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 PetitMichelle Tauber and 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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The Duchess of Cambridge and The Duchess of Sussex
Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle
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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
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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.”