"Everything is falling on to her shoulders," a royal insider tells PEOPLE

By Simon Perry and Erin Hill
March 24, 2021 03:45 PM
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As Queen Elizabeth marks 69 years on the throne this year, she is dealing with one of the biggest blows to the royal family in the wake of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"What she won't want is family conflict at this stage of her reign," a royal insider tells PEOPLE.

Many in palace circles say Harry's criticism of the "institution" can't be separated from the Queen because she is head of the institution.

While the Queen recently reunited with her husband Prince Philip, 99, after his month-long hospital stay, she dealt with the immediate aftermath of Meghan and Harry's interview solo.

"She is always head of the country and Prince Philip was always head of the family," the insider adds. "He is not there to be that—so everything is falling on to her shoulders. It must be an incredibly lonely place to be."

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth
Oprah With Meghan And Harry
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle speak to Oprah Winfrey
| Credit: CBS/Youtube

The Queen responded to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's interview in a statement, saying, "The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan."

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning," the statement continued. "While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.

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"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members."

During the couple's sit-down with Oprah on March 7, Meghan said her son Archie was denied a royal title and royal protection — and that there were "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born."

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Queen Elizabeth, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in July 2018.
| Credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Harry and Meghan did not identify who made the remarks, though Oprah said it was not his grandparents Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

William responded to the racism claims while on a royal outing with wife Kate Middleton, telling a reporter, "We are very much not a racist family."

When asked if he had spoken to Harry, he added, "No, I haven't spoken to him yet, but I will do."

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During the sit-down, Prince Harry also said his father had stopped taking his calls for a period of time. "There's a lot to work through there. I feel really let down because he's been through something similar," he said. "He knows what pain is like. And Archie's his grandson."

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry
Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry
| Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

Prince Harry has since spoken with his brother Prince William and father Prince Charles following the interview, but the conversations were said to be less than effective.

"The word I was given was that those conversations were not productive. But they are glad that they have at least started a conversation," Gayle King, who is friends with Meghan and Oprah, recently revealed.

"I think it's frustrating for them to see that it's a racial conversation about the royal family when all they wanted all along was for the royals to intervene and tell the press to stop with the unfair, inaccurate, false stories that definitely have a racial slant," King continued.

"And until you can acknowledge that, I think it's going to be hard to move forward. But they both want to move forward with this and they both want healing in this family. At the end of the day, that is Harry's family."