Kate Middleton couldn’t take her eyes off her son. As her husband, Prince William, spoke to Eton College headmaster Simon Henderson in a photo posted by a royal watcher on June 22, Kate placed her hands on her chin and gazed at George with a look that most mothers recognized instantly.

“She’s thinking, ‘How did my baby grow so big, so quickly?’” guessed one commenter, while others interpreted her expression as “pensive,” “sad” and “worried.” Added another, “She looks very perturbed. I suspect she’s not looking forward to her eldest son going to boarding school.”

It isn’t exactly her choice. “Kate long disagreed with her husband about sending him away, even though it’s tradition,” says a source, noting that Eton is considered the most prestigious boarding school in the world, having educated England’s most elite boys — including William and Prince Harry — for nearly 600 years. “Kate thinks sending him to such a stuffy, upper-crust institution goes against all of their efforts to modernize the monarchy. Plus, she’ll miss George desperately. She and William argued about it for years, but he has finally won.”

A Family Tradition

The 10-year-old future king may have had a hand in the decision. “He wants to be just like his father,” says the source, and William, 41, has regaled him with stories about his five years at the nearly $60,000-a-year school, where he was captain of the swimming team and his house football squad and was also elected a prefect in the ultra-exclusive Eton Society, nicknamed the Pop. (Harry, who didn’t enjoy his time there nearly as much, recently recounted how hurt he was when his popular big brother told him to “pretend we don’t know each other” at school.)

Prince William and Princess Kate with their kids
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Acknowledging George’s wishes, Kate, 41, “finally gave in,” says the source. She’s reportedly skipping a royal visit to Singapore with William in November to support her son as he takes Eton’s 150-minute verbal and mental reasoning entrance exam. “But she’s still heartbroken. She was horribly bullied at her first boarding school, and can’t bear the thought of George suffering through that.”

At least she’ll have a few more years with him: Boys don’t begin at Eton until they’re 13. It’s also just a nine-minute drive from their new home, Adelaide Cottage, in Windsor, the source points out. “William used to visit the queen for tea because she was so close by,” says the source. “It’s boarding only, but close enough that George would be able to come home on weekends.”

That’s Kate’s only comfort. “At least they’ll still have some family time, and he can bond with his siblings,” the source says of Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5. “But it still seems as if her family is being torn apart. There’s also the worry that William will insist the other two kids be shipped off next. Kate knows this is all part of her ‘royal duty,’ but there’s a lot of tension between her and her husband right now.”

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