Staff joked ‘free Harry’ amid suspicions about Meghan Markle and a rift with William, it is claimed (Image: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

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Royal staff unhappy about Meghan Markle's alleged bullying behaviour used the jokey hashtag #freeHarry over their relationship, it has been claimed.

After reports of the duchess' supposed behaviour reached Prince William he had a bitter row with his brother which forced the once inseparable siblings apart, says royal expert Robert Lacey.

The author pinpoints an explosive argument the brothers had just prior to the Sussexes' tour of Australia in late 2018, which has reportedly kept them apart to this day.

The row is said to have centred on Meghan's treatment and alleged bullying of her staff.

Despite Kensington Palace courtiers often enjoying long and comfortable tenures working under members of the Firm, many of Harry and Meghan's personal staff are said to have been desperate to quickly jump ship.

Those who left even reportedly went on to join an informal fraternity titled the 'Sussex Survivors' Club', having also used the tongue-in-cheek hashtag.

Some finally publicly hit back just prior to the couple's tell-all Oprah Winfrey interview in March in which Meghan made a number of damaging allegations against the royal family.

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William is said to have been furious over the Meghan bullying allegations
(Image: UK Press via Getty Images)

It also emerged the brothers' ex-PR man Jason Knauf informed William's private secretary Simon Case in a document drafted in October 2018 – the same month as the row – that Meghan had inappropriately treated certain staff.

Mr Knauf said he was "very concerned" that the duchess "was able to bully two PAs out of the household" and had sought to "undermine" the confidence of another.

He added his office had received "report after report" of Meghan's alleged behaviour, which was "totally unacceptable", adding she "seems intent" on "always having someone in her sights".

Kate was allegedly wary of Meghan's intentions from the start
(Image: via REUTERS)

One courtier had claimed the duchess "governed by fear" and "humiliated staff in meetings", including removing them from email chains and then demanding to know "why they hadn't done anything".

Reports suggest as early as 2017 Meghan's behaviour had been causing issues.

Mr Lacey, writing in his new book, Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, out on Thursday, with extracts published in the Times, said William was "horrified".

William and Harry were once inseparable
(Image: Getty Images)

"The moment the prince heard the bullying allegations, he related to this friend, he got straight on the phone to talk to Harry — and when Harry flared up in furious defence of his wife, the elder brother persisted," he writes.

When Harry allegedly hung up the phone, William went to confront him in person, continues Mr Lacey.

"The showdown between the two siblings was fierce and bitter."

The author claims William believed his initial questioning of Meghan's suitability to the Firm prior to her engagement to Harry was "quite reasonable" as he didn't know her very well.

"But now William had seen enough of his sister-in-law to feel sure that, sadly, he did know her and that many of his reservations linked unhappily with what Knauf’s colleagues had alleged," said Mr Lacey.

The heir to the throne believed Meghan was following an "agenda", while his own wife Kate "had been wary of her from the start", the author added.

Spokespeople for Meghan and Harry have previously strenuously denied any allegations of bullying.

During their Oprah chat they implied that there was some jealousy towards the duchess after their Australia tour, which the duke implied led to William and Kate resenting the Diana-like popularity that was generated.

Kensington Palace declined to comment on the allegations made in the book when contacted by The Mirror.