A day after Harry and Meghan’s bombshell announcement that they “intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,” the ramifications of their decision and how it will change the monarchy are slowly coming into focus, as are the potholes in the road ahead.
The palace, reportedly not told in advance of the decision, acknowledges that answers are going to be slow in coming, stating that “these are complicated issues that will take time to work through,” in its terse, 34-word reaction to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s message.
Since there’s lots of questions among people who don’t normally delve deeply into the esoteric world of the monarchy, here is an FAQ on the saga. As this is unlikely to be resolved quickly, be sure to check back for new information.
How did Harry and Meghan make their announcement?
Early in the evening on Wednesday, Jan. 8, they simultaneously sent a “personal message” from the Buckingham Palace communications email account to accredited media (their media organization is based within the palace’s communication’s department). At the same time, they posted the message on their Sussex Royal Instagram account.
Harry and Meghan’s full message:
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.
It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment.
We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.
This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.
We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”
At the same time, Harry and Meghan quietly pushed the publish button on a new SussexRoyal.com website that spelled out their positions in regard to their funding, their patronages, the monarchy, the Commonwealth and the media.
Two hours after that message from the couple, the royal communications office of Buckingham Palace responded: “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Are Harry and Meghan giving up all royal duties?
Possibly. Perhaps. Or not.
While they said in their message that they intend to step back as “senior” royals, they also want a “progressive new role within this institution.” So, does that mean they are eschewing the grand events that are the hallmark of royal life, such as Trooping the Colour, state visits and banquets, and Remembrance Sunday commemorations, but will still undertake other low-key royal engagements, such as their mental health and women’s empowerment initiatives? It’s not 100 per cent clear. And that’s a sentence you’ll hear a lot until more guidance is provided.
They seem to want to be quasi royals: doing the parts of the job they like in a “progressive” manner while ditching the parts that they don’t like.
Yet while the couple is presenting this as a fait accompli, their position isn’t set in stone, as the two-sentence response from the communications department of Buckingham Palace makes clear. Remember: we still don’t know the attitudes of the Queen, Prince Charles, their family and advisors. But we do know they are upset and disappointed.
How did Harry and Meghan inform his family of their announcement?
Harry and Meghan are senior executives in the family business that is the House of Windsor, yet they didn’t keep other executives in the loop about a press release that would upend the firm, especially the chair of the board, Queen Elizabeth II. Accounting to reports, Prince Charles and Prince William were given just 10 minutes’ notice, way too little time to do anything to stop the process.
According to veteran royal journalists Robert Jobson and Jonathan Prynn, Prince Harry had approached family members in recent weeks about changing his role, but was told that “while the Queen was happy to meet him, she would not discuss his wish list before he had discussed it in detail with his father” and at the same time “the Queen made it clear to Harry that he should not go public about his future plans at this time.” He defied her request.
That’s not just bad form, but it’s a staggeringly big breach of etiquette in a family steeped in tradition and manners, especially when the woman shut out of the decision making has led the family firm for nearly seven decades.
What does “work to become financially independent” mean?
After the big “stepping back from duties” question, that’s something that has raised lots of questions. Their website sheds some light on their thoughts, but also generates even more questions. Let’s break it down.
“As they step back as senior members of the Royal Family and no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant, they will become members of the Royal Family with financial independence, which is something they look forward to,” it says. Yet it also states that funds from the Sovereign Grant, the official yearly allotment that pays for the official expenses of the monarch, account for “just five per cent of costs for The Duke and Duchess and is specifically used for their official office expense.” That’s what they are giving up to be “financially independent.”
The rest of the money for their official expenses comes from the profits of the Duchy of Cornwall, the ancient estate created to provide income for the heir to the throne, in this case, Prince Charles. The prince finances not only his own staff but those of William and Kate as well as Meghan and Harry. And the Sussexes expect that arrangement to continue, even as they step back from royal duties.
Note: this is separate from their personal expenses, such as nannies and the wallpaper put up in their newly renovated Frogmore Cottage near Windsor Castle. They pay for those costs themselves, as their combined wealth is estimated at more than US$45 million.
