How plans to slim down monarchy have spiralled into racism row

Gordon Rayner
·9-min read
harry meghan claims racism interview royal family why is archie not a prince
harry meghan claims racism interview royal family why is archie not a prince

For a monarch determined to slim down and modernise the Royal family for the 21st century, the Queen’s decision not to give her great-grandson Archie the title of prince made perfect sense.

Following controversy over the roles and publicly funded privilege of minor members of The Firm, the Queen and the Prince of Wales had already decided to shift the focus to Her Majesty and just six others.

What they could not have predicted was that two years later, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would try to weave that perceived snub into a new narrative – one of racism at the heart of the House of Windsor.

“They didn't want him to be a prince,” the Duchess told Oprah Winfrey, “which would be different from protocol ... we have in tandem the conversation of, ‘He won't be given security. He’s not going to be given a title.’ And also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Watch: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s shocking interview shakes British monarchy

Regardless of its veracity, Harry and Meghan’s claim that there were concerns about the colour of their baby’s skin has the power to do permanent damage to the royal brand.

Irrespective of who made the alleged comment about Archie’s skin, the Duke and Duchess have put the Prince of Wales in the eye of the storm by claiming he ignored warnings of possible racist attacks on Archie when decisions were made about his security.

A source close to the Sussexes said the couple had seen intelligence and security reports that suggested their son was at a heightened risk, partly because of his mixed race heritage.

“Security was paramount to them,” the source said. “On that basis, as a couple, they wanted him to be a prince and that was made clear to the Royal family.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex holding their son Archie. - PA
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex holding their son Archie. - PA

The same source pointed out that the Prince of Wales was the driving force behind the slimmed-down monarchy model, which sidelines all but the monarch, the heir apparent, and the heir’s eldest child and their respective spouses. It meant Archie would not have a title, even when Prince Charles becomes king.

Penny Junor, the Prince of Wales’s biographer, said any suggestion that the Prince denied Archie a royal title because of race was “rubbish”.

She said: “I absolutely refuse to believe that. I find it impossible to believe the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William are racist. You just have to look at the work they do, particularly with the Commonwealth, which Charles very much cherishes.”

Why is Archie not a prince?

The Duchess of Sussex’s claim that denying Archie the title of prince, and instead giving him the courtesy title Earl of Dumbarton, was “different from protocol” is factually incorrect; rules laid down by George V in 1917 put strict limits on who becomes a prince, which exclude Archie.

It is, however, true that the Queen waived the rule in the case of Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte, and the obscurities of Letters Patent and royal protocol are unlikely to cut through to audiences abroad, who might assume that all male members of royal families are princes or kings.

While Prince Harry has let it be known that the skin colour comments were not made by the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh, he did not absolve his father of blame, and by claiming that he stopped taking Prince Harry’s calls as part of a wider rift with the couple, he ensured he will be seen as cold by anyone who prefers the Duke and Duchess’s version of events.

In making the accusation of racism, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex knew they were pressing on a sore that has been one of the weaknesses of the Royal family, and the institution surrounding it, for generations.

As far back as Queen Victoria’s time, there were accusations that the Royal household plotted against her favourite aide, Mohammed Abdul Karim, because of racism. In 1937, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor toured Nazi Germany and lionised Adolf Hitler, whose supporters also included three of the Duke of Edinburgh’s sisters.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their controversial meeting with German leader Adolf Hitler in Munich.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their controversial meeting with German leader Adolf Hitler in Munich.

More recently, the Duke of Edinburgh himself has made a series of racist gaffes, telling a British student in China that if they stayed too long “you’ll go home with slitty eyes”, comparing Ethiopian art to the work of a schoolchild, and saying a badly wired fuse box looked as though “it was put in by an Indian”.

Ironically, it is Prince Harry himself who has faced the most damaging racism claims this century, after he wore a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party in 2005 and referred to an officer from the Pakistani Army as “our little Paki friend” during his military career in 2009.

