Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family are speaking out following a new article published by The Times this week that claims Meghan Markle bullied her royal aides and made them cry. The outlet reports that the Duchess of Sussex faced a bully complaint at Kensington Palace, claiming she "drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member."
"We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex," Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Wednesday. "Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article."
"Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned," the statement continued. "The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace."
The complaint referred to in The Times article was reportedly made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf, Meghan and Prince Harry's communications secretary at the time. "[It was] seemingly in an effort to get Buckingham Palace to protect staff who he claimed were coming under pressure from the duchess. Prince Harry pleaded with Knauf not to pursue it," a source told the publication. "Senior people in the household, Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, knew that they had a situation where members of staff, particularly young women, were being bullied to the point of tears."
A spokesperson for Meghan and Harry denied the allegation, calling it a "calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation" in a statement to The Times. The spokesperson also gave the following statement to ET:
"It’s no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining the duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and the duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.
The duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma. She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."
Meanwhile, a source close to Meghan tells ET that the timing of all this is suspect, given that Meghan and Harry's tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey is to premiere Sunday on CBS. "She’s gone thru various situations herself, so she knows what’s it’s like to feel that way and that is upsetting," the source says. "The timing of all of this ahead of the Oprah interview is obviously suspect."
ET has also learned from another source who knows the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that there is distress over the latest claims against Meghan. "Ever since she started her relationship with Prince Harry, people have been trying to peddle these stories," says the source. "The reason Oprah is happening is they want to have their say."
Royal expert Katie Nicholl tells ET that she too believes that the timing of this Times story isn't coincidental. "There is a feeling that clearly someone wants to get a different side of the story out before the Sussexes have a chance to tell their side of the story," she notes.
As for whether she thinks anyone in the royal family pushed these aides to speak to the press about the alleged bullying, Nicholl says she doesn't think that would happen.
"Quite simply, no one comes out of this looking good," she says. "This is a very public airing of the royal family's dirty laundry. I can only imagine the queen would be incredibly disappointed. This is this is not the sort of PR she wants for her family."