But, and it’s a big but, it’s easy to see that Prince Charles will likely want to renegotiate that deal. After all, if their royal duties are being scaled back, then why would he fund their own non-royal initiatives.
Prince Harry Watch, a devoted Harry blogger, was not impressed, tweeting: “The financial FAQ on the Sussex website is like an adult child telling his parents that by paying for his own phone bill, he’s now financially independent…but he’s still living in their house rent-free & is staying on their insurance plan. AND HE’S MADE CHARTS!”
Think a bit into the future and it’s easy to see how the situation will become untenable. Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, appear to expect to receive a big chunk of Duchy of Cornwall profits when Charles becomes king and William inherits the duchy, and its money, as heir to the throne. Ditto when George gets the title. Will he want to still support his uncle when he also has to finance the official work roles of his younger sister and brother, as well as their own families?
Where will they live?
Though Meghan is American, it seems likely that they want to split their time largely between Britain and Canada, with perhaps some time in the United States as well.
Canada makes sense as it’s a senior Commonwealth realm nation with the Queen as head of state. Meghan lived in Toronto for years while acting on Suits, and the couple have lots of friends here. Also, they just spent six weeks at an isolated estate in North Saanich, B.C., where they were largely left alone by the locals. And that respect for privacy is something they value highly.
What isn’t clear is what they will do while in Canada, and that’s where things could get complicated. I go into the issues that may arise here.
Can they keep their royal titles?
They don’t mention their titles and styles but it’s clear they want to keep them. However, if they give up their royal duties, pressure will build for them to make a clean break and give up everything.
As I wrote in December in What happens if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ditch royal life: “A voluntary renunciation of royal duties means they’d almost certainly have to give up claims to the throne for Harry and his descendants, including son Archie—one can’t be completely non-royal and at the same time remain a few heartbeats from the throne. It would also be perceived as hypocritical for Harry and Meghan to quit their royal duties but hold onto their coveted royal titles (“His/Her Royal Highness” plus Harry’s “Prince”).
And for those wondering, the decision isn’t up to them. After the divorces were finalized, both Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah, Duchess of York, lost the right to use “HRH.” (Diana voluntarily relinquished it). If push comes to shove, the Queen could recommend stripping Harry and Meghan of their styles and/or titles.
Will they still get state-funded security?
Right now, Harry, Meghan and Archie are classified as “internationally protected people,” meaning they are entitled to police protection. According to the Evening Standard, that costs more than $1 million a year.
That security is usually reserved for the top working royals, while others further down on the line of succession get protection only when carrying out official royal duties. The rest of the Queen’s family doesn’t get security at all, even HRH Princess Beatrice and HRH Princess Eugenie, the daughters of Prince Andrew, who both have business careers.
But now, as Harry and Meghan’s royal status is in flux, it is reportedly under review by London’s Metropolitan Police. If their 24/7 security detail is retained, then the costs will soar as officers travel to and from North America, incurring expenses and overtime. In addition, Canada and the United States may be asked to pick up some of the tab, such as what happens during royal tours.
As security is so expensive, questions are already being raised as to whether Harry and Meghan will ultimately be asked to pay for their own protection, especially as their royal roles are seriously reduced or ended. And republican-leaning politicians are sure to ask questions in the Canadian House of Commons if the federal government is asked to pay to guard two people who are working here not on behalf of the Canadian Crown but for themselves.
Are they going to make money off their royal status?
At present, Harry and Meghan aren’t allowed to enter into commercial deals in any form, like all other working royals.
The danger is that those relationships could tarnish the royal family itself as well as the monarchy. For example, the family could be implicated if a Windsor became a spokesman for a chemical firm that is later revealed to have cut corners that led to an environmental disaster. Or everyone will want to buy a specific purse if a princess became a model for that fashion house.
Such full-time royals are personally supported by the wealth of the Queen and Prince Charles for precisely this reason. (The other members of the Queen’s extended family—the non-working royals—have jobs ranging from being a doctor to an artist. They can accept commercial endorsements, as it’s understood they don’t represent the Queen and the monarchy.)
Now, however, the couple keeps referring to their new positions as “members of the royal family with financial independence.” That implies they want to make money. In June, the Sussex Royal foundation that the couple established filed a series of copyright applications that cover everything from greeting cards, T-shirts and pajamas to conventions and consulting services.
