Ever since Prince Harry and his wife Meghan made a surprise announcement last week that they wanted to step back from the royal frontline, the British monarchy has been in turmoil. In order to avoid an internal civil war, Queen Elizabeth II has now scheduled emergency peace talks for Monday at her private home in Sandringham.
2019 was undoubtedly a tough year for the British royal family, capped when Prince Andrew was effectively forced into exile in the aftermath of an interview about his involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein debacle. 2020 has started with another bombshell.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked the world with a revelation on their official Instagram account last Wednesday. Harry and Meghan announced that they were becoming part-time royals and moving away from England. The term #Megxit was born.
In this statement, the couple said they wanted to “to carve out a progressive new role within this institution”. They said they intended “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 widely believed that the royal family were blindsided by the statement. Although they had been aware the pair felt increasingly isolated from the rest of the family and wanted to do things in their own way, the family indicated it needed more time to reflect on next steps.
Buckingham Palace issued a short and terse statement on Wednesday; including the phrase, ‘We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.’
Meghan flew back to Canada on Friday, to reunite with their 8-month-old son, Archie. She left Harry behind to deal with his complicated family and the overwhelming British tabloid media.
Monday’s meeting will be the first time the senior royals have met in person to address the concerns raised by the young royals. The Queen has summoned Harry’s father Prince Charles and Harry’s brother Prince William, along with Harry himself. Meghan is expected to participate by telephone.
It looks set to be a tense family gathering. In this week’s Sunday Times newspaper, Prince William was quoted as speaking to friends of his “sadness” at the broken bond with his brother and voiced sorrow that the royal family is no longer a “team”.
“I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that anymore; we’re separate entities. “I’m sad about that. All we can do, and all I can do, is try and support them and hope that the time comes when we’re all singing from the same page. I want everyone to play on the team,” he is quoted as saying.
This follows a television interview last October, when Harry himself admitted that he had fallen out with his older brother, saying that they were now “on different paths”.
Referencing another major royal crisis, the abdication of Edward VIII, Princess Diana biographer Andrew Morton said on Twitter, “This has similar trajectory to the abdication. Tight circle knew what was going on but news burst on to an unsuspecting public when abdication was a done deal. Edward VIII hated what he called princing too.”
Tabloids hounding Meghan
The British tabloids have for a long time mounted an aggressive campaign against Meghan. She has admitted she was warned by British friends even before she got married that the tabloids would destroy her life: for she is not an English rose, she is mixed race, she is a vocal feminist, she is a successful actress, she is not Kate.
The British press has now leapt upon the Sussexes’ announcement with the zeal of hungry vultures. They have described the decision variously as “rogue”, “petulant” and “an atrocious lapse of judgment.”
They had already criticised many of the couple’s decisions; before the pregnancy, during the pregnancy and then, the worst offence, when the couple did not allow them to record the christening of baby Archie, a tradition amongst members of the family.
Relations between Harry and Meghan and the media fully unraveled when The Mail on Sunday published a private letter that Meghan had sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018. She sued the paper for copyright infringement and invasion of privacy.
In a statement last October, Harry compared the treatment Meghan has received from the tabloids to the treatment that was inflicted on his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” Prince Harry wrote. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Newly ‘slimmed down’ royal family
Canada looks likely to be the new home for the Sussexes. It is a part of the British Commonwealth, so they could officially remain under the royal umbrella. And the couple have just spent a six-week Christmas holiday there, on Vancouver Island.
Harry is sixth in line for the crown, so it is unlikely he will ever receive the call to the throne. This freedom from inheritance has lightened up the protocol he needs to follow.
One major issue, however, will be whether or not the couple can manage to financially separate themselves from the monarchy. The British taxpayer may object to funding a life that does not include royal duties.
As for the Windsors, Charles has openly spoken about wanting to make it a smaller family unit of succession. “The royal family are slimming down. Prince Charles has said for some time that his vision of the monarchy is of a close-knit unit,” said royals commentator Tina Brown, speaking on CBS television. “It’s just about the heirs and their heirs.’
Royal watchers always attempt to decode the photographs that are placed around the Queen when she delivers her Christmas message. In 2018, she was surrounded by pictures of Harry and Meghan’s wedding and also the wedding of Harry’s cousin Princess Eugenie. This year, there was a distinct absence of photographs of the queen’s newest grandson Archie.
Instead, she was framed by pictures of Prince Philip as well as Prince Charles and Camilla and William’s family, along with historic images of King George VI. It indicated that the Queen was already on the same page as Charles about a newly redacted royal family.
Monday’s meeting will be the first time they have all been together since the Remembrance Day weekend in November. The 93-year-old monarch will be keen to rule her family as much as her country. But the Sussexes might just succeed in setting a precedence of independence for generations of royals to come.