The Biggest Controversies To Ever Plague Prince William And Kate Middleton

Wherever the British royals go, controversy follows. And as popular senior royals who have dominated public consciousness since the aughts, Prince William and Princess Catherine have been caught in the midst of more than their fair share of problems. Given the monarchy's influence, every sticky situation William and Catherine find themselves in receives widespread coverage. How can it not? Even a simple turn of their expression makes the news. Existing in the purview of this kind of constant surveillance could be daunting; in fact, it has been for certain renowned rebels within the British monarchy in the past — cue Meghan Markle and Princess Diana. 

But Catherine and William's reputation as traditionally unyielding royal members precedes them. As ABC News' royal commentator Victoria Murphy remarked, "They are not a couple who tend to make knee-jerk reactions publicly or pander to any kind of frenzy." She particularly highlighted the princess' capacity for dealing with issues calmly. It's a sustainable approach to take, especially for a couple that is routinely at risk of making a gaffe or falling into disfavor in the court of public opinion, given the sheer volume of public engagements and duties they undertake. Of course, even a royal PR machine doesn't run flawlessly. 

With William poised to take the British throne after King Charles III, the scrutiny surrounding him and his wife will only intensify. Until then, here's a recap of the biggest controversies to ever plague Prince William and Princess Catherine. 

They had a heavily publicized breakup before their marriage

Prince William and Princess Catherine's love story almost didn't turn out the way it did. Had things progressed a little differently back in 2007, the world would probably not have stood witness to one of the most important relationships in modern royal history. Five years into their high-profile romance — which had already set lofty hopes of an impending royal engagement — William and Catherine parted ways. The breakup caused a furor in the media and among fans of the young couple who had been enthusiastic about seeing Catherine as the Queen of England one day. 

A host of reasons were offered for William and Catherine's split, including, but not limited to, the prince's roving attentions. "He broke up with Kate because he's met someone else who's turned his head," a source told The Observer, claiming that William was replacing Catherine with someone "more exciting." Biographer Christopher Andersen further elaborated in "William and Kate: A Royal Love Story" that the relationship was also overcast by widespread press surveillance, which instilled fear in Catherine — especially considering the paparazzi's track record with Princess Diana. 

The split didn't last long. Only a few weeks later, the beloved duo reconciled. In an interview for ITV News following their engagement in 2010, the soon-to-be-married pair reflected on their highly publicized breakup, with Catherine recalling the unhappiness she had felt. "I really valued that time for me as well, although I didn't think it at the time," she explained.

Catherine and William's honeymoon photos made it to the public eye

Prince William And Catherine's Wedding in 2011 was a highly-anticipated event, with millions of viewers around the globe tuning into the television broadcast to vicariously partake in the royal celebrations. Little did anyone know then that glimpses of not just the wedding but the newly wedded couple's honeymoon would also make it to the public eye. Australian magazine Woman's Day was held responsible for the leak, which included multiple photos of the royal couple privately holidaying in Seychelles, according to Marie Claire. Though many specifics of William and Catherine's 10-day getaway were known to the British press, there was reportedly an agreement within the industry to safeguard the couple's privacy.

Nevertheless, a snap of the royal couple in swimwear made it to the front cover with the title "Our Island Paradise" over a year after they were taken. The photo predictably caused a commotion within the palace halls, with reports indicating William and Catherine's disappointment over this breach of privacy. The Australian magazine was apparently unbothered to learn of the feathers it ruffled, according to HuffPost UK reported. This was also not the first time that Woman's Day butted heads with the British royals, having published photos of William and Catherine on a beach in Wales some months earlier. 

They sued a magazine for breach of privacy after a photo scandal

A royal really can't escape the excessive scrutiny that comes with having a public existence. To put it simply, it's a part of the job description. The real disadvantage is when that attention crosses over into invasive territory. Prince William and Princess Catherine were in the early stages of their marriage when they found themselves in such a soup back in 2012. French magazine Closer published topless photos of the duchess sunbathing while on vacation in Provence, France. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, an injunction managed to rein in some of the circulation of the photos, but it didn't entirely stop the scandal from reaching the public consciousness. 

