Yesterday Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made a shocking announcement via their @SussexRoyal Instagram account. Nope, Meghan’s not pregnant. And no, Harry isn’t talking (more) smack about his big bro. Just a day after their first official 2020 appearance at (cough, cough) Canada House, the royal couple have revealed plans to “carve a progressive new role,” for themselves by “step[ping] back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work[ing] to become financially independent.”
Just as notable to Anglophiles on this side of the pond, the statement laid out the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s intention to “balance [their] time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.” Not surprisingly, the move (already dubbed “Megxit” in the British tabs) has prompted trail of crumpet tossing from Twitter all the way to Buckingham Palace, with insiders calling this the biggest royal bomb drop since Harry’s great great uncle Edward quit the throne in 1936. But what exactly is going on here? How does Her Majesty *really* feel? And could they actually be making a break for the Great White North?
Well could they? Just how likely is it that Harry and Meghan will move to Canada?
On one hand, choosing to make Canada their home base would be surprising. Meghan is an American citizen and a self-proclaimed California Girl — her PR team is based in the States and, more importantly, her mom lives there. And yet… yet… their statement said North America, which, in this context, may as well have been a Canadian flag emoji followed by a winky face. Canada doesn’t have the same crazy tabloid culture that exists in both England and America, which bodes well given Team Sussex’s stated desire to raise Prince Archie away from the spotlight. We’re also a Commonwealth country (ie, still a part of Granny’s extended kingdom), which could go a long way in softening the blow.
Any hints on where in Canada they would live?
Toronto, Meghan’s most recent pre-palace hometown, seems like the most obvious place for a Canadian pied-à-terre, (you can’t get Terroni hot chilies in Saskatoon). And Canada’s biggest city makes a certain amount of sense given she still has close friends in Toronto (her fashion guru Jessica Mulroney and Soho House powerbroker Markus Anderson) and the couple spent a lot of time there during their 2016 courtship. All of that said, the Duke and Duchess’s big announcement comes on the heels of a six-week holiday on Vancouver Island, which is a lot closer to L.A. This extended getaway got “they’re moving to Canada rumours” swirling long before yesterday’s announcement, and what was previously viewed as a much-needed break, now feels more like a dry run.
What does it mean to step back from duties? What is a senior royal anyway?
Being a senior royal is not an official designation so much as shorthand for the people who are close to the throne, whose duties are their full-time job, and who are bankrolled by taxpayer money. At the moment, that means the Queen, plus Charles and Camilla, and Wills and Kate. (Prince Andrew was also a member of the inner circle until his recent involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia allegations). Per their announcement, Harry and Megan would likely continue with some of their royal duties and patronages — they directed readers to their new Sussex website through which future details will be disseminated.
The most interesting adjustment currently mentioned on the site is that they will no longer be taking part in the Royal Rota system, the protocol by which old-guard British media outlets are granted preferential access to all things royal. Harry and Meghan expressed their intention to work with a more diverse body of journalists, as opposed to the standard “royal correspondence,” who are “regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of The Royal Family as well as of their private lives… This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting.”
So is this whole thing just a giant FU to the British press?
It’s not not that.
Is there any reason why all this happened now?
It’s a good question, since the assumption was that Meghan and Harry would announce a new royal tour in the New Year, which is pretty much the opposite of handing in your pink slip. Then again if you look back on 2019, the discontent was obviously brewing. Back in the spring the Sussexes made a few moves to distance themselves from Wills and Kate, launching their own Insta and splitting from their “Fab Four” charity partnership. (Lots of interesting theories re. why.) In the fall they took the unusual step of suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday based on its publication of a private letter from Meghan to her dad. Later that month there was the ITV documentary in which Harry not-so-subtly asserted that he and Wills are “on different paths” and Meghan more or less said that royal life was a living hell.
There’s no question that Meghan has experienced a crash course in both the privileges and the pitfalls of royal life since marrying into “The Firm.” Like Princess Diana, she is at once insanely popular and also subject to the kind of scrutiny and criticism that lead Diana to depression, an eating disorder, and suicide attempts. Add to that the racism embedded in a lot of the coverage of Britain’s first African American royal and the Sussex’s decision to get out of dodge (particularly as new parents) is totally understandable.
Why is it such a big deal then?
It’s one thing to chafe against the less desirable aspects of royal life and, arguably, chafing is a large part of royal life. But the monarchy’s fundamental and founding concept of duty means that most royals eventually get in line. The drama is a massive blow for the royal brand, which, having peaked out around Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018 has taken a lot of hits in the last year, what with Prince William cheating rumours, Meghan’s perceived limousine lifestyle and, oh right, the fact that the Queen’s eldest son Prince Andrew is embroiled in a pedophile scandal.
Meghan and Harry mentioned working toward financial independence. What does that mean?
Under their current job descriptions, the Duke and Duchess are forbidden from making an income. This applies to any royal receiving money from the Sovereign Grant, which Harry and Meghan have given up as part of their progressive new life. (Worth noting though that the vast majority of the Sussex’s activity over the past few years has been funded by Prince Charles’s money, and they have made no mention of cutting themselves off from Daddy’s teet.) It’s unclear how they plan to earn an income, though certainly the Sussex brand is a valuable commodity — one they recently trademarked, à la Blue Ivy Carter. It’s possible they will follow a path similar to that of retired politicians like Obama and Hillary Clinton, earning seven figures for book deals and speaking engagements, a decision the British press will almost certainly find unspeakably vulgar.
Are Harry and Meghan — shudder — commoners now?
No. Per their Instagram statement, they have no plans to renounce their royal status altogether. A lot of the backlash is around the idea that they seem to want to have their cake (independence, the ability to earn cash and pick and choose their royal involvement) and eat it too (continue to live at Frogmore Cottage, taxpayer funded security, etc.). This was definitely not an option for Harry’s great great Uncle, King Edward VII who abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee and/or to deflect from his Nazi ties. (The latest season of The Crown shows how the Queen— the same Queen!!! — handled that thorny situation.) More recently though, there are plenty of royals who operate in a sort of hybrid capacity. Harry’s cousins Beatrice and Eugenie are princesses who take part in official royal duties and enjoy certain benefits, but they are also free to hold jobs.
Her Majesty must be pissed, right?
Hard to say since she will surely weather this storm with her signature stiff-upper-lip/colourful hat combo that has served her through everything else. Harry and Meghan’s announcement definitely takes pains to express enduring devoting to Her Majesty/Granny and even goes so far as to imply her support: “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.” That sounds like HRH has given them her blessing right? But a statement from The Queen’s office (released a few hours after Harry and Meghan’s) tells a different story, calling the situation “complicated” and noting that that discussions around change are still in early stages. A reliable report from the BBC says the royal family is “disappointed” by how the Sussexs have handled things, which is royal for “*%*$**#****#@@%$@%^!!!$%^#@%^”.
Could the Queen block transition from going forward?
She could. Or at least she could draw a pretty definitive line in the sand (crap or get off the royal coffer, as it were). There are those who think the self-serving Sussexes deserve swift and harsh punishment: “Harry should be stripped of their titles before this pair of grasping, selfish, scheming Kardashian-wannabes bring down the Monarchy,” proclaims a headline in this morning’s Daily Mail. Still, such nuclear measures would do nothing to dial down the drama, which is probably the Queen’s top priority at the moment.
Could Meghan play herself on The Crown?
This is, no doubt, the undeniable upside to this whole mess. Yes! Should various stars align, Meghan Markle could star as Meghan Markle in the greatest television event of all time. And when you look at it that way, what’s thousands of years of royal duty honour and tradition?