The quasi-royal route has been tried before. After their 1999 marriage, both Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, kept up their careers as a documentary filmmaker and a PR executive, respectively. Then, in 2001, that delicate balance collapsed. She met a potential client who was actually an undercover journalist and committed the sin of talking indiscreetly about the royals, including the Queen. That same year, Edward’s firm was caught filming a royal documentary at the Scottish university where Prince William was studying. The family was furious. Both apologized and soon after, they gave up their private sector roles for full-time royal duties.
How Harry and Meghan believe they can negotiate commercial deals while still carry out royal duties is unclear—just like so many other issues.
Umm, can they just leave royal life?
Why not? Seriously. It isn’t a prison, even though it must sometimes feel like that. But it’s not an easy step, especially in a family that has duty engrained in its DNA.
For all the downsides, including relentless attention from the press and public, there are plenty of perks. They get invited to all the best events, live in luxurious and historic buildings, wear couture clothes, have famous BFFs, and don’t have to worry about “common” issues like doing their own laundry or cooking. As a bonus, they get to focus their efforts on areas of interest they genuinely like.
Perhaps that’s why no one has ever done anything like this until now, so there are only tangential precedents. The last person to give up the royal life was King Edward VIII in 1936 in order to marry his twice-divorced American love, Wallis Simpson. They spent the rest of their lives in exile as the government and royal officials didn’t want to have two monarchs in Britain, especially during the war years.
What’s the deal with their relationship with the media?
Harry hates the British press. He remembers how the tabloids and paparazzi hounded his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, during the 1980s and 1990s, and can’t seem to let that resentment diminish as Prince William has done over the years.
Harry has never hidden how he resents the way the media cover him and his wife, even when the coverage is laudatory, such as during the Invictus Games, which he created, or various royal tours, including the last one to Southern Africa. Yet all the good press generated by that tour, done at the request of the British government, was overshadowed on the penultimate day of the visit when Harry revealed that Meghan had launched a lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday, alleging “a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband.”
So it’s no surprise that not only have they tried to avoid the press and to talk directly to the public, largely through their enormously popular Instagram account. And now they don’t want to participate in the royal rota system, in which a pool of British-based media cover the working royals. They don’t trust the royal correspondents, accusing them of “frequent misreporting.”
How much racism and harassment have the couple faced, and does it explain their fraught relationship with the media?
It’s a complicated subject, so first some background.
Harry and Meghan got married in the social media era, and that medium can be wonderful—those ubiquitous kitten videos and reconnecting with old friends—but the downsides are all-too-obvious. It can be a cesspool of hate, misogyny, lies and disinformation, especially when directed at a woman of colour.
A 2018 study by Amnesty International indicated the severity of the problem by showing that black female politicians and reporters are sent abusive tweets every 30 seconds, and that they are 84 per cent “more likely to be mentioned in an abusive or ‘problematic’ tweet that white women in the same profession,” Will Knight wrote in MIT Technology Review.
From the moment the media reported that Meghan Markle was dating Prince Harry in 2016, a torrent of abuse was unleashed on social media—and in the press, including when Daily Mail columnist Rachel Johnson wrote racist comments about Meghan, whose mother is black and father, white. Prince Harry responded by issuing a blistering attack on the media for “the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”
The online and social media abuse hasn’t let up. The feeds of the royal family were so infected that they had to issue guidelines on blocking or reporting trolls.
At the same time, it’s also a fact that members of the royal family are always under scrutiny by the British press, and sometimes it’s harsh, inflammatory and wrong. Kate was vilified as a social climbing parvenu for years, while Camilla was so thoroughly blamed for breaking up the marriage of Charles and Diana that she was dubbed “the most hated woman in Britain.”
Yet it’s hard to ignore the avalanche of articles lauding and slamming Meghan and Harry. Pages of articles celebrating the arrival of the first black member of the royal family are countered by criticism of their lavish lifestyle.
A big issue is the rapidly changing media landscape, which has resulted in plummeting revenues and newsrooms badly shrunk by layoffs. Today, many publications churn out online articles written with little regard to their sourcing, or even the facts, as they spin a nugget of information from any source into a story. They are designed to generate clicks and revenue. And when it comes to attention, there’s no one more popular than Meghan.
