Royal commentator and PR consultant Richard Fitzwilliams has branded Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s announcement that they are standing down as senior royals without consulting Queen Elizabeth II and other family members “irresponsible”. According to him, they were unhappy in that role, with the Duke of Sussex still feeling “the pain of losing his mother and what he sees as the threat from the tabloid press”. Yet, his move is still hard to explain, according to the commentator.
“However to treat the institution he was brought up to serve in this way is extraordinary. He and Meghan were modernisers, and were brilliant on tour. As it seeks to contain the fallout from their decision which could lead to them deciding to relinquish their titles the monarchy will also miss what they have to offer”, Fitzwilliams notes.
Is the Palace Clueless?
The Crown Chronicles’ reporter Katie Balfe echoes his stance, saying that the decision came as a shock to many people. However, it was probably not just the fact that this has never happened before, but how unexpected it was.
She says, pointing out that the royals had just returned to their engagements without any sign of an upcoming shift: “To the outside eye, they were busy getting back to work, and this was a bombshell”.
“There are a lot of questions arising, and not a lot of answers. I don’t think that Harry, Meghan or the Palace knows exactly how to do this or how it will play out and the statement released by Buckingham Palace shows that this is causing issues”, she says, predicting an era of uncertainty.
Balfe questions their plan to be financially independent, noting that their trips on behalf of the Queen will still be paid for by the taxpayers as well as the renovation of their residence, Frogmore Cottage. Another question is whether they should be allowed to use royal titles in work not associated with the family.
“Only time will tell how this is going to go. I doubt this will plunge the monarchy into a crisis, it’s been through a lot worse than this in its long history”, Balfe concludes.
Harry and Meghan’s Mistake
University of Buckingham historian Adrian Tinniswood, who authored Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the Royal Household, agrees that this move “isn’t by any means a crisis for the British crown, nor does it herald the end for the monarchy as an institution”.
“Duke of Sussex is not the heir to the throne – he isn’t even the heir to the heir to the throne – and if that gives him a certain freedom, it also means that his decision doesn’t matter all that much. Now if Prince William had decided to step back from being a senior royal, that really would be significant!” he says.
Although he sympathises with the Sussexes’ situation amid the hostility of the British press, he suggests it was a mistake not to consult Buckingham Palace.
“The courtiers and advisers that make up the royal household are there for a reason: they usually know what’s best for the monarchy and for the royal family, and by ignoring them the Duke and Duchess have cut themselves adrift from a vital support system just when they need it most”, he claims, suggesting that they did so because they did not want to be talked out of their plan.
Another royal expert, Leslie Carroll, who published the book “American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry”, says that making the announcement before consulting with the Queen seems “sad”. But she defends the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pointing at to “that the palace and the elder members of the Firm have been freezing them out”.
“In any case it must be infantilising to be nearly 40 years old; and have to have every decision go through the Queen, which is another reason the couple is seeking to be financially independent of crown funds – something that will enable them to have outside professional employment”, she points out.
“We are instead talking about a situation where the man who is currently sixth in line to the throne … has chosen to protect his wife and baby… from the constant viciousness (and racism) of the local press - some biases that he remembers all too well from the way they treated his own mother”, she concludes, noting that Harry and Meghan “in any case would be cut out of the picture and made redundant - pushed to the periphery of the royal family anyway” in the perhaps the not-too-distant future.