Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex came back from their time off with a big announcement: They’re stepping down from their senior royal roles and plan to split their time between North America and the United Kingdom.
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,” the couple said in an announcement Wednesday issued by Buckingham Palace. “We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.”
It was stunning news, even for the frequently surprising Sussexes. About an hour later, another palace announcement, sent in an email from the office of the private secretary and the spokesperson for Queen Elizabeth II, landed in media inboxes. It suggested fraught times ahead.
“Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” the statement said carefully. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
The news didn’t stop there.
Harry and Meghan also published updates to their website Wednesday, including a bespoke media guide. They announced they will break another longtime tradition and no longer participate in the palace’s “Royal Rota” system of inviting long-standing U.K. outlets to report exclusively on their activities.
Instead, the website says, they intend to engage “with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists” and will invite “specialist media” to specific events.
They made no bones about their feelings toward the British media who consistently cover them.
“Britain’s Royal Correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of The Royal Family as well as of their private lives,” their website reads. “This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting.”
With interest hitting a crescendo, website briefly crashed late Wednesday.
The Sussex site further broke down their decision to become financially independent. They noted that though the publicly financed Sovereign Grant, which funds the monarchy, covers just 5% of the costs for the duke and duchess and is used for their official office expenses, “their Royal Highnesses prefer to release this financial tie.”
The couple stressed that public funding “has never been used, nor would it ever be used for private expenditure,” by Meghan and Harry, “who also do not receive any tax privileges.”
According to the Sussex’s website, Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall supports 95% of Harry and Meghan’s royal office costs. Harry and Meghan have their own resources as well: Harry inherited a substantial sum from his mother, Princess Diana’s, estate and Meghan came into the marriage after a successful run as an actress on “Suits.”
And their residence, aka the newly renovated Frogmore Cottage?
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will continue to use Frogmore Cottage – with the permission of Her Majesty The Queen – as their official residence as they continue to support the Monarchy, and so that their family will always have a place to call home in the United Kingdom.”
The Sussex Instagram announcement said Harry and Meghan were encouraged by their many supporters in Britain to make this move.
“It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment,” the statement said.
American-born Meghan, 38, has close family in California and close friends in Canada, so their desire to spend more time in North America suggests this plan might be designed to help her stay in touch with people on both sides of the Atlantic.
“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son (8-month-old Archie) with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity,” the statement said.
“We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with (Harry’s grandmother) Her Majesty The Queen, (Harry’s father) the Prince of Wales, (brother Prince William) the Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”
Harry, 35, and Meghan just returned to Britain after six weeks off at the end of 2019, following months of exasperation with coverage and widespread mocking in the media for such issues as their use of private planes while campaigning against climate change.
Both had expressed publicly, in media interviews, their unhappiness as the year wound down: He said he was in a “different place” from brother Prince William at the moment, and she lamented the unstinting media scrutiny. Both have filed lawsuits against major newspapers complaining about copyright violations and hacking.
“I never thought that this (media scrutiny) would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” she told ITV in a film about their wildly successful 10-day tour of southern Africa with Archie.
All this angst was a dramatic change from the happy days following their May 2018 wedding at Windsor Castle, when the two were the toast of the United Kingdom and hailed as the future faces of the modern royal family.
Soon after Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born last May, things took a different turn, at least in the royals-focused tabloids.
In November, the couple announced they were suspending their royal duties temporarily to take some “family time,” and would spend Christmas away from the royal family.
Again, Brits were shocked and some were peeved that the couple were turning away from the tradition of spending Christmas at Sandringham; in effect, some said, Harry and Meghan were snubbing the queen, even though the palace denied it.
On Wednesday, even their biggest fans were shocked and headed to the couple’s popular Instagram page to say so.
“I don’t understand this. I mean Prince Harry never had any issues being apart of this family until recently. I mean you got to do what you got to do, but this is sad,” wrote @emmylew0726.
Although the palace never said precisely where they were, except that they would spend Christmas with her mother, Doria Ragland, it turned out they spent at least part of that time in Canada.
On Tuesday, the couple made their first public appearance since returning, visiting Canada House in London to thank Canadians for their “warm hospitality” during their stay.
It was perhaps a signal that the couple would spend at least some of their time in the future in this part of North America, as Canada is a major Commonwealth country where the royal family is popular. Meghan lived in Toronto for seven years while filming her TV series, “Suits.”
At the time of the couple’s announcement about their Christmas plan, the palace said in an announcement that the queen was fine with it.
Is she fine with this new plan as well?
Contributing: Andrea Mandell