A house divided against itself, cannot stand. The words of Abraham Lincoln in 1858 – drawn from the Bible – might have been written for the House of Windsor as it stumbles into 2020. We could be allowed a wry smile at the historic coincidence that has placed Lincoln’s fellow American, HRH The Duchess of Sussex, at the centre of the British monarchy’s current travails.
Perhaps it is a sharp turn for the better; most men will gladly agree that marriage was a happy turning point in their lives, marking the transition from foolish youth to responsible parenthood. Many would agree that such a transition was long overdue in ‘the Party Prince’ – including, perhaps, himself.
For all the overheated talk of fury and punishment, we can be sure that the officials now wrestling to resolve the current crisis have been directed to minimise grounds for long-term resentment. That’s how it was when we negotiated the original separation agreement between Charles and Diana, writes PATRICK JEPHSON (Diana and Charles together in Canada in 1991)
Fun-loving Harry’s sense of humour, like his charm, runs deep. As does his frequent disregard for consequences. I remember him as a three-year-old riding his tricycle at top speed along a corridor in Kensington Palace. At the far end he spotted the tall figure of a splendidly accoutered senior cavalry officer who was making an official call on Princess Diana, Colonel-in-Chief of his regiment.
Little Harry accelerated to full ramming speed and caught the officer a cracker, full on the shins. Being a man of steel, the colonel barely winced before bowing formally to the delighted Prince, whom he addressed – with a twinkle in his eye – as ‘Your Royal Highness’. After a thorough scolding from his embarrassed mother, the Prince pedalled away, visibly uncontrite. Of course, Diana gave him extra cuddles later.
Fun-loving Harry’s sense of humour, like his charm, runs deep. As does his frequent disregard for consequences. I remember him as a three-year-old riding his tricycle at top speed along a corridor in Kensington Palace, writes PATRICK JEPHSON (Prince Harry in 1989)
The image of Harry’s bull-headed charge at the colonel (an unmistakable figure of establishment authority) hovers in my mind’s eye alongside that of the forlorn small boy following his mother’s coffin. Together they may give us an idea of the forces driving him to the current headlong rush to another painful collision.
For all the overheated talk of fury and punishment, we can be sure that the officials now wrestling to resolve the current crisis have been directed to minimise grounds for long-term resentment. That’s how it was when we negotiated the original separation agreement between Charles and Diana.
The difference is that then, in our unhappy task, we discovered a sense of shared purpose. That seems absent in what we know of the current tense exchanges. The lurking presence of the Sussexes’ American publicists and lawyers must chill the chances of compromise and only widen the canyon now running through the House of Windsor. There comes a point when attempts to build bridges must give way to the over-riding need to safeguard what’s left.
To borrow an apt American sporting term, this is no time for Buckingham Palace to play softball.
I hope Harry and Meghan have taken the trouble to study the full panorama of Diana’s tragically short life. It’s a king’s ransom of examples to follow and warnings to heed.
Perhaps the most relevant lesson in their current situation concerns the false promises and real hazards of being a half-in, half-out member of the Royal Family – promises made on the basis of what you were, hazards heightened by doubtful status and security.
To take just two obvious examples: what instructions are handed to British Embassies about assistance to be given – and who pays? And what about relations with law enforcement and intelligence agencies – what level of co-operation is appropriate and, again, who pays?
Price tags were conspicuously absent when the UK’s most popular Prince and his beautiful, celebrity bride declared their love in the Windsor sunshine less than two years ago.
Wasn’t this just what the dowdy old House of Windsor needed – a breath of fresh air straight from the Golden State? And not just fresh air. A host of American virtues seemed embodied in the slender new addition to the Royal line-up: diversity, spontaneity, informality, a dazzling white smile… and don’t forget the generosity and thoughtfulness behind her gift to her office staff of an ice-cream machine.
Those of us who worked in palaces in the 1990s, with our chipped coffee mugs and Duchy Originals, could only gawk in envy.
I hope Harry and Meghan have taken the trouble to study the full panorama of Diana’s tragically short life. It’s a king’s ransom of examples to follow and warnings to heed, writes PATRICK JEPHSON
Another of Meghan’s American virtues was so obvious we might have missed it: Americans take very seriously their belief that their country is the land of opportunity, in which there’s a constitutional right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. You can become whoever and whatever you want, if you just put your mind to it.
It’s a myth, perhaps, but still a powerful one. It’s certainly an apt description for Meghan’s life so far… and she’s clearly determined that it has a lot further to go yet, especially with the right husband.
Fun-loving Harry’s sense of humour, like his charm, runs deep, writes PATRICK JEPHSON
Equally obvious, with hindsight, is that the American dream of happiness-by-right and the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha cult of duty were never going to make easy bedfellows. What seems to have made the situation worse is that, while Prince Albert’s 19th Century iron Royal code has softened into divorced Prince Charles’s vague idealism, the opposite has happened to American liberty. A new puritanism watches over much public thought – identity politics and the language of social justice have created a new moral order in which duty to your feelings is held more sacred than duty to remoter, loftier obligations.
Pre-Royal Meghan was an enthusiastic member of this new world. Her mantra could well be: ‘I don’t sit around thinking about my titles and roles, I just do what feels right.’ The trauma she and her husband are inflicting on his family and country is, presumably in their eyes, a price worth paying in pursuit of ‘what feels right’ – to them.
It’s probably too late to mention that actually doing what’s ‘right’ for a Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom can be pretty accurately summed up as ‘just shut up and do your job’.
