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Why the royals have become the center of conspiracy theories

Analysis by Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Max Foster, CNN

London (CNN) — The decision of Prince William to pull out of an important family gathering on Tuesday, and the absence of an explanation, has engulfed the British royal family in a tidal wave of gossip, speculation and wild conspiracy theories.

Some of that is par for the course, for a family that has never been far from the headlines in the modern media age. But the discourse reached a frenzied level this week – particularly in the unchecked realms of social media.

As the event – a memorial service for William’s late godfather, former King Constantine II of Greece – was getting underway at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor on Tuesday, royal insiders revealed the Prince of Wales would miss it due to a personal matter. William, a source told CNN, had called the Greek royal family to let them know of his last-minute change of plans.

Skipping events doesn’t normally spark the sort of theorizing that has ensued. Go back two years and there simply wouldn’t have been the same level of online speculation that has been witnessed in recent days.

But many have been left unsettled by the seemingly never-ending run of recent royal heartache and health scares. The death of Queen Elizabeth II, and both King Charles III and Catherine, Princess of Wales getting ill soon after, plus the fact that the public haven’t seen Kate since Christmas Day, have all contributed to the speculation.

The series of devastating blows was further compounded with the sudden death of Thomas Kingston, the husband of the King’s cousin Lady Gabriella, at the age of 45. It is understood that William’s non-attendance was not tied to the news of Kingston’s death, which was revealed publicly on the same day as Constantine’s memorial.

The royal source wouldn’t be drawn on exactly what had prevented William from going to the service. With that lack of clarity, people have linked his absence with that of his wife, Kate, who is still at home recuperating from surgery. Many saw the prince’s recent return to royal duties as a signal that the prognosis in the Wales household was improving quickly.

Others have suggested it should have been easy for the heir to the throne to join his wider family at Windsor Castle as he only lives a roughly five-minute drive away at Adelaide Cottage and as his three children were at school when the event was taking place.

If the role of monarchy is presence, continuity and unity, it was a stark visual seeing the royal family enter the chapel without several key senior faces among them.

It’s worth emphasizing that the royal source told CNN that Kate “continues to be doing well” in her recovery. And even though the palace was clear from the outset that the Princess of Wales’ recuperation would take her away from public duties for several months after her abdominal operation, people are still trying to fill in the gaps.

Kensington Palace made a rare move in the face of the speculation on Kate’s whereabouts and health, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the palace “made it clear in January the timelines of the Princess’ recovery and we’d only be providing significant updates. That guidance stands.”

While William wasn’t present at the memorial service on Tuesday, his diary hasn’t been cleared of public events and he was back in action on Thursday.

The palace has been trying to give out as much information as it can without compromising medical privacy. This is the challenge of an age-old monarchy operating in a transformed landscape, where people expect information immediately. It’s not always that the public is being insensitive, but rather that people care and want to know why someone they are used to seeing has disappeared from public view.

As a society, we’re accustomed to having information at our fingertips and there is an instinctive desire to fill the void. An example of plugging holes in gaps of knowledge is best represented in Netflix’s “The Crown.” It was initially based on historical record but as seasons moved closer to the present day, writers and producers were forced to dramatize moments for storytelling purposes.

The reality is that no one – beyond those immediately involved – knows exactly why William pulled out of this family event or how Kate is feeling day-to-day. The latest developments have emphasized that, while the Waleses are public servants, they are also people vulnerable to the same struggles we all face.

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