Just days 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.
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?
Read this next: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Are Probs Moving to Canada
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.
Read this next: It’s Time for Us to Stand Up for Meghan and Harry
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.”