Few royal happenings in recent years have rivalled Prince Harry and Meghan’s announcement that they intend to step back as senior members of the Royal Family. It has also set off rampant speculation about what may happen next for the sixth in line to the throne and his wife.
“This is unprecedented and the way the Sussexes made the announcement has had serious repercussions,” Katie Nicholl, author of Harry and Meghan: Life Loss and Love, said via email.
The announcement has caused anger and disappointment at Buckingham Palace, Nicholl said.
“There’s a sense of betrayal at the palace over how the Sussexes went ahead and made this public when they were asked not to by the Queen.
“How they come back from this remains to be seen.”
Meghan has returned to Canada to be with their son, Archie, who had remained there as his parents went back to the U.K. after a six-week stay in British Columbia over Christmas.
At the same time, Queen Elizabeth and other senior royals are working out a plan for the couple. Buckingham Palace announced Saturday that the Queen will meet with members of the Royal Family on Monday at her Sandringham estate in eastern England to agree on “next steps” for Harry and Meghan.
But there aren’t many examples to turn to for how Harry and Meghan may try to carve out a role more to their liking.
Certainly there is nothing in the current family to offer any guide. But go back a few generations, and there is at least a bit of precedent for the decision to step away.
“There have been cases in the past of people who have been born princes and princesses deciding that they want a big change in terms of how their lives will unfold,” Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said.
Take, for example, one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, Princess Patricia of Connaught. When she married in 1919, she became Lady Ramsay.
“She wanted to have the same title as her husband, so she stopped using the title of princess and stepped away from royal duties and devoted her time to her husband and her son and her watercolours,” said Harris.
But that was a different time, and there’s no suggestion there were issues wound up in that decision to rival Harry and Meghan’s, which includes their stated desire to achieve financial independence and launch their “new charitable entity.”
Of course, there are examples of royals who have lost their royal duties in significantly different circumstances. The Duke of Windsor, for example, abdicated as King Edward VIII in 1936. For him, there was an interest in trying to find a role after the abdication.
He was governor of the Bahamas during the Second World War, “but afterwards he was never able to have a successful public role,” Harris said, and he and his wife, the Duchess of Windsor, “became public curiosities as they grew older.”
In more recent years, there have been attempts by some members of the Royal Family to forge a career. But they haven’t ended well, either.
Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, ran into trouble when they tried. Edward’s failed television production company was left with assets of only 40 pounds when it was liquidated in 2009. And Sophie quit as head of a public relations company in 2001 after embarrassing comments she made were secretly recorded by a tabloid reporter posing as an Arab sheik and published in the News of the World.
What about the money?
Amid the many questions that loom over how Harry and Meghan might carve out a new role, a major one is how their desire to achieve “financial independence” might work out.
On a website built to promote their new initiative, a long section is devoted to trying “to provide clarity on existing and future funding arrangements.” And part of that includes plans to cut their tie with the Sovereign Grant, which they say covers just five per cent of their costs, “and is specifically used for their official office expense.”
Craig Prescott, director of the Centre for Parliament and Public Law at the University of Winchester in southern England, said on Twitter that it appears Harry and Meghan “are forgoing that five per cent to obtain greater freedom to operate as they please and to control more tightly how they work with the media, probably to use social media more,” but they will keep receiving income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which is held by Harry’s father, Prince Charles.
“The accounts for 2019 state that it is worth around £930 million and the surplus from the estate given to Prince Charles was £21.6 million,” Prescott said via email. “Some of this has been used to fund Harry and Meghan.”