Certainly, Harry and Meghan have made no secret of their distaste for the media and its coverage, especially those journalists tasked to specifically report on the royal family. On their new website, they state: “Britain’s Royal Correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of The Royal Family as well as of their private lives. This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting. Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by Royal Correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions.”
Also, the online department in many British publications is separate from the traditional newsroom, where royal correspondents work. That’s not the case in North America. In part, that helps explain why the Mail website can publish one story about how Kate “tenderly cradles her baby bump,” co-written by its royal correspondent, Rebecca English, while less than a year later it also pushed a story by an anonymous “Mail on Sunday reporter” titled “Why can’t Meghan Markle keep her hands off her bump?”
Is that an example of racism, bias or hypocritical commercial greed? Or is it a combo? When does criticism of a public figure cross the line?
While royal correspondents emphatically deny allegations of racism, pointedly asking accusers to show specific examples in their reporting, and noting that two of the royal correspondents are people of colour, black Britons have a different view of British society, and journalism, which is overwhelmingly white.
The headline of an opinion piece by Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, in the New York Times, is stark: “Black Britons know why Meghan Markle wants out. It’s the racism.”
She writes that “the British press has succeeded in its apparent project of hounding Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, out of Britain,” pointing out that, among other examples, “There was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists. Those who claim frequent attacks against the duchess have nothing to do with her race have a hard time explaining these attempts to link her with particularly racialized forms of crime—terrorism and gang activity—as well as the fact that she has been most venomously attacked for acts that attracted praise when other royals did them.”
And after Harry and Meghan’s announcement, Marcus Ryder, a diversity media champion, pointed out, “My Twitter timeline (full of black journalists) talks about the importance of race in this story. The BBC’s main online story currently does not mention race once.”
As well, anti-racism campaigner Patrick Vernon told the Huffington Post, “The impact of racism on our mental well-being is still not acknowledged and I guess Meghan and Harry are developing their own solutions: self-care and charitable venture. The experience of Meghan clearly reminds us we are millions of lights years from a post-racial Britain.”
Could Harry still become king? What about Archie?
As of now, in theory, there could be a future King Harry or King Archie. But it’s not likely.
Prince Harry is sixth in line to the throne, behind his father, Prince Charles, brother Prince William and his children, George, Charlotte and Louis. And that won’t change without an act of Parliament. The line of succession is governed by the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013, which made it gender-neutral (its big change was to make birth order govern succession, which is why Charlotte is ahead of baby brother Louis). It also references the Act of Settlement of 1701, which sets out criteria for royal succession.
As for Archie, the situation is a bit more complicated, if only because this is new territory. In 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated, he renounced “the throne for myself and for my descendants.” But he had no children at the time (and died childless). While Harry can certainly ask to be removed from the line of succession and parents have a lot of legal control to make decisions for their children, it’s unclear whether he can renounce Archie’s claim to the throne or whether Archie has the right to decide for himself and his own heirs when he becomes an adult.
What about Harry becoming Canada’s Governor-General?
In the past, royal relations who occupied the role of the monarch’s representative in Canada have included Queen Victoria’s son-in-law, the Marquis of Lorne (1878-83), as well as her son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (1911-16) and King George V’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Athlone (1940-46).
So why not a charming and charismatic grandson of Queen Elizabeth II? A new Postmedia poll shows that more than 60 per cent of Canadians want him in the role, including 47 per cent in Quebec, normally an anti-monarchy stronghold. Even more intriguing, some 62 per cent of young people between 18 and 34 like the idea. “Young people are more engaged with (this couple)” than other members of Britain’s royalty, pollster John Wright told the news organization.
But that enthusiasm may not be enough. For one thing, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the position has always been filled by Canadians. As well, the current occupant, Julie Payette, has been in the role only since October 2017 and is expected to stay in the position until 2022 or 2023. As well, recent occupants have always been fluently bilingual, something Prince Harry is not.
In addition, Harry and Meghan’s desire to split their time between North America and Britain means the prince may not have enough time to devote to the role.