Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced in early January 2020 that they would be taking a step back from the royal family. The announcement followed several months of speculation and signalled a huge wave of change about to hit the British monarchy. Indeed, these new arrangements are also likely to have a profound effect on Harry and Meghan’s son, Archie.
In October 2019 the documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey aired on TV channel ITV in the U.K. It chronicled the couple’s ten-day visit to Africa, as well as their experience as royals and new parents. Both mom and dad were remarkably candid, with Meghan revealing how hard she’d found it to adjust to the press attention that comes with being a royal.
When asked if the media attention had affected her mental health and physical well-being, Meghan admitted she’d struggled. “Look, any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging,” she said. She then thanked the interviewer for asking the question, as “not many people have asked if I’m okay.”
In truth, Meghan and Harry have been engaged in a battle with the British press and social media for some time. In March 2019 it was revealed that Kensington Palace was increasing its efforts to combat racist posts aimed at Meghan on Twitter and Instagram. Specialist programs were identifying and deleting offensive language, and accounts spouting abuse were being blocked.
Both the Duke and Duchess also engaged in legal action against British newspapers. Meghan sued the Mail On Sunday, alleging that it had illegally published a private letter she’d written to her father. Harry sued The Sun and Daily Mirror, accusing them of hacking his phone to illegally intercept his voicemail messages.
Harry issued a damning indictment of the British news media around this time in a statement on the couple’s official website. “Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences,” he stated. He then compared the treatment his wife was experiencing with that of his late mother, Princess Diana.
He wrote, “My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” Overall, it’s clear that Harry and Meghan both had serious reservations about being royals in the public eye.
Nonetheless, it was still a shock when they announced in January 2020 that they intended to withdraw from life as working royals. Not least for the royal family themselves because, according to the BBC, none of them were briefed before Harry and Meghan’s statement went live on Instagram. It was reported that this hurt and disappointed the royals.
It was initially believed that the Queen had no idea Harry and Meghan were about to announce their withdrawal. But, a few days later, it was reported by CNN that she did know about their intentions, but had asked her grandson not to make the announcement. Therefore, Harry was reportedly defying her, as he did not have her permission to take things public.
Perhaps this was indicative of the tension rumored to have been building between the Sussexes and the rest of the royals. They had spent Christmas in Meghan’s native Canada, rather than at Sandringham, and there have long been whispers of a falling-out between Harry and his brother Prince William. Harry even said, “We’re certainly on different paths at the moment” during the previously mentioned An African Journey documentary.
On January 19, 2020, Harry spoke at a London dinner in aid of Sentebale, a charity which supports the mental health of HIV-affected young people and children in Lesotho and Botswana. His speech was filled with emotion and dealt directly with the decision to step back from the royal family. Here, Harry made it clear the decision was primarily his, not Meghan’s.
“The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back, is not one made lightly,” Harry stated. “It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven’t always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.”
His words made it clear Harry believed he had no choice but to pull back from his royal duties, for the sake of his family. But he also made sure to put his full support behind Meghan. She had faced criticism in the media and from the British public, with many blaming her for Harry wanting to leave the royals.
“You’ve come to know me well enough over all these years to trust that the woman I chose as my wife upholds the same values as I do,” he said. “And she does, she’s the same woman I fell in love with.” This was likely a reference to critics such as Princess Diana’s chef Darren McGrady, who had posted on Twitter that “Meghan never wanted to be royal.”
Harry went on to reassure the dinner guests about his commitment to them and to the U.K. as a whole. “What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away, and we certainly aren’t walking away from you,” he said. In fact, Harry indicated that his initial hope was to become financially independent, whilst retaining his royal duties.
“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.” Harry then opened up by saying, “I hope that helps you understand what it had come to, that I would step my family back from all I have ever known, to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”
Harry’s speech came only a day after Buckingham Palace had released a statement confirming the arrangements surrounding Harry and Meghan’s exit. It stated that they would begin the process of transitioning away from their royal duties in spring 2020. The release noted, “They understand that they are required to step back from royal duties, including official military appointments.”
Buckingham Palace then outlined the couple’s new financial situation. “They will no longer receive public funds for royal duties,” the statement confirmed. But they would “continue to maintain their private patronages and associations” in a more informal manner, with the full blessing of the Queen. It added they were expected to “continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty.”
Harry and Meghan will no longer be able to use their H.R.H. (“His”/“Her Royal Highness”) titles as “they are no longer working members of the royal family.” Then there was also the matter of the £2.4 million of taxpayers’ money used to refurbish their home, Frogmore Cottage, before baby Archie had arrived. How did their new financial independence square with this recent outlay?
