Was it inevitable? Or is there more to read between the lines?
Not long ago, Prince Harry was the world’s most famous third wheel, and in his case, it wasn’t just a romantic distinction. He literally shared an office with his brother Prince William and his sister-in-law Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
For the past decade, they have been part of the same royal household. But yesterday, both Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen has granted permission for a new royal household to be formed for Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, one which will operate out of Buckingham Palace and will be established this spring. New staff positions were also revealed, including the appointment of a new Communications Secretary for Meghan and Harry, Sara Latham, who joined their office from the PR firm Freuds and has previously worked for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. William and Kate will maintain their royal household in Kensington Palace.
The news comes almost a month to the date after the Sunday Times reported that a split of the two royal households was in the works, and a change of this nature will undoubtedly fuel rumors of rifts between not only Meghan and Kate but also William and Harry.
But should this division of the royal household—and Harry and Meghan’s move to Buckingham Palace—be seen as emblematic of deeper conflict? Or was it an eventual certainty, given William and Harry’s increasingly different roles within the House of Windsor?
“This is very normal,” Marlene Koenig, a historian and the author of the royal-centric blog Royal Musings, tells Town & Country. “This is what happens when royals get married. Harry is a full-time working royal and he has a full-time working royal wife. It makes perfect sense.”
Victoria Arbiter, a royal commentator whose father served in not only Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s royal household but also the Queen’s, agrees. There’s no unpleasant subtext to this separation.
“Harry and William were always going to divide their offices because they have very different roles. It would have been too much for them to stay together,” she tells Town & Country.
And even the official announcement from Buckingham Palace suggested that this decision has been in the works for months.
“This long-planned move will ensure that permanent support arrangements for the Duke and Duchess’s work are in place as they start their family and move to their official residence at Frogmore Cottage,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
IT’S TYPICAL FOR SENIOR MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL FAMILY TO HAVE SEPARATE HOUSEHOLDS.
Royal siblings in the older generations don’t share a household, so why would Will and Harry? “Charles and Andrew don’t share an office. Edward and Anne don’t share an office. It was always going to happen,” says Arbiter. “Because it happened upon Harry getting married, people looked for something to blame, which is bizarre. I don’t know why we need to blame anybody. It just speaks to the level and the volume of work that these couples are going to be carrying out.”
The practicality of the split isn’t going to stop tabloid culture from imbuing this news with darker meaning, but according to Arbiter there is no bitter significance. What’s fueling those rumors, she says, is a desire for royal drama.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, much of royal watching was a massive soap opera, and no one wants to see a return to those days, but those headlines were valuable,” Arbiter explains. “We don’t see that anymore. We’ve got such well behaved royals, and so these narratives are being created. The feud is a perfect example.”
In reality, the separation of William and Harry’s households is more indicative of how the two brothers are on divergent paths within the royal family.
WILLIAM IS PREPARING TO BE KING.
In the not so distant future, William will become Prince of Wales, and then, eventually, king. Harry, on the other hand, is now sixth in the line of succession and will likely never wear the crown, but he and Meghan are taking on more responsibilities within the Commonwealth. Just last week, Meghan was named the vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, a role in which she will “highlight the Trust’s partnerships with young people across the Commonwealth, and in particular its work supporting women and girls,” a statement from the Trust explained. For his part, Prince Harry is the Trust’s president and also serves as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.
The two men and their wives now require staffs that can support their disparate needs. “It is not that far down the road that William will be the heir apparent to the throne and his household will be very different from his brother’s household,” Koenig says. “So just as Charles has begun to take on more duties and responsibilities from his mother, William is moving toward his future position as the Prince of Wales.”
That transition may help explain why their separate officers are not run out of the same royal palace. Initially, the Sunday Times reported that even after the separation and the Sussexes’ move to Windsor, Harry and William’s households were both “expected” to remain in Kensington Palace, but now it is clear that the new office will operate out of Buckingham Palace.
“Basing the Sussex household at Buckingham Palace is a very sensible move,” Arbiter tells T&C. “It allows for a foundation to be laid and for the couple to avoid the upheaval of moving their office when Charles becomes king and William moves into his role as Prince of Wales.”
Up until recently, Princes Andrew and Edward and Princess Anne ran their offices out of Buckingham Palace as well—they were asked to move in 2018 due to repairs being made on the building—while Charles, as Prince of Wales, runs his office out of Clarence House. The setup is similar to how Will and Harry will likely function when William is the Prince of Wales.
“Moving forward the Sussexes’ set up will be similar to that of Andrew and Edward so it makes sense that their offices be established under the Buckingham Palace umbrella,” Arbiter says.
ROYAL FINANCES PLAY A ROLE IN THE SPLIT AS WELL.
Koenig also noted that the separation is practical from a financial perspective. For now, both households will be funded by the Duchy of Cornwall, a sum of money afforded to the monarch’s “eldest surviving son and heir”—in this case Charles—to pay for not only his “public, charitable, and private activities,” but also those of his family. For now, the Duchy funds much of both William and Harry’s official budgets.
But that will change when Charles becomes King and William the Prince of Wales. “When Charles becomes king, William’s household will be funded by the Duchy of Cornwall, but Harry’s funding will come from the Sovereign Grant,” Koenig explained. The Sovereign Grant is a tax-payer funded sum of money allotted to the royal family to cover repairs on buildings, official royal travel, and a portion of other expenses, including staffing salaries, for some working royals.
BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS?
Before Meghan joined the royal family, she was very active on social media, but this shift in the royal households doesn’t immediately mean she and Harry are getting their own dedicated Instagram and Twitter accounts.
For now, the work of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will continue to appear on the Kensington Palace social accounts. They could eventually get their own separate channels following the move, but sources say there are currently no firm plans in place at this point.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THIS SPLIT WAS INEVITABLE.
“Really, there’s nothing scandalous or worrisome about the households separating,” Arbiter says. “It was always going to happen.”