With Queen Elizabeth agreeing to support the decision of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent” the so-called Royal crisis seems to have blown over, at least for now.
After nearly a day-long face-to-face consultations in her Norfolk home with Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry on Monday, the Queen, in a rare personal statement, said there would be a period of transition in which the Sussexes would spend time in Canada and the UK.
Indicating that details are still being worked out, the Queen said the final decisions would be reached in the coming days.
The Queen’s statement was, as a correspondent put it, “ tinged with sadness” ; the Monarch said although her family and she would have preferred Harry and Meghan to remain full time working members of the Royal Family, they respected their wish to live a more independent life as a family while “remaining a valued part of my family”.
With this, it looks as though Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have apparently got what they set out to achieve – a partial exit from the Royal Family.
The Royal retreat of Prince Harry and Meghan is not the first in the history of British monarchy. There has been a full-fledged abdication earlier in the 20th century by King Edward VIII over his bid to marry the divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson.
What Prince Harry has done is only a partial withdrawal from royal roles – he is still half way in and half way out, as some commentators describe it.
Who blinked first and why?
The Royal Family seems to have blinked first here, perhaps in a desire to draw a line under the affair that might have threatened to open the Pandora’s Box if left unattended for long.
There were reports that Prince Harry and Meghan were planning to do a ‘tell all” interview with a US TV station.
With the Queen now stamping her seal on the decision of Prince Harry and Meghan, ‘the Megxit’ (as the pair’s withdrawal is jokingly referred to in British media) would mean the couple will work to be financially independent, earn a professional income but also be a part of the Royal Family, supporting the Queen and performing royal duties as and when called upon.
That poses some public finance problems for the Government and the Monarchy, of course.
The Sussexes have said they would not be reliant on public finances, but that only refers to the direct funding through the Sovereign Grant which amounts to five percent of their official duty cost. The remaining 95 percent comes through grants from allocations by his father, Prince Charles, from his private estate, Duchy of Cornwall.
Whether Prince Charles will continue to support his younger son’s expenses remains a private matter between the father and son.
However, issues like who bears the cost of a full-time security cover for the Sussexes while they are in Canada are still being worked out, it seems. The Metropolitan Police provides full time security to the couple as of now. While the cost of security is not yet clear, some media reports put it at £ 1 million per year. This can go up if the couple are to be provided the same level of security (or any level) when they are in Canada, where presumably, they would be spending their time in their private capacity.
There are other less critical issues like whether the couple would be allowed to use the Queen’s Frogmore Cottage in Windsor as their UK home (as they have said they would use), whether they would still be allowed to use the royal titles ( HRH), but those are finer details that are being thrashed out.
Media and Meghan
The UK media have been full of stories as to why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took this extraordinary decision that shook the royal establishment. There have been all kinds of theories, from sibling rivalry, to differences between Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and the spouse of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Meghan Markle, to Prince Harry’s desire to protect his wife and son from the glare of British tabloids.
Prince Harry and Prince William today issued a joint statement strongly denying “a UK newspaper report” about a possible rift between them being the reason behind Prince Harry’s decision to step back from the role as a senior royal. Though the statement did not name the newspaper, the Times had carried a report on Monday ( Jan 13) speculating on a rift between the brothers and said , without naming sources, that the Sussexes regarded themselves as having been pushed away from the royal family by the “bullying attitude” of Prince William.
There is of course a lot to be said about the British media’s treatment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ever since their courtship and marriage later in 2018. An American of mixed-race parentage and a divorcee, Meghan Markle was an outsider in the Royal establishment. Her Hollywood background added to the media and public interest and combined with Prince Harry’s own colourful persona, the couple became the target of the usual tabloid interest.
The intense media glare was not to the liking of the couple – Meghan sued the popular tabloid, Mail on Sunday, in October last year, for publishing her private letter to her father. A furious Prince Harry lambasted the British tabloids for their “relentless propaganda” against his wife and said his wife “has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences- a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our new born son”.
But media interest on the British royal family has always been intense – especially when the members of the ‘Firm’ (as the Royal Family is described by some commentators) are more interesting than the usual, formal and protocol bound Royal family member, like the Queen or Prince William.
The mother of Prince William and Harry, Lady Diana was the most scrutinised royal who paid the price with her own life for the extraordinary media interest she generated. Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth, recently found himself in hot water, after the BBC interview he gave on his association with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and had to withdraw himself from his royal duties.
The British monarchy has survived such hiccups in the last century – the death of Diana caused a major upheaval when there was open outpouring of public grief. There was also anger at the Queen at that time over her perceived absence of empathy with the public.
When Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, there was a dip in the popular sentiment towards the monarchy. But overall the British public seem to be still in thrall of the institution and want it to stay – as repeated public opinion surveys by YouGov and Mori have showed. The Harry-Meghan crisis also may turn out to be a storm that spent itself out before it gathered enough strength to ravage the House of Windsor.
(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in London)
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