And you thought the last season of Netflix’s The Crown was tense: On Wednesday (January 8), Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they intend to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family,” thereby upending The Firm’s order of things forever. No longer do they want to make being royal their full-time job. Instead, they want to work to become “financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen” and “carve out a progressive new role within [the] institution.”
The announcement shocked people when it hit Instagram via the couple’s joint account, @SussexRoyal, but it’s been a long time coming. Harry and Meghan noted that they made the decision “after many months of reflection and internal discussions,” and this is also far from the first time they’ve voiced understandable frustration with the hurdles they’ve had to navigate as a couple, including the vitriol people have directed toward Meghan specifically. (The problem goes beyond the predatory tabloids, too: Remember when Princess Michael of Kent wore a racist blackamoor brooch to Meghan’s first meeting with Harry’s entire family?)
Between the announcement and a terse follow-up from Buckingham Palace itself, there’s a lot up in the air. Here’s what we do know so far.
Are Harry and Meghan giving up the Crown?
Not quite, since it wasn’t likely they would ever have a crown to give up. (The tiara Meghan wore to their wedding was beautiful and rare, but doesn’t quite count.)
Harry is sixth in line for the throne, behind his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who currently sits on the throne; his father, Prince Charles; his brother, Prince William; and William’s three children with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. (The official royal website still lists Harry on its succession chart, right after Will and Kate’s third child, Prince Louis, and right before Harry and Meghan’s son, Master Archie.) King Edward VIII is still the only member of the British royal family to ever formally abdicate, which he did in 1936 so he could marry American socialite Wallis Simpson.
But Harry and Meghan are eventually divesting from the Sovereign Grant, which are public funds that cover royal duties as they pertain to supporting the Queen, like appearances, patronages of certain charities, and visits to Commonwealth countries. The Sovereign Grant currently accounts for 5 percent of Harry and Meghan’s expenditure; the bulk of which comes from Prince Charles’s estate, the Duchy of Cornwall. The other 95 percent of their expenditure comes from the several million dollars Harry has inherited and will inherit from his great-grandmother and his mother, Diana. As for Meghan, she was doing just fine for herself well before she met Harry, between her acting career and fashion and lifestyle collaborations.
Senior royals can’t make money outside of the family business, but other members of the royal family have held or still hold day jobs.
How does the Queen feel about this?
It’s hard to say. The Deputy Communications Secretary to The Queen provided a statement that said: “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.”
It was terse, it was vague, and it would seem that Harry’s grandmother is not happy. BBC Royal correspondent Jonny Dymond tweeted that “the Palace is understood to be ‘disappointed.’”
On Thursday (January 9), People reported that the Queen summoned the rest of the immediate Royal family for an “emergency meeting” about Harry and Meghan.
“This has moved from shock and a range of emotions to something more constructive. It is complicated,” a source said. “This is happening very quickly. And the proof in that is the fact that this will take days and not weeks.”
Notably, this isn’t the first time a member of the royal family has stepped down from their duties. Late last year, Prince Andrew decided to withdraw from “public duties for the foreseeable future,” after his friendship with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein drew major scrutiny. At least two Epstein survivors have also accused the Prince of predation; he has denied any wrongdoing.
But this has been a long time coming, right?
Probably! Harry and Meghan started dating in mid-2016, but the first formal acknowledgement of their relationship actually came in a November 2016 statement condemning “the sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments” which were directed at Meghan, who is Black and biracial. As The Cut explains, the British tabloids have been particularly vicious towards Meghan, even after repeated pleas by the royal family to stop. This is surprising in part because the typical royal response to tabloids is that infamous “stiff upper lip.”
“I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair, and that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile,” Meghan said in a documentary released in October 2019.
The couple has also been understandably protective of their private life, and of the life of their son. (While Archie’s christening was private, as most royal christenings are, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not publicly name their son’s godparents.) In October 2019, Harry and Meghan sued the British tabloids that were responsible for publishing a letter she wrote her estranged father, begging him to stop acting out in front of the press; as well as allegedly hacking Harry’s phones. In a statement, the Prince condemned the “relentless propaganda,” and added, “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.”
Princess Diana of Wales died in a car crash in August 1997; her driver had been trying to evade paparazzi that, for years, had notoriously followed William and Harry’s mother to the point of harassment.
“I lost my mother,” Harry said in his October statement, “and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
On their website, the Duke and Duchess say they are working on a new way of engaging with the press, excusing themselves from the “Royal Rota” system, which functions somewhat like the White House press pool. Instead, the Sussexes will prioritize providing “access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events.” They also highlighted a dedication to “grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists,” as well as their own social media accounts.
OK, so when is this coming to The Crown?
Probably never! We’re currently on season 3 of the hit Netflix show, which is slated to end after six seasons. That last installment is supposed to cover the 2000s, so while we will likely see a young Harry at some point, don’t expect to see this already dramatic fallout.
“To be honest, whatever the life of The Crown is after where we are now, I doubt we’ll ever go as far into the present day,” executive producer Suzanne Mackie has said.
At least we have the 2018 Lifetime movie, Harry and Meghan: Becoming Royal.