What happened to Kate Middleton?

Kategate, briefly explained.

Princess Catherine, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, walk side by side, all dressed in black. A crowd of people watch them from behind a barricade.

From left to right, Princess Catherine; Prince William; Prince Harry; and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, greet well-wishers outside Windsor Castle on September 10, 2022, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Have you heard the news? Princess Catherine of Wales, formerly Kate Middleton, seems to be missing.

Kate hasn’t been seen in public since several weeks before she reportedly underwent abdominal surgery, a fact that first made the internet alarmed and then, later, very amused.

Over the past week, a series of highly questionable photos of Kate have made their way to the public, culminating in one picture that was so heavily and amateurishly Photoshopped that multiple photo agencies, including the AP and Reuters, issued a kill notice for it.

The Palace appears to be trying in a very ham-fisted way to cover something up. Instead, they only fueled the internet’s appetite for gossip. The story has crossed from the group chats of royal watchers into the mainstream media. Even Colbert’s on it as of Tuesday night.

That’s because this surreal saga is about more than any one illness, any one photograph, or even any one princess.


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The British royal family theoretically has a sophisticated apparatus in place to manage their reputations and the reputation of the throne. So for them to bungle a story as badly as they have bungled this one is fascinating.

What’s perhaps most fascinating about it is that they seem to have messed up in the first place in an attempt to protect Kate and her privacy — which raises all sorts of questions about whom the British throne is willing to protect, and whom they throw to the wolves instead.

A brief timeline of what we know about Kate’s whereabouts

The last time Kate was seen in public was on Christmas, attending church with her family. Here’s what has happened since — and how each move has in turn kicked off more conspiracy theorizing:

  • January 17: Kensington Palace announces that Kate entered the hospital the day before for planned abdominal surgery. The statement adds that she is “unlikely” to resume her public duties until Easter, which falls this year on March 31.
  • January 27: Kensington Palace announces that Kate has returned home to finish recovering. No photos exist of her leaving the hospital or heading home. Royal watchers begin to take note, pointing out that Kate historically has posed for photos in full makeup and heels within hours of giving birth to all three of her children.
  • March 4: A paparazzi agency publishes a grainy photo of Kate and her mother, Carol Middleton, driving around Windsor Castle. Watchers begin speculating about Kate Middleton body doubles.
  • March 10: On Mother’s Day in the UK, Kensington Palace releases a photograph of Kate with her arms around her children. Within hours, international photo agencies conclude that the photo has been manipulated and issue a kill notice for it.
  • March 11: Kate and Prince William’s X account posts an apology for the doctored image, signing it C for Catherine and saying, “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing.” The same day, paparazzi publish a photo in which the hair and ear of a brunette woman can be seen in a car with Prince William. The photo agency identifies the woman as Kate; royal watchers are skeptical.

This whole controversy says a lot about the monarchy’s priorities

The royal family appears to be trying very clumsily to cover up something that has to do with Kate and her medical condition. Part of why the story has gone viral in the first place is that in the past, that’s reportedly not something they were willing to do for Meghan Markle.

Since Meghan and Harry’s engagement in 2017, Kate and Meghan have been used as each other’s foils in the press. Meghan tends to be positioned as either more progressive, glamorous, and exciting; or more whiny, demanding, and attention-seeking. Kate tends to be positioned as either more conservative, dowdy, and traditional; or more respectable, royal, and maternal. Neither of them is ever quite allowed to exist outside the shadow of the other.

So, as Kate’s disappearance began to extend toward scandal, Meghan fans demanded to know why the royal family was ready to make sacrifices for Kate that they would not make for Meghan.

In their Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan, the Sussexes discuss all the ways in which Meghan asked for help and privacy with her health care and all the ways the royal family declined to assist her.

According to Meghan, she wanted to choose the hospital where she would give birth to her child and do the customary photoshoot at the castle rather than just outside the hospital, immediately postpartum. William reportedly considered the move a “prima donna maneuver,” and the British press covered the news with outrage. When Meghan began to struggle with suicidal ideation, she says she was told that she could not go to a therapist, as doing so would bring scandal to the family.

It’s tempting to see this situation through a US lens and conclude that the discrepancy exists because Kate is whiter and better behaved than Meghan is. And it’s certainly fair to say that those factors play a role here.

But with the royals, it’s all about precedence. If the royal family is really treating Kate with more forbearance than they did Meghan, that’s because Kate is next in line to be Queen of England, and she’s married to the future King. Meghan, married to the proverbial spare, was most likely not afforded such courtesies because the family had decided she wasn’t close enough to the crown to bother.

Like all stories about British royalty, this is a story about power and how power protects itself.

This story appeared originally in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.

Sourse: vox.com

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