The Duke and Duchess of Sussex — also known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — have announced that they will step back from their duties as senior members of the British royal family.
The intrigue may be only beginning, amid reports that Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the royal family were not given advance notice of the move.
The couple, who welcomed a son in May 2019, say they intend to become financially independent. Harry is sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, after his father, Charles; his older brother, William; and William's three children.
In a statement on their website and Instagram, Harry and Meghan explained their decision.
"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," they wrote. "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. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment."
They say they plan to split their time between the United Kingdom and North America, "continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages."
"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son 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."
"We understand their desire to take a different approach but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through," the palace said, according to Reuters. "Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage."
The BBC reports that no other member of Buckingham Palace was consulted before the couple issued their statement and that the royals are "disappointed."
The couple married in May 2018. Their wedding did nothing to dampen the intense public scrutiny of the pair. Meghan is an American actress, and she has repeatedly faced racist comments in some media and from online trolls.
Harry and Meghan last night 'pressed the nuclear button' on their royal careers by announcing they are quitting their frontline roles.
Their dramatic decision was taken without the knowledge of the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William, who learnt about the announcement as it broke on television news channels.
The couple, who plan to split their time between Britain and North America, made the bombshell announcement just days after returning from a six-week break in Canada.
A senior royal source said the Queen and her family were 'deeply disappointed'. Another said the royals were 'shocked, saddened and downright furious' at the couple.
In a terse statement, Buckingham 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 though.'
Well-placed sources made clear that the shock announcement was a personal statement and 'members of the family were not consulted on the contents'.
One exasperated aide said: 'People had bent over backwards for them. They were given the wedding they wanted, the house they wanted, the office they wanted, the money they wanted, the staff they wanted, the tours they wanted and had the backing of their family. What more did they want?'
Another royal source said: 'It's deeply unfair to the Queen who doesn't deserve to be treated this way. It is a shoddy way to treat her. The family understands that they want to do something different and is perfectly willing to help them. People are just devastated.'
The Mail has been told the couple 'secretly plotted' their decision during their stay in Canada, even conspiring to create a new website independent of the Royal Family and ready to launch it when they returned. This was without the knowledge of their own loyal UK-based press team.
'The level of deceit has been staggering and everyone from the top of the royal household to the bottom feels like they have been stabbed in the back,' one source said.
"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 explained. "It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment." The couple also declared a desire to split time between the United Kingdom and North America, although it's unclear where on the continent the two intend to make their second home.
The move might seem severe, but for royal watchers, it's been building for quite some time. Prince Harry is sixth in line to the throne. Prince Louis, his toddler nephew, has more royal significance than he does. His (and Meghan's) ubiquity is due to their popularity — as polarizing as it has proved to be on both sides of the pond.
The royal family seems to have lost control of two of its most beloved family members. But ultimately, Harry is following a version of royal precedent.
The royal family, meanwhile, seems to have lost day-to-day control of two of its most beloved family members. But ultimately, Harry is following a version of royal precedent. The monarchy is about the line of succession, as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles have chosen to emphasize again and again in recent months. Her Majesty displayed photos of direct heirs on her table during her annual Christmas speech and kicked off the decade with a portrait of the four living heirs.
That photo is the monarchy — and its future. Prince William doesn't get to leave, and Prince George will receive his own waves of scrutiny in the decades to come. Harry and Meghan don't have to stay — and more power to them. They're not the first Windsors to chafe under the pressure, nor the first to complain about it, nor the first to follow joy by distancing themselves. Still, the couple say they seek to "carve out a progressive new role" from "within" the family. And that is completely new.
But it's important to put this apparent familial tension into context. Consider first the couple's desire to take a six-week end-of-year break in the first place. The plan was put forth after an ITV documentary in October, ostensibly covering their royal tour of South Africa in September, revealed in shockingly emotional interviews with anchor Tom Bradby how much the couple were struggling with the relentless media attention.
"My British friends said to me, 'I'm sure he's great, but you shouldn't do it, because the British tabloids will destroy your life,'" Meghan said in the doc. "I've said for a long time to H — that's what I call him — it's not enough to just survive something, right? That's not the point of life. You've got to thrive. You've got to feel happy."
Harry, meanwhile, compared the constant surveillance to the tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana, whom he will age past this year following his 36th birthday. "Every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back, so in that respect, it is the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best," he told ITV.
Why do the British despise Meghan Markle? A private letter offers clues But even before the documentary premiered, it was clear that the couple were pushing back against the constant media barrage. After Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born in May, the pair sued The Mail on Sunday's parent company for publishing a private letter Meghan had sent to her father. And then, in early October, the duke filed suit against the owners of The Sun and the Daily Mirror, alleging that they hacked into his phone. "Though we have continued to put on a brave face — as so many of you can relate to — I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," Harry said in a statement at the time.
Being associated with one of the most famous families on Earth has never been easy for Meghan. Bitter scrutiny greeted her — an American and an actress — as soon as rumors began circulating that she was Harry's girlfriend circa 2016. While tabloid coverage of every serious and silly royal detail has been standard for decades, stories about Meghan ranged from veiled stereotyping — "Meghan Markle's Messy Hair Criticized; Netizens Want Her To 'Tie It Up,'" noted the IBTimes — to open racism. "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton," the Daily Mail screeched in November 2016, alongside photographs of Meghan's childhood home.
While tabloid coverage of every royal happening has been standard for decades, stories about Markle ranged from veiled stereotyping to open racism.
So intense was the attention that Harry, rather dramatically, released what has come to be known as a "love shield" in November 2016, confirming their romance while asking the media to stay away. "Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," it read. "This is not a game — it is her life and his."
After fighting and fighting against the scrutiny — and after moving to Windsor and after breaking their charitable efforts and their offices away from those of his brother, the future king — Harry has taken this one last step. How will it work? It's still too early to tell. But in tandem with their Instagram post, the Sussex duo released a widely updated website packed with explanations of precisely how they hope to function, down to their taxes and percentages of income.
Still, it feels like a big deal because of Wednesday afternoon's reports that the royal family learned of their decision at the same time as the public and weren't informed or involved in the planning. Buckingham Palace released a terse statement that seemed almost dismissive of the Sussex plans. Once again, the Windsors find themselves embroiled in capital-D drama.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision to step down as senior members of the royal family is getting more dramatic by the minute—with a new report from Daily Mail claiming that Prince Charles and Prince William learned about the decision just 10 minutes prior to the couple’s public announcement.
Meanwhile, a source told The Sun, “There is fury over how they’ve done this without any thought for the implications for the institution. The queen is deeply upset. The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge are incandescent with rage. Courtiers can’t believe it. There are so many unanswered questions but they’ve just up and done it without a thought for anyone else. The plan was there to discuss it and work out a way that works for everyone in the family.”
According to Daily Mail, senior royals have gathered at Kensington Palace for “crisis talks”—which is kinda convenient considering everyone was already there for Kate Middleton’s 38th birthday.
For what it’s worth, Buckingham Palace has released a statement, but it was, uh, pretty terse, simply saying, “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand the desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”