William and Catherine took the magazine to court, suing it for over $2 million. "The clandestine way in which these photographs were taken was particularly shocking to us as it breached our privacy," William communicated during the trial, invoking the tragic circumstances of his mother Princess Diana's death that involved the paparazzi. Closer defended its coverage by putting forth that it was "in no case degrading," The New York Times reported. The argument didn't seem to hold much water since several of the magazine's staff, including its editor, were fined for privacy invasion, and the British royals were awarded $150,000 in damages in 2017. The court also ruled in their favor with regard to other revealing photos from the same vacation, which were published by the magazine La Provence. 

Their visit to an Indian wildlife reserve triggered controversy

Prince William and Princess Catherine's trip to India in 2016 comprised several noteworthy moments — some more significant than others. One of these was the royal couple's visit to the historic Kaziranga National Park in Assam. A rich ecological hub, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is especially prominent for its large rhinoceros population, some of which the royal visitors had the opportunity to meet. Photos of William and Catherine feeding baby rhinos and elephants may have endeared some fans, but plenty of others were upset.

Some of the strongest — and most surprising — criticism came from journalist Piers Morgan, who tore into the royal couple's photo op in a piece for Daily Mail. "The sight of Kate and William feeding a baby rhino may be cute but when you consider that there are two stuffed ones sitting in Sandringham the hypocrisy makes my stomach churn," Morgan wrote, before explaining the royal family's ties to trophy-hunting. 

His denunciation was especially relevant in the context of the Kaziranga National Park, where poaching is not uncommon. In fact, NDTV reported that only a few hours after the royal visit, a rhino was killed in the national park. William and Catherine's Kaziranga visit also ignited debates around the national park's widely controversial shoot-to-kill policy against poaching, The Guardian noted. The prince was said to have interacted with forest rangers on the conservation challenges they faced and the weapons they used.

The couple's role in Prince Harry's royal estrangement was questioned

A key feature of the lore around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's history-making exit from the British royal family was the supposed part Prince William and Princess Catherine played in it. The dynamics between the erstwhile royal fab four were complex, to put it mildly, and were only getting exponentially difficult in the days leading up to Harry and Meghan's departure to the United States. Royal commentators traced it back to 2018, the year Meghan married into the family. Murmurs of tension building between brothers William and Harry surfaced, with The Sun reporting on Harry's move away from Kensington Palace. "Now Harry and Meghan don't want to live next to William and Kate and want to strike out on their own," a source alleged at the time. 

That set the stage for a series of stunning public revelations that indicated a growing rift between the couples. From William snubbing Meghan in the palace to Catherine allegedly making her cry, speculation flew around the discordant internal politics of the next-gen royals. Harry and Meghan's official step back from royal duties served as a freeway for the rebel couple to validate several rumors about the feuding family, most notably through their 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview, their 2022 Netflix documentary "Harry & Meghan," and Harry's 2023 tell-all memoir "Spare." Though the runaway prince has expressed a desire to reconcile with his family, there's no report of any real improvement in their fractured relations. 

Their marriage was hounded by infidelity rumors

Many readers may only just be getting familiarized with Rose Hanbury in the wake of wild theories that surrounded Princess Catherine's public absence. However, royal watchers know that the Marchioness of Cholmondeley, as she is titled, has been a significant player in high-society circles for years. She came to wide prominence in 2019 when British tabloids suggested a rift between her and Catherine. The two women — part of an elite Norfolk coterie called the Turnip Toffs — were said to have been clashing for reasons not entirely made clear but which allegedly led the Princess of Wales to want Hanbury "phased out" of their countryside group, according to The Daily Beast.

While some commentators challenged the truth behind these claims, they gave gossip-hungry social media users fertile ground to sprout theories of infidelity that linked Prince William and Hanbury. The royal couple unsurprisingly remained tight-lipped on the matter, but insiders were willing to offer some insight into William and Catherine's alleged marital troubles. "It's not unusual to have a few hiccups in a marriage, especially after eight years, and Kate and William are no different," a source told Us Weekly. When affair rumors between her and William resurfaced in 2024, Hanbury, who shares three children with aristocrat David Cholmondeley, stepped up to initiate legal action. Her lawyers sent a notice to American host Stephen Colbert, who joked about it on his talk show, In Touch Weekly reported. 

They supposedly flouted COVID-19 restrictions

Ever set out to do something good, only for it to backfire and create an utter mess? Prince William and Princess Catherine got a taste of that experience in 2020 when they undertook a train tour across the United Kingdom to express gratitude to COVID-19 frontline workers. The three-day journey was scheduled to cover England, Scotland, and Wales and was particularly notable as it marked Catherine's first expedition aboard the British Royal Train. It didn't take long for the situation to turn controversial, with widespread criticism for William and Catherine's cross-border outing that breached pandemic travel restrictions. 