The Buckingham Palace statement clarified that, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their U.K. family home.” The family would continue to live there, however. Going forward, it is expected that they will pay commercial rent and running costs on the property, which is owned by the Queen.
Even though the Duke and Duchess’ intention to step back from royal life was announced in January 2020, they had already made some controversial moves to establish independence in their lives. In June 2019 they had resigned from “The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge”, the organization founded in 2009 by Harry and his brother William. This was the brothers’ avenue for pursuing their charitable initiatives.
After that disassociation it was soon announced that Harry and Meghan intended to start their own charity. “Sussex Royal The Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex” was officially registered as a private company on July 1. This was only ten days after they had resigned from the foundation. No further information about the new charity was released.
Predictably, though, this didn’t stop the public and the media from speculating. Richard Fitzwilliams, a prominent PR consultant and royal commentator, told website INSIDER that he believed the charity would be primarily linked to Harry and Meghan’s “Sussex Royal” social media presence. They had used this presence to highlight environmental, gender inequality and other social issues.
Fitzwilliams believed the charity had huge potential for true global reach. “It is certainly a curious name for a charity, but it has a contemporary feel to it,” he said, “and it ties in with their hugely popular Instagram account, which now has over 9 million followers. So, this makes sense in a world dominated by social media.”
Harry and Meghan’s Instagram account, which launched in April 2019, was something entirely new for the royal family. Every month, the account shuffles who it is following, meaning each new month puts the spotlight on new organizations, activists and charitable causes. Climate change and mental health have been particularly focused upon, and Fitzwilliam believed that would “undoubtedly lead to highly publicized campaigns.”
In fact, the Instagram account proved so popular that TIME magazine listed Harry and Meghan among “The 25 Most Influential People On The Internet” in July 2019. This was only a few months after the account debuted. The magazine commented, “[Their] forward-thinking, cause-oriented approach to social media fits neatly with other ways they are establishing their identity beyond the crown.”
Unfortunately for Harry and Meghan, the terms of their exit from the royal family threw a spanner in the works for their charity plans. On February 21, 2020, it was announced that they were being forced to stop using the word “royal” in their branding, due to “specific UK government rules” surrounding its use. This meant they couldn’t call their charity the “Sussex Royal Foundation”.
A spokeswoman told the media, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex do not intend to use ‘Sussex Royal’ in any territory post-spring 2020.” Naturally, this meant the trademark application they had filed for the foundation had to be removed. A few days later, a post on their official website hinted at bad feeling on Harry and Meghan’s part, and even questioned the legality of the ruling.
The post stated, “There is not any jurisdiction by the monarchy or Cabinet Office over the use of the word ‘royal’ overseas,” but it went on to confirm Harry and Meghan’s intention to cease using it in spite of this. This certainly seemed to question whether the ruling was strictly enforceable by the Queen and the UK government. But it also showed they were willing to play ball in order to facilitate their exit.
In the same statement, Harry and Meghan gave some details about the new plan for their charity. They revealed they were no longer planning on starting a foundation; rather, the statement said, “[We] intend to develop a new way to effect change and complement the efforts made by some many excellent foundations globally.” To that end, the charity would now be a “non-profit entity.”
On February 18, 2020, the Daily Mail newspaper ran some comments from an anonymous source on the matter of the royal branding. “In many ways, this is inevitable, given their decision to step down,” said the source. “But it must surely come as a blow to the couple as they have invested everything into the Sussex Royal brand.”
The source believed, “The Queen would have had little choice, however. The Sussexes’ original plan – of being half-in, half-out working royals – was never going to work.” The source felt this arrangement couldn’t have been allowed. They believed if Harry and Meghan “aren’t carrying out official duties and are now seeking other commercial opportunities, they simply cannot be allowed to market themselves as royals.”
While Harry and Meghan will cease performing official royal duties on March 31, 2020, those duties will still need to be performed. According to the family’s official website, the royals attend more than 2,000 engagements worldwide every single year. In recent years, between them William and Kate and Harry and Meghan have carried out a large number of these visits.
It’s known that each senior royal has a particular speciality when it comes to their charitable endeavors. Prince William favors investigating mental health issues, while his wife Kate Middleton is an expert in childhood development. Meghan is passionate about matters of gender equality and Harry focuses on environmental concerns. But who will take over Harry and Meghan’s workload when they leave?
Joe Little, a royal commentator and editor of Majesty magazine, spoke to INSIDER about this very matter. “This is uncharted territory, but if they were to withdraw from public life, then the organizations with which they are associated in various capacities would be reallocated to other members of the royal family,” said Little. This hasn’t been confirmed, but seems a very likely scenario.
