Queen offers support to Harry and Meghan over decision to stay away from Norfolk this Christmas

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at church at Sandrin

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at church at Sandringham, on Christmas Day, 2017 Picture: Paul John Bayfield - Credit: PAUL JOHN BAYFIELD

The Queen has offered her support to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex following their decision to spend Christmas away from Sandringham.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II - Credit: PA

Harry and Meghan will be celebrating the festive period with the duchess's mother, Doria Ragland, instead of joining the royal family's traditional celebration in Norfolk.

The 93-year-old monarch is said to be doing her best to keep the couple in the royal fold after criticism of them in the media, it has been reported.

Courtiers told the Daily Express she is helping them to cope with the pressures of royal life, and drops in at Frogmore Cottage for regular visits when at Windsor.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

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Commentators speculated on the impact of Harry and Meghan's festive plans.

Broadcaster Piers Morgan tweeted: "If Harry & Meghan don't want negative press, they should stop behaving like whiny spoiled brats & do their damn duty - and they can start by spending Christmas with the Queen."

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But historian Kate Williams defended the couple, writing: "Oh please stop this! William and Kate have spent plenty of Christmases with the Middletons, not at Sandringham with the Queen.

"But when £Meghan and £Harry choose to travel away, it's some kind of royal catastrophe. Double standards at play again....?"

Harry and Meghan's choice to mark Archie's first Christmas apart from the royal family follows claims of a rift - first between Meghan and the Duchess of Cambridge and then between Harry and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge.

In a television documentary last month, Harry, when asked about the situation, said he loves William dearly but they are "on different paths at the moment" and have "good days" and "bad days" in their relationship.

The Sussexes released a new happy family photo of Archie with his "Grandpa", the Prince of Wales, and Harry to mark Charles's 71st birthday on Thursday.

It is not yet known whether Harry and Meghan have invited Ms Ragland to spend time with them in the UK or whether they will travel to the US for Christmas.

But there is speculation that they may be taking their son to experience his first Thanksgiving in the States this month.

The duke and California-born duchess are preparing for a six-week break from royal duties.

A spokeswoman for the couple said: "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are looking forward to extended family time towards the end of this month.

"Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, Their Royal Highnesses will spend the holiday this year, as a new family, with the Duchess's mother, Doria Ragland.

"This decision is in line with precedent set previously by other members of the royal family, and has the support of Her Majesty The Queen.

"For security reasons, we will not be providing further details on their schedule at this time."

In the past, William and Kate have also sometimes spent Christmas with the duchess's parents, the Middletons, rather than with the royal family.

Well-wishers gather each year to see the royals take their traditional stroll on December 25 to the morning service at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham.

The Windsors enjoy a festive lunch back at Sandringham House and then settle down together to watch the Queen's Christmas Day speech.

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