Here’s what we know: Princess of Wales Kate Middleton has been ill. She’s recovering. She doesn’t want to talk about it.

When Kensington Palace first told the world the Princess of Wales would not return to public duties until after Easter following a planned abdominal surgery, they also shared a message from the Princess herself: “The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate. She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.”

But, it seems the public did not understand. Immediately, calls were made for more information, the speculation went stratospheric, and in the absence of actual news—after a long, dignified silence from the palace—conspiracy theories followed. Users on X joked the recovery time was due to cosmetic surgery, claiming Kate had undergone a BBL, others bantered that she was just growing out a bad haircut. Some pointed to problems in her marriage, others to her mental health. The hashtag #whereiskate began trending on social and respected publishers around the world weighed in on the subject.

Earlier this month, the first picture of Kate since Christmas—an unsanctioned paparazzi shot of Kate being driven in a car near her home in Windsor by her mother—began circulating internationally. Some publishers in the UK chose not to print the picture out of respect, but that didn’t stop the rumor mill from starting up again. Users on X argued it was a Madam Tussauds waxwork; others said the picture was generated using AI, and there was still no evidence that Kate was safe and well.

Then, things got even more sinister. Social media users and even newspapers started weaponizing the theories about Kate, arguing that if she wanted them to stop, she should post a recent picture of herself or share more details about her medical situation to validate the story told by the palace. One article insisted, “The only way to stop the ugly rumours and speculation is for the royals to come clean about Kate and Charles’s health.”

On Mother’s Day, under enormous pressure, Kate posted a picture of herself and her children, said to be taken by Prince William earlier in the month, to her official Instagram account. “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. C,” she wrote. However, the picture was later issued with a kill notice by top photo agencies, including the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty Images, after concerns the picture was “manipulated” or edited at the source, and Kate was forced to issue an apology, admitting she had experimented with editing.

Despite photo editing being a regular practice for the royal couple—especially for family photos that require their three children to be looking and smiling in the same direction at the same time—social media and traditional media was quick to fire back up. “Why did Kate edit her family photo? How an ‘amateur’ attempt backfired,” ran one headline, while another simply stated: “Meghan would ‘never’ make photo mistake like Princess of Wales, say sources.”

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