It was the Sandringham summit designed to decide the future role of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and heal a family rift that has threatened to break apart the House of Windsor.

Staff had been told to prepare the Long Library, used to house a bowling alley and where, as children, Princes William and Harry would take tea while staying at the Queen's Norfolk estate.

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With his father having flown in by helicopter on Sunday night, Harry, 35, was the first of the brothers to arrive, having lobbied for a meeting before he and Meghan dropped their bombshell, last Wednesday evening.

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A blacked-out Range Rover carrying the former Army captain drove into the rear entrance of the 20,000-acre estate at 11.20am, as he and Prince William released their first joint statement since the crisis broke five days ago, strongly denying a claim in The Times that the Duke of Sussex felt "pushed away by what he saw as a bullying attitude from the Duke of Cambridge".

The united front appeared to set a tone of reconciliation ahead of the 2pm meeting in the room overlooking gardens re-modelled for King George VI after the Second World War.

It is thought the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex had lunch together before Prince William arrived at 1.45pm.

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, left, and Prince Harry in 2017. AP file photo / Toby Melville
Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, left, and Prince Harry in 2017. AP file photo / Toby Melville

Although royal aides refused to divulge any details of the 90-minute talks, insiders said the Queen had purposely bookended the discussion with meals to keep the temperature down.

The Duchess of Cambridge, before her husband was seen making his way to the "big house" via the Anmer Hall entrance linking the Grade II listed Georgian mansion with their own bolthole on the estate, was seen embarking on the school run.

In a dark polo neck, beige coat and with her hair swept back, the mother-of-three who turned 38 on Thursday was seen driving through London's rush hour traffic.

Soon afterwards, the Duke of Edinburgh, 98, who was not on the list of attendees, was seen being driven through the gates at 10am by Penelope Brabourne, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, his close friend.

It put paid to speculation that Prince Harry might take the chance to seek out the one figure besides the Queen he most respects.

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Conflicting reports have emerged over whether Meghan took part in the Queen's discussions. File photo / AP
Conflicting reports have emerged over whether Meghan took part in the Queen's discussions. File photo / AP

Yet having only recently been discharged from hospital and now occupying his own suite, taking his meals alone and rarely venturing out, it is thought the showdown would have proved too much for the great grandfather who is 99 in June.

Also understood to have sat at the large polished table with its eight chairs were Sir Edward Young, the Queen's private secretary; Clive Alderton, the Prince of Wales's right hand man; and Simon Case, the Duke of Cambridge's top aide and former civil servant. Fiona Mcilwham, a former diplomat who reportedly joked at the weekend that it might have been easier to have taken the Iran desk she was offered before becoming the Sussexes' private secretary, represented the couple.

It is still not known whether the Duchess of Sussex participated in the discussions via telephone link from Canada where she is currently staying with baby Archie, although it is thought the 2pm start time was designed to accommodate the eight-hour time lag.

Just after 3pm, with the royal pow-wow an hour under way, a man pulled up in front of the Sandringham Visitor Centre and climbed on top of his car with a red megaphone while many broadcasters were transmitting live. It was unclear what the man, who wore a white hoodie, navy joggers and a hooded coat, was there to achieve but he insisted he was not a protester.

A police vehicle arrived at 3.24pm and persuaded him to climb down from the vehicle. They drove a short way and another police unit arrived. But at 4pm the man returned with the megaphone and continued to disrupt broadcasts.

Charles drove himself away in a silver Audi A6 at around 3.30pm, closely followed by William and Harry in separate cars after what the Queen later described as "very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family".

It is thought that the 93-year-old monarch may have treated herself to a freshly brewed pot of tea at 5pm, sipping on her customary Earl Grey, just as Buckingham Palace released a highly personal 153-word statement regrettably confirming that "Harry and Meghan" would be giving up public funding and moving to Canada.

Revealing her support for the couple's "desire to create a new life as a young family", the sovereign admitted that she would have "preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal family."

Stressing that she had asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days, there were echoes of the Queen's 1997 televised address following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, as she conceded: "We respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.

"These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done." Although the statement suggested that "there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK", it was not yet known if the Duchess would return from North America – or when the Duke might fly back across the Atlantic to be reunited with his wife and son.

The Duke is due to host the Rugby League World Cup draw at Buckingham Palace on Thursday – his first royal engagement since the "abdication" crisis broke last week.

Queen Elizabeth, 93, suspended palace life for the crucial summit meeting. File photo / Joe Giddens
Queen Elizabeth, 93, suspended palace life for the crucial summit meeting. File photo / Joe Giddens

Last night, the Queen honoured a commitment to host a drinks reception for Sandringham staff.

The Prince of Wales – who put his family troubles aside to fly to Oman on Sunday to pay his respects following the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said on Friday – is thought to have driven directly to RAF Marham, around 15 miles away where a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter from the Queen's Flight was waiting to pick him up.

Flight tracker records suggested it took off at 4.10pm to take Charles back to his Scottish retreat Birkhall to be reunited with the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Duke of Cambridge also appeared to drive himself away. He and Kate will travel to Bradford, West Yorks, on Tuesday to visit a number of projects that "support community cohesion".

As a private home rather than an official royal residence, the Queen had expressly chosen Sandringham in a bid to give the summit a family, rather than formal, flavour.

Normal life came to a halt for the lengthy tête-à-tête, with housemaids ordered to discharge their duties on the other side of the house and footmen confined to the pages' vestibule in order to give the royals maximum privacy.

With the first puff of white smoke having metaphorically emanated from the ornate chimneys, only time will tell if the unstuffy home where the royals traditionally spend Christmas has heralded the dawn of a new season of goodwill among the members of the troubled House of Windsor.