in the ordeal.
“My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television,” he told Newsweek. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
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At the funeral, Spencer delivered a moving eulogy to his sister, calling her “very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty,” words that were applauded around the world.
He also pledged that “we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative, loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned.”
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