While the women are now bonding over motherhood, it wasn't long ago that the sisters-in-law were figuring out their own distinct roles

By Stephanie Petit Michelle Tauber Simon Perry
July 17, 2019 11:00 AM

Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton share royal status, but they were at dramatically different places in their lives when they first met.

While the women are now bonding over motherhood — Kate has three young children with Prince William, while Meghan and Prince Harry welcomed son Archie on May 6 — it wasn’t long ago that the sisters-in-law were figuring out their own distinct roles. Just one year ago, the Duchess of Sussex, 37, was navigating life as a new member of the royal family and a newlywed. Meanwhile Kate, also 37, was balancing being a mother to an infant and two children under 5 along with her royal duties as a future queen.

“There was undue pressure where the whole world wanted them to be best friends,” an insider tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

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Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton
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When the sisters-in-law didn’t appear to be tight companions to the outside world — both ran with their own circles of friends, and their first joint outing without their husbands didn’t come until last year’s Wimbledon appearance — they were pitted against each other.

Reports of tension boiled, exacerbated by Meghan and Harry’s decision to leave Kensington Palace — where Kate and William live with their kids — for Frogmore Cottage in Windsor Castle, about 25 miles away. The two couples also split their joint office, and the Sussexes later announced a separation from the foursome’s Royal Foundation charity.

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Prince Louis, Kate Middleton, Archie and Meghan Markle
Samir Hussein/WireImage

However, those within the royals’ circle say the distance between the two couples helped them reconnect. The separation is “allowing them more time to be like family” rather than colleagues, notes a royal source. “There is a sense of [Meghan and Kate’s] relationship strengthening.”

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