Prince Harry and Princess Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have ceased to be what they call “working royals”, effecting a break with tradition in British history, one that is more profoundly emotive, if not critical, than the nation’s impending parting of the ways with the European Union. Speculation on whether the parting within royalty is embedded in familial irritants need not detain us here.
The British people owe them their share of goodbye and good luck. At the ripe old age of 93, the Queen, despite her remarkably earnest efforts last week, has not been able to retain their membership of the Buckingham Palace. Prince Harry and Meghan will give up their royal duties and relinquish their share of the sovereign grant from the Treasury. They will also repay the £ 2.4 million worth of public funds used to refurbish Frogmore Cottage, their Windsor home.
In a classic instance of compromise within the royal establishment, they will keep the right to be styled HRH with the rider that they will not exercise the rarefied appellation. In theory, this retention would allow them to return as working royals should they change their minds. But while the arrangements are due for review in a year, the deal looks more like an act of finality than a trial separation.
It is quite evident that the palace is anxious to punctuate the controversy and uncertainty with a full-stop. Yet there are issues that remain unsettled. Chief among these is: Who will pay the bill ~ a fair amount ~ for the security they will need? How will they cover their other costs? Sustenance of royalty has historically been one major element of public spending, one that cannot be pruned in the manner of health and education.
Rightly has it been remarked that not many commoners would understand the implications of “financial independence”, which includes seven-figure sums from their father, indeed the man who would be king. Furthermore, they will need additional income to maintain their current lifestyle, specifically the glamour of royalty that cannot readily be erased. The story of Prince Harry and Princess Meghan has often been compared to that of another Duke and Duchess, preeminently Edward VIII, who had abdicated to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson.
But the Sussexes are a very different couple. They have indubitably betrayed a degree of courage. They will still enjoy a life of immense privilege. For all that, they will also have to countenance the contretemps, not the least the racism and misogyny that the Duchess has faced, as well as the broader criticism they have incurred and their raging battles with the media. The royal family is losing the members who are most attractive and appealing to a younger generation, while the long reign of its respected head approaches its end. This is the parable to be drawn from the couple’s exit from the royal stage.