The Biggest Differences Between Prince William And Prince Harry's Marriages

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When Prince William and Princess Catherine tied the knot in 2011, the British public let out a collective breath. The two had been dating on and off for years at that point, with Catherine even picking up the nickname "Waity Katie" given how long it took for William to finally pop the question. When the big day finally rolled around and she became the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine set her royal life into motion and became a fan favorite while doing so. The couple has since become the Prince and Princess of Wales respectively, and bring a sense of duty and service to the crown above all else.

Their story could not be more different than Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's love story. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex met when they were both well-established professionals in their own right, both had been involved in meaningful romantic relationships, and both appeared to know exactly what they were looking for in a partner. As their own time within the firm evolved, Harry and Meghan ultimately decided that royal life — and the pressures of the royal rota, namely — was not for them. Stepping back from their roles in January 2020, the couple have since embarked on life in California with their two children.

Though the only two children of King Charles III and Princess Diana, William and Harry's respective marriages could not look more different than one another's. From PDA to infidelity rumors to timelines, we're taking a closer look.

Harry and William had a different approach to dating from the start

When Prince William and Prince Harry were in their young years, their approaches to their personal lives were incredibly different. William was the sophisticated royal who went to St. Andrews and had his eye on the royal prize, whereas Harry got into party trouble and dedicated much of his time to his military service. Just on the very surface, the brothers approached dating their significant others very differently — later in life and speed was certainly the story for Harry and Meghan Markle, whereas youth and the long game was William and Princess Catherine's approach.

Harry and Meghan first crossed paths via Instagram and later met for the first time at the Dean Street Townhouse Soho Club in London. It was July 2016, and the two were quickly comfortable in each other's company. The news about their relationship broke just a few months later, and by November 2017, Harry and Meghan announced their engagement. To say that their romance and dating life was a whirlwind is an understatement, and the speed of their relationship eventually became one of the central issues of William and Harry's feud.

Meanwhile, William and Catherine met all the way back in 2001 and experienced an on-again, off-again relationship up until their engagement in 2010. As a pal told People of their relationship, "Some people might say it's an old-fashioned marriage, but it seems to work." Sounds like a far cry from Harry and Meghan's journey.

The brothers met their spouses at incredibly different times in their lives

When it comes to lasting relationships, it's all about the timing, and Prince William and Prince Harry couldn't have met their respective spouses at life stages that were more different. William and Princess Catherine connected in 2001 and were just first-year college students at the time — roughly 19 years old. Their relationship was a rollercoaster, and while a mutual pal told People that the two certainly had chemistry, it took quite a bit of time for the young and immature-in-dating William to make a move.

"Whenever Kate was in the room, Will was obviously paying attention to her," college friend Laura Warshauer told People. "When we'd be sitting at lunch in the dining hall and the two of them would be talking, it was amazing to see how natural it was, how they had so much to say to each other. Looking back, there were all these small moments — certainly moments where I was like, 'Wow, this could really be something.'"

Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan Markle met when they were 32 and 35 respectively. Their school years long behind them, the two had led their own lives, had their own careers, and had been in serious relationships in the past – Meghan had even been married and divorced already. Needless to say, the pair of princes followed markedly different timelines. 

William supposedly screened Catherine for the job, whereas Harry married for love

Looking back at royal marriages, it certainly appears that the role in which the spouse fulfills is prescribed. For instance, it was very clear that Princess Diana had a specific place, supporting her husband who would one day be monarch. The same can be said for Prince William and Princess Catherine, as Diana and King Charles III's firstborn son will one day sit on the throne, too, with Catherine serving as consort. It certainly appears as though royal spouses — including Catherine and Diana — were screened by their future husbands for the role they would fulfill, and Prince Harry commented on the matter when contrasting his own marriage to Meghan Markle.

"I think for so many people in the family, especially obviously the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with," Harry said during his Netflix docuseries, "Harry & Meghan." "The difference between making decisions with your head, or your heart. And my mum certainly made most of her decisions — if not all of them — from her heart. And I am my mother's son," he continued.

While William and Catherine have not commented on the matter, it is fair to say that the Princess of Wales established herself within the royal family with much greater ease than Meghan was afforded.

Harry and Meghan met naturally, whereas planning rumors surround William and Catherine

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle first crossed paths, they were able to do so naturally thanks to a very Millennial connection: Instagram. By the time they got to their very first date in London, however, Meghan almost had her foot out the door thanks to Harry running late. "I was panicking; I was freaking out; I was, like, sweating," the Duke of Sussex recalled during the couple's Netflix docuseries. However, their natural chemistry developed, with Meghan saying, "He was just so fun. Just so refreshingly fun, and that was the thing, we were, like, childlike together."