And, while we’re on the subject, which American law-school genius dreamed up the hilarious wording on the new SussexRoyal website that refers to the couple ‘collaborating’ with the Queen, as if she were no more than just another co-worker? In case Harry and Meghan have forgotten, you serve the Sovereign – mainly because she has devoted her whole life to serving us.
Price tags were conspicuously absent when the UK’s most popular Prince and his beautiful, celebrity bride declared their love in the Windsor sunshine less than two years ago, writes PATRICK JEPHSON
But already, the Sussexes’ adherence to fashionable progressive ideology is drawing praise from a swathe of American opinion. ‘And that folks is what power looks like,’ tweets Meghan’s actress friend Jameela Jamil, while the headline Meghan Markle Defeated The British Monarchy appears in Zora magazine. The New York Times gets in on the action with writer Afua Hirsch’s piece headlined Black Britons Know Why Meghan Markle Wants Out.
It may blur a complex reality, but the image of a gutsy woman of colour exercising her sense of her own value is irresistibly attractive, and not just to woke zealots. Such feelings blend easily with a more traditional revolutionary reflex that, in its bones, cherishes the plucky colonists who gave the finger to the English King.
Many Brits are hurrying to lay blame on the Duchess’s shoulders. It’s a very dangerous game. By doing so, they stoke a perception that it is the mixed-race girl from blue-collar California who is the real victim here, not her officially ‘disappointed’ elderly grandmother-in-law and her scarily ‘incandescent’ heirs.
The trauma she and her husband are inflicting on his family and country is, presumably in their eyes, a price worth paying in pursuit of ‘what feels right’ – to them, writes PATRICK JEPHSON
Also shovelling fuel on the fire are those on the opposite side of the ideological divide who want to cast poor Meghan as an innocent idealist driven into exile – a helpless victim of racism, misogyny, class prejudice and a litany of related offences. Much more of this and we may be yearning for the good old days when all we worried about was the cost of the Sussexes’ organic paint for the nursery.
Such a narrative ensures a warm welcome for Harry and Meghan when they reach their rosy Shangri-La of life in North America. The exact temperature of that welcome will be dictated by whether they arrive with full Royal status and titles – thus with unbeatable snob advantage – or as just plain old Mountbatten-Windsors.
While some Royal advisers are understandably nervous of appearing vengeful by requiring the couple to leave their coronets at checkout, the arguments for insisting on removal of both HRH and title boil down to one practical issue: money.
A real Royal title (the HRH is irrelevant in most of the world) gives the transplanted couple a powerful commercial advantage when – as they show every sign of doing – they activate plans to monetise their unique Royal brand.
Many Brits are hurrying to lay blame on the Duchess’s shoulders. It’s a very dangerous game, writes PATRICK JEPHSON (Meghan during her and Harry’s secret visit to the Hubb Community Kitchen in west London)
TV, books, charity events and (inevitably) ‘progressive’ political fundraisers will fall at their feet while their shrewdly trademarked SussexRoyal merchandise reliably floods their bank accounts.
It’s hapless Fergie, Duchess of York all over again, but this time with kick-ass Hollywood publicists, lawyers and agents. And don’t forget business managers to handle all those luxury product endorsements (‘His Royal Highness is graciously pleased to model your swimwear… our invoice is attached’). No wonder the couple’s confidant, ITV newsman Tom Bradby, says: ‘Their attitude is, we want our freedom – if you want to take everything away that’s OK, we’ll live with it.’
The message is Mother Teresa – the reality is Kardashian.
A clear majority in recent UK polls have no problem with Harry and Meghan taking all the freedom they can get their hands on. This translates as: if you can’t thrive with all the opportunities we’ve given you, you’d better go try somewhere else. Please. But an overwhelming majority say ‘not at our expense’. The strength of feeling probably owes much to the dawning realisation that the Sussexes could very soon be very rich indeed, mostly through trading on commercial advantages willingly given to them by the benign British taxpayer. The use of public office to make private wealth is called corruption, and the Queen expects members of her family to abide by the rules of ethical standards in public life.
So the Sussexes should really welcome the opportunity to renounce their titles and thus remove temptation from unscrupulous foreign hustlers, angling to exploit their former Royal status.
It’s not a question of vengeance or punishment, it’s just reality.So the Sussexes should really welcome the opportunity to renounce their titles and thus remove temptation from unscrupulous foreign hustlers, angling to exploit their former Royal status, writes PATRICK JEPHSON (Meghan and Harry during their secret visit to the Hubb Community Kitchen in west London)
As is the justified public belief (not only in Sussex) that, in the 21st Century, Royal titles are held on loan from the people – and that loan can be called in. Failure to heed the public mood, as we saw following the death of Harry’s mother, is the greatest threat to the future of the monarchy, not the transitory delusions of the sixth in line. That public is watching the House of Windsor very closely as it digs its way out of a hole of – arguably – its own making.
At a time when the UK is taking such a bold risk to reclaim its distinct identity, there will be little patience and only dwindling trust in a ruling family that fumbles such a clear-cut test of its own resolve and self-belief. So as we wave them goodbye, we should be grateful to Meghan and Harry for bringing to a head the rumbling ambivalence that has beset the 1,000-year-old dynasty for too long.
Once the Sussex theatrics are history (which they will be soon enough), the Royal Family will be left with the real challenge of the new decade. It’s not a question of a slimmed-down monarchy, a multicultural, multi-faith coronation or even a cunning Royal plan to save the planet.
It’s much simpler: do they believe in themselves – because if they don’t, why should we? If ‘SussexRoyal’ yoga mats are all the rage in Malibu next summer, we’ll have our answer.
The example may be trivial, but for those who care about the monarchy, the message is deadly serious. I turn to Lincoln again: ‘You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.’