The Duke and Duchess of Sussex took to Instagram to share the news, writing: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”
The move is largely without precedent, and now, royal watchers around the world are waiting with bated breath to see what this move will actually mean for their family and the monarchy at large.
Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and author in Toronto, is waiting to see how the Queen responds to the announcement in the days and weeks to come.
In a statement from Buckingham Palace released shortly after Harry and Markle’s, the palace 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.”
For this reason, it’s unclear to Harris whether the Queen actually knew the statement was coming.
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“The Royal Family would’ve been aware of Harry and Meghan’s discontent with their current public role and their difficulties with the British press, [and] they may well have known that the couple intended to spend more time abroad in the coming years,” she said.
“The formal announcement may have come as a surprise as Buckingham Palace is making clear that discussions of Harry and Meghan’s future roles are still in their early stages.”
There have been other members of the Royal Family who have stepped away from royal duties in the past.
“When Princess Patricia of Connaught married Alexander Ramsay, she stopped using the title of Princess and became Lady Patricia Ramsay,” said Harris.
“She also gave up most royal duties, devoted her time to her art and her family. She retained a few public engagements related to her charities and military patronages, visiting Canada for the 50th anniversary of her regiment, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry.”
Although the announcement may have come as a shock, Harris believes the Queen will — eventually — let her grandson “find his own path.”
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“In the past, Prince William has praised his grandmother … for allowing him to find his own path,” she said. “The Queen has allowed her children and grandchildren a great deal of freedom to make their own decisions.”
This is in stark contrast to the monarchs who came before Queen Elizabeth II. “Queen Victoria … expected to carefully manage the lives of descendants, right down to the names and marriages of her grandchildren,” said Harris.
Below, Harris comments on other ways this decision by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex could affect their family and the Royal Family more broadly.
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Per their statement, the Duke and Duchess intend to “engage with the public on their own terms,” said Harris.
To Harris, this means undertaking charitable patronages and Harry’s work as a Commonwealth youth ambassador “without assuming the additional royal duties expected of a senior member of the Royal Family.”
Examples of such senior royal duties include attending state dinners or undertaking diplomatic visits on behalf of the British government.
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Unfortunately, with fewer senior members of the Royal Family undertaking public engagements, this will mean an “increased workload for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” said Harris.
Markle and Harry’s son, Archie, will have an “interesting life” that includes “periods of relative privacy away from the public eye and travel in Canada and the United States,” said Harris.
“Harry and Meghan have made clear that they intend to raise him with an appreciation for royal tradition, so he will also spend time in the United Kingdom … with his royal relatives.”
‘Financial independence’ is yet to be defined
To Harris, Markle and Harry’s commitment to become financially “independent” likely means they will not draw from the Sovereign Grant, “funding by the revenues from the Crown Estates that goes into the treasury.”
“Prince Harry has inherited money of his own from both his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales and his great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother,” Harris said.
Harris speculates that Markle may have also accumulated savings during her career as an actor.
“It remains to be seen if Harry and Meghan will continue to receive support from Prince Charles’s private funds from the Duchy of Cornwall or the Queen’s private funds from the Duchy of Lancaster,” said Harris.
Heightened tension among members of the Royal Family
With Markle and Harry bowing out of senior duties, Harris foresees a more “streamlined” monarchy within the United Kingdom.
“During Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, the monarch’s extended family have undertaken royal duties. The Queen’s cousins, as well as her children, were involved in public engagements,” she said.
“Going forward, a smaller number of members of the Royal Family will undertake public duties with a strong focus on those directly in line to the throne — the Prince of Wales (Prince Philip) and the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) — and their immediate families. As a result, there will be fewer Commonwealth tours and a more streamlined monarchy within the United Kingdom.”
For these reasons, Harris speculates Harry and Markle’s departure could escalate tensions already present within the Royal Family.
“There are already fewer senior members of the Royal Family undertaking public duties than in the past: the Queen’s cousins have grown older and reduced their public duties, Prince Philip has retired from public life [and] Prince Andrew also stepped away from royal duties following a disastrous interview regarding his unsuitable friendships and scandalous private life,” she said.
“There may have been an expectation that both William and Harry would assume an increased schedule of royal duties in these circumstances. Instead, Harry is making clear that he will not assume a full schedule of royal duties and will engage with the public on his own terms.”
— With files from Global News’ Meaghan Wray
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