The Royal Family began gathering at Sandringham for its traditional festivities yesterday with the war of words over the terms of the Prince and Princess of Wales's divorce at a stalemate.
As the Princess of Wales's office reiterated that no reply would be made to the Queen's plea for a speedy settlement until the Princess's lawyers returned from the Christmas break, the remaining members of the family were arriving in Norfolk.
The Prince of Wales will join his sons Prince William, 13, and Prince Harry, 11, at the gathering, after his estranged wife waived her right under their separation agreement to have the boys spend Christmas with her.
The Princess last month asked to be with them at Sandringham. For the past two years, she has travelled to Sandringham on Christmas Eve, to be with her sons. She has, in the past, attended the Christmas morning service at the local church, and taken her leave immediately afterwards.
But on Sunday she made a dramatic U-turn over the arrangements, surprising Buckingham Palace and prompting speculation about what she would do instead.
The leak of the Queen's letter to the Prince and Princess of Wales - in which she asked the couple to agree a quick divorce - left the Princess outmanoeuvred, and royal watchers believe she may seek to regain the initiative with charity visits on Christmas Day to emphasise her selfless dedication to good works and the "queen of hearts" image she projected in last month's Panorama interview.
A possible alternative is a skiing trip, perhaps to the exclusive resort of Vail in Colorado.
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