And while Harry and Meghan met by chance, Prince William and Princess Catherine have a different story. While the official record recalls that the two met while college students, there apparently was quite a lot of planning involved. According to Hello!, Catherine's advisor at boarding school said the Princess of Wales was actually accepted to the University of Edinburgh initially. 

However, when news became public that William would be attending St. Andrews the following year, Catherine had a change of plans. As Tina Brown noted in "The Palace Papers," there was some speculation that Carole Middleton might've encouraged her to take a gap year and apply to St. Andrews — but again, this is all speculation. Whatever the case, it all worked out for William and Catherine. 

The brothers have different approaches to PDA

As Prince William and Princess Catherine have established themselves as senior working royals and the future king and queen consort of Great Britain, the ways in which they interact in public have evolved. As royal expert Camilla Tominey told BBC News (via Express), William and Catherine's approach to PDA and their overall body language is incredibly indicative of their roles within the firm. Meanwhile, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle flipped the royal PDA script on its head and were very affectionate from the start; their contrasting styles have been on display in a number of instances, but few rivaled the Windsor walkabout both couples took part in after Queen Elizabeth II's death.

"It's hard when you're so on show. And also the contrasting styles between the two couples have always been evident," Tominey said of the two couples during the walkabout and the ways in which they interacted with each other. "You've got William and Kate business-like with what they're doing and then very warm with the public. And then you've got Harry and Meghan who are more touchy-feely — maybe that also reflects their different status now."

Of course, royal watchers will attest to the differences that both couples have displayed even in more casual settings. From hand holding, quick glances, and fixing his wife's ponytail, Harry and Meghan have often engaged in PDA. William and Catherine, on the other hand, play very much from the royal book.

William and Catherine are royals first, married second

As their roles within the royal family are incredibly different, Prince William and Princess Catherine's marriage has arguably re-dedicated itself to the royal family, whereas Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's union is its own thing. Talking to Fox News Digital, True Royalty TV co-founder Nick Bullen explained that William and Catherine's relationship is largely about serving the monarchy — a status that Harry and Meghan will likely never have to adopt.

"I think the secret of the Wales' marriage is that it is very much a partnership. If you look at other royal relationships that have worked, they've been partnerships," Bullen said of William and Catherine, comparing them to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, whose mutual dedication to the crown was apparent throughout their entire marriage. "The moment William became next in line, everything changed," Bullen continued. "He was always serious about his duty, and he always knew what his destiny was, but now it's there... I think you can see the seriousness in the [Waleses] in a way that wasn't there even a year ago."

Contrasting their approach to Harry and Meghan, Bullen said of William and Catherine that their own dedication to the crown will likely result in even more distance between the brothers and their respective spouses. "The [Waleses] want to be seen as living a very serious life dedicated to duty and service," Bullen retorted. "I think you'll see that gap widen even more."

The couples are raising their children in very different environments

When Prince William and Prince Harry were just little kids, they were regularly seen in public alongside their famous parents, posing for photo ops, taking part in royal events, and representing the future of the royal family. Now both parents to their own children, William and Harry have approached their roles as dad in a very different capacity — William is still very much in the royal succession mix, whereas Harry is far more removed from the crown.

Starting with William, he and Princess Catherine are trying to raise their children in as normal of an environment as possible, but there is only so much they can do. As royal expert Duncan Larcombe said to True Royalty TV (via The Mirror) about the unique challenges they face as parents, William and Catherine are trying to maintain a solid foundation. "It's that strong family: brothers, sisters, everyone — and it is a tight unit," he said. However, Larcombe pointed out that Prince George's role as the eldest child and second in line to the British throne will make it impossible to keep William and Catherine's children out of the public eye.

Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan Markle have afforded their children a very different fate. Raising them not only outside the expectations of the firm but in an entirely different country, parenting expert Gifty Enright told Express that the Sussexes will likely be successful in providing their children a very normal upbringing.

William's marriage serves a monarchal purpose, whereas Harry's doesn't

Throughout their adult lives as royals, both Prince William and Prince Harry adopted meaningful causes to champion. Harry famously started the Invictus Games and has focused quite a lot on veterans, whereas William has spearheaded the Earthshot Prize and remains zoned in on environmental issues. As Harry and Meghan Markle stepped away from the firm, however, their own charity and nonprofit work is very much on their terms and by their own volition — William and Princess Catherine, meanwhile, serve a very monarchal purpose through their own patronage work and their marriage as a whole.

According to Hello! Magazine's royal editor Emily Nash, who spoke about the higher purpose William and Catherine's marriage serves during an episode of "A Right Royal" podcast, the couple has a lot in the works, including William's Earthshot initiative and Catherine's Shaping Us children's development campaign. "I think they are really thinking about long-term issues in society and how they can change things for the better," Nash said. "It's lovely, in a world filled with really negative unrelenting news, that there are these projects that are trying to change things for the better."

Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan have put their efforts into their Archewell Foundation and are working more in the private sector, with media appearances, memoirs, and documentaries serving as their current professional focus.

Only one couple has faced cheating accusations throughout their marriage

In the 1990s, royal affairs dominated the headlines thanks to King Charles III's extramarital romance, Prince Andrew's divorce, and Princess Anne's affair with now-husband Timothy Laurence. Royal cheating was everywhere, and while the whispers have certainly died down over time, Prince William and Princess Catherine's marriage has not been immune to speculation. Back in 2019, The Sun (via Cosmopolitan) published an article focusing on William and Catherine's then-neighbor, Rose Hanbury. According to the rumor mill, the Princess of Wales supposedly wanted to cut ties with Hanbury. While the reasoning was unknown at the time, Hanbury quickly became the focus of alleged cheating on William's part, with gossip account Deux Moi adding fuel to the fire. By the time writer Giles Coren weighed in on Twitter, whispers about an extramarital affair on William's part had turned into sirens.

"Yes, it is an affair. I haven't read the piece but I know about the affair. Everyone knows about the affair, darling," Coren wrote on Twitter about William before the palace stepped in to get the tweet removed.

While it has never been confirmed that William had an affair, Hanbury has maintained her presence on the royal circuit, attending King Charles III's coronation and staying in the headlines as a result. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, meanwhile, have not faced such allegations of an extramarital affair on either of their parts.

The royals approve of William and Catherine in a way not extended to Harry and Meghan

As Prince William and Princess Catherine started to win over the British public, the royals seemingly realized just how they could be utilized to push the monarchy into the future. The duo became staples on the royal scene and joined King Charles III, Camilla, Queen Consort, and the late Queen Elizabeth II on numerous joint occasions. Watchers quickly noticed the friendly nature between Catherine and the royal family, particularly between her and Charles. From their sweet interaction at St. Paul's Cathedral during the queen's Platinum Jubilee to their joint appearance at the "No Time To Die" James Bond film premiere, Catherine, Charles, and the bulk of the royal family appear to share a very close bond.

Meanwhile, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were not extended quite the same levels of approval, and things definitely got off to a rocky start. Not only did William take issue with the speed of Harry and Meghan's relationship, but the queen apparently didn't approve of Meghan wearing white during her and Harry's 2018 wedding.

"The queen was surprised that Meghan wore pure white on her wedding day," a royal source told author Katie Nicholl as part of her book "The New Royals." "Perhaps it's a generational thing, but she believes if you've been married before, you wear off-white on your wedding day, which is what the Duchess of Cornwall did."

Harry has publicly defended his wife, whereas William has let the palace do the talking

Throughout their time within the royal family and in the years since they left, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have spoken out about their experience within the firm as well as with the notoriously brutal British press. As Meghan became a central figure within the royal family, she was the subject of intense tabloid scrutiny, with many outlets taking aim at her race, her past marriage, and her career. In an attempt to squash the unfair treatment, Harry released an uncharacteristically firm statement. "He knows commentators will say this is 'the price she has to pay' and that 'this is all part of the game.' He strongly disagrees. This is not a game — it is her life and his," the statement read, per Reuters. Harry has since defended his wife, going as far as leaving his role as a senior member of the royal family and moving his wife and children to the United States in order to escape the brutal press.

Meanwhile, Prince William has not defended Princess Catherine in as much of a public way. When Harry's expository book, "Spare," was released, for example, Catherine was reportedly under the impression that her husband should've made a statement, with a source telling Radar that she was upset over the matter.

"Kate felt William should stick up for her more," the source said. "Yet William and the palace thought that saying nothing was best."

William and Catherine are held to royal standards that Harry and Meghan have escaped

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Prince William and Prince Harry's marriages now has to do with the ways in which they can go about their lives. Living in California, Harry and Meghan can live their daily lives as they see fit, enjoying their Montecito home and making public appearances only when they want to. William and Princess Catherine, meanwhile, are very much working members of the royal family and are held to a high standard that Harry and Meghan have escaped from. From the clothes they wear to the ways in which they interact to the issues they can comment on, everything has changed for the two couples.

For instance, Harry and Meghan can now be more politically vocal than William and Catherine, who stick to the royal standard of political neutrality. Meghan has historically been a vocal advocate for women's rights, and since moving to California, she and Harry have taken part in politically charged issues such as vaccine equity, gender discrimination, and voting rights. Meghan even posted a photo with her "I Voted" sticker amid the 2020 election, a big no-no for her working royal counterparts.

From small aspects like Harry wearing a wedding ring and William not, to prescribed royal roles and dedication to the crown, the two brothers have carved their own distinct paths resulting in two extremely different marriages.