Explosive revelations were contained in reports by The National, which claimed that there were repeated notifications from the Scottish government to Buckingham Palace on COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland affecting the tour. Calling attention to regulations surrounding non-essential travel put in place before the royal visit, politician James Hynd reportedly informed Buckingham Palace in advance: "This is obviously likely to have a major impact on the plans you are working on I am afraid." Word was also sent through Scotland's then-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's close aide, suggesting the possibility of the royal tour being postponed. 

A statement from the royal side published by Harper's Bazaar maintained the stand that the governments of all three countries were looped into the plan and that William and Catherine "were travelling for work purposes and all rules were fully adhered to." 

The royals' Caribbean tour was a costly disaster

In 2022, Prince William and Princess Catherine undertook a tour around some Caribbean countries to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II — and the royal outing was deemed as nothing short of one PR disaster after another. Things started going off-script from the get-go. Engagements on their first stopover in Belize were affected by protests in the village of Indian Creek that the royal couple was scheduled to visit. This was followed by retaliation in Jamaica, where the British monarchy's oppressive role in the country's history was emphatically highlighted by protestors demanding an apology from the Crown for its legacy of colonization and slavery. 

William's address at an event in Jamaica — in which he said that "slavery was abhorrent and it should never have happened" — did little to curb public anger, per Time. Calls for the British monarch's removal as the head of state overrode the royals' Jamaican tour, which was also interspersed with other problematic elements, including a military parade and an interaction with children through fences that made for controversial photo ops.

A similar state of affairs involving protestors awaited William and Catherine in the Bahamas. To make matters even thornier, the Sovereign Grant Annual Report showed that William and Catherine's Caribbean tour was incredibly expensive, with $270,000 spent on flights alone. That it turned out a fiasco, despite being the most expensive royal tour in the 2021-22 fiscal year, carried an undeniable touch of satire.

Their U.S. visit coincided with a racism controversy

In 2022, Prince William and Princess Catherine embarked on what was to be their first visit to the United States in nearly a decade. It did not, however, progress as smoothly as they would have probably hoped for it to. The ill-fated trip, which the couple essentially undertook for the royally backed Earthshot Prize, happened to coincide with an incident back in Britain that reinforced allegations around Buckingham Palace's racist tendencies. 

Lady Susan Hussey, who served as Queen Elizabeth II's lady-in-waiting, was accused of asking Black charity leader Ngozi Fulani about her African heritage and the origins of "her people." As Fulani told the Independent, "This woman was relentless and determined I am not British." Beleaguered by allegations of racism only a year prior to this misstep — owing to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's interview with Oprah Winfrey — the palace worked swiftly to distance itself from remarks made by the royal aide, who soon stepped down from her role. 

A spokesperson for William issued a strong statement against racism, which didn't seem to help his position much among U.S. audiences. The royal pair was subjected to boos and chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A." at a basketball game they attended in Boston, a snub that received wide media coverage. Their troubles didn't end there. Metro reported that several protestors held up signs against the monarchy in Somerville, Massachusetts, as William and Catherine partook in an event there. 

Princess Catherine's public absence put Prince William under scrutiny

For anyone with a social media account, it would have been hard to escape the relentless theorizing that followed Princess Catherine's disappearance from the public eye in 2024. The mass speculation was set off days after Kensington Palace announced in mid-January that the Princess of Wales had undergone "planned abdominal surgery" and requested privacy, citing her three young children. Media reports simultaneously indicated that Prince William was by his wife's side through her health issues. Even as the palace relayed updates about Catherine's health, her lack of public appearances stretched long enough to spawn wild conspiracy theories about what actually happened to her. 

Social media went ballistic. While some raised the alarm about Catherine's safety, others conjectured about a possible cover-up of some kind of royal scandal. A botched Photoshop job and an odd clarification attributed to Catherine did little to tame conspiracy theorists. Commentary was also widespread about William's role in the matter. Many fingers pointed toward the silent crown prince, with netizens regurgitating old gossip about an alleged affair with Rose Hanbury — including talk of an illegitimate child that the two shared

KateGate, as the sensation came to be known, saw some resolution when Catherine appeared on video in March to personally share her cancer diagnosis with the world. The message evoked a solemn reaction from viewers, although some were quick to point out William's absence from the video even as his wife made a major announcement.