One member of the Royal family who has largely escaped controversy over racism is the Prince of Wales, who held hands with Doria Ragland, the Duchess of Sussex’s mother, during the royal wedding and was said to have got on famously with her. He also walked Meghan down the aisle after she fell out with her own father.

Friends of the Prince, including those from ethnic minorities, have always praised his multiculturalist beliefs.

That any suggestion of racism will cut the Queen and the Prince of Wales to the bone is unarguable. The Queen has spent her entire 69-year reign nurturing the institution of Commonwealth, whose members are overwhelmingly non-white. Under her stewardship, it has grown from a clutch of seven members in 1952 to 54 today, with 2.4 billion citizens, and is often cited as her proudest achievement.

Watch: Split opinion on Meghan, Harry's Oprah interview

The Prince of Wales also cares deeply about the Commonwealth, and lobbied hard to ensure he would take over from the Queen as its head when leaders debated electing someone else to the position, which is not hereditary.

But the Oprah interview has already been used to amplify Republicanism in the Commonwealth realms, leading to inevitable concerns that it could endanger the British monarch’s position as head of state of such key allies as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

And while most, if not all of the 15 non-UK realms have too much respect for the Queen to make a move now, there was already growing evidence that some will use the Prince of Wales’s eventual accession to reassess their relationship with the Crown.

The Americas News Network, which serves Caribbean nations, said yesterday that the nine Commonwealth realms in the region should now “emancipate themselves from the mental slavery and the last shackle of colonialism”, arguing that “if the Meghan/Harry tea spilling has revealed anything, it is the obvious racism that exists at the top”.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “This direct charge of racism at the heart of the Royal family will be highly damaging in multicultural Britain … and the Queen’s beloved Commonwealth has a highly diverse membership. In refusing to name the offending person, Harry and Meghan have cast a big cloud over the whole monarchy.”

However Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, said: “I’ve said before that I've not sensed an appetite from New Zealanders for significant change in our constitutional arrangements, and I don't expect that's likely to change quickly.”

What is the institution of the monarchy?

The Duchess of Sussex made references to “the institution” during her interview with Oprah Winfrey, suggesting she was talking about palace staff rather than royal relations.

The institution of the monarchy, sometimes called the “court”, takes in the staff and advisers, as well as the rules and traditions within which the Royal family is constrained.

All senior members of the Royal family have a cohort of secretaries whose role is to support them in every aspect of their public roles, from diary managers to accountants to press officers.

In the case of the Queen, her most senior aide is Sir Edward Young, her Private Secretary, who manages her household and is the key liaison point between Her Majesty and the outside world.

If the Government wanted to arrange a State visit for a US President, for example, or if a Prime Minister decided to resign, Sir Edward would be the one to get the call.

Working underneath him in Buckingham Palace are scores of other servants, some of whom help advise the Queen, but also butlers, valets, cleaners, conservators and cooks.

In the case of the Queen, her household also includes as many as nine ladies-in-waiting, who are official companions drawn from the aristocracy, though only one is likely to be on hand at any one time.

Other senior members of the Royal family, most notably the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, have their own teams of staff and advisers, who are referred to collectively by the building in which they are based, so that the Prince’s household is Clarence House and the Duke’s is Kensington Palace.

Rivalry between the different palaces has been common throughout history, and because each team is fiercely loyal to its own principal, disagreements between members of the Royal family are often played out through different palaces briefing against each other.

The institution of the monarchy also includes the complex and often arcane rules which govern the lives of the Royal family, such as the order of seniority which dictates who should bow or curtsey to whom, and the thorny issue of titles.

When Harry and Meghan’s son Archie was not made a prince, the Queen was not making an active decision to deny him the title, she was merely following rules set down in a form called Letters Patent by her grandfather George V in 1917.

Other parts of royal life are dictated by convention, rather than rules, such as the protocol that the Queen is addressed as Her Majesty and then Ma’am.

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