According to New magazine in February 2020, sources have revealed that Kate Middleton is struggling in the wake of Harry and Meghan’s exit decision. “Meghan leaving the fold has put a tremendous amount of pressure on Kate’s shoulders,” said the source. They believe that, as Kate has three young children and already attends many royal engagements every year, she could become overworked.
The source claimed, “Although she is willing to do the heavy lifting and take on extra work in their absence, Kate does feel that she was doing an awful lot already.” They say she is stretched too thin. Overall, the insider claimed, “Kate has found herself trying to do it all – console her husband, look after her children, take on more work and try to smooth things over.”
Unsurprisingly, given Kate’s familiarity with life in the public eye, the source believed she had been “putting a brave face on as always.” However, they claimed the situation had brought Kate and her husband Prince William closer together, instead of tearing them apart. On a recent engagement in Wales, they put on an unusually affectionate united front.
While the couple were taken on a tour of the Mumbles farm village in February, Kate was seen laying a hand on her husband’s shoulder. While this tiny sign of affection mightn’t seem like much, it is actually a big change for Kate and William, who tend to avoid public displays. Body language expert Judi James gave her interesting analysis of the move to “FEMAIL”, a regular women’s column in British newspaper the Daily Mail.
She said, “These are very interesting mutual touch rituals from William and Kate, with a suggestion that they might have made a conscious decision to relax what has in the past looked like their ‘hands-off’ policy in public.” James acknowledged that Harry and Meghan were known for being tactile in front of the cameras. She theorized that Kate and William were now attempting to fill this role.
Referring to Kate and William, she said, “Although we have seen them being tentatively tactile before, these rituals hint that they might be happy to be seen as a little more demonstrative, now that the hugely tactile Harry and Meghan have left to live in North America.” Time will tell if this altered public behavior will become the norm.
Meanwhile, if People magazine is correct, William will need the extra support from his wife during Harry and Meghan’s exit. This is because an insider told the publication that the brothers were now so estranged that “they won’t get back to the way they were.” This souring of the brothers’ relationship is another consequence felt by the royal family.
William allegedly warned his younger brother not to be hasty with his marriage to Meghan, and this is believed to be when their relationship started to falter. “Harry is looking straight ahead at his future with his family,” a source told British newspaper the Daily Express in March 2020. This statement perhaps hints that Harry doesn’t have much regard for his brother’s advice when it comes to Meghan.
Onlookers believe they saw evidence of Harry and William’s falling out on March 9, 2020, when the royals attended the Commonwealth Day service. Their greeting was quick and impersonal, and The Daily Telegraph newspaper alleged that Harry was upset by it. He was believed to have said to Meghan, “He literally said: ‘Hello Harry,’ and that was it and he didn’t say anything more than that.”
Us Weekly magazine wrote about another effect Harry and Meghan’s exit will have on the royal family and, in particular, the Queen herself. A source told the magazine that she was frightened over what the future held for her relationship with Archie. They claim she was “heartbroken over the thought of not getting to see her great-grandson.”
The insider said, “The Queen would love to have a relationship with Archie, but it’s looking unlikely that will ever happen.” It’s possible that her fears come from a very real place, as Archie has yet to spend any time in the UK in 2020. He has stayed in Canada with Jessica Mulroney, Meghan’s best friend, and hasn’t accompanied his parents to any of their final royal engagements.
Another consideration is, what will Archie’s future life be like outside the royal family? For one thing, he won’t benefit from the Sovereign Grant like his parents did when their home was refurbished. The grant is only applicable to those executing royal duties on behalf of the Queen.
What’s more, if Harry and Meghan have any more children, their births will not be treated with the usual fanfare of a royal baby. For example, when Archie was born, the worldwide interest was said to have injected a staggering £1.25 billion into the UK economy, as reported by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in May 2019. This was in spite of Harry and Meghan having been less open with the media than William and Kate were for the births of their children.
It’s hard to accurately predict the media interest and subsequent impact the U.K. economy would feel from Harry and Meghan having a baby outside of the royal family. But it would almost certainly be smaller than as part of the monarchy. Also, given the fact they were so cautious with Archie, there is a distinct possibility they may be even more secretive with future children.
Without the responsibility to the British public that comes from being a working royal, Harry and Meghan theoretically don’t have to publicly disclose their private lives, if those are their wishes. Their relationship with the media has been antagonistic enough that this scenario is very plausible. After all, they have already expressed a desire to live with less intrusion from the British press.
However, according to Harry and Meghan’s statement, they won’t be separating Archie completely from the monarchy. They want him to grow up “with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born”, but they also want their family to have “the space to focus on the next chapter.” This sounds like they want Archie to experience the best of both worlds; only time will tell whether that can be accomplished.