Harry and Meghan face the music…
“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. 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.”
This statement, from Prince Harry and Princess Meghan in a post shared on their official @SussexRoyal twitter account, caught Buckingham Palace flatfooted and unleashed a media poopstorm this week.
[Editor’s Note: since publication, news reports indicate that a conference has been scheduled by the Queen for Monday, January 12 at her residence in Sandringham, to meet with (call on the carpet?), Prince Harry. Princess Meghan, who is presently in Canada, may participate via telephone. It is understood that the purpose of the meeting is to negotiate a modified arrangement that would accommodate both sides. We’ll update the story on “Writer’s Lounge” as it develops.]
As a riff from the #Brexit hashtag, a companion hashtag – #Megxit, is showing up, reflecting that the Princess is shouldering most of the load of public disapproval for the turn of events. Representative of this is the comment fired at the Duke and Duchess by tabloid gadfly Katie Hopkins, reading, “Markle abandoned her own family. Now she has forced Harry to abandon his. Good riddance to her. Leave our Royal Family alone.”
Then there is the invocation of the elder abuse trope. “Takes quite a special sense of narcissistic self-indulgence to treat the 93 year-old Queen, with a husband in failing health, the way Harry and Meghan have today,” bellowed Iain Martin.
Piers Morgan, a long time antagonist of Meghan, not surprisingly, felt duty bound to echo that line of contempt, chiming in, “Just an appalling way to treat his grandmother, let alone the fact she is the Queen.”
It, the strong reaction, didn’t take much, given the fact that Harry and Meghan have been the most frequent target of the British press and tabloids since their wedding, with salacious and indecent assailments, even to the extent of indulging racial animus still extant among society there .
Stylist UK, notes that the couple, under constant siege from the beginning, have plans to opt out of what is known in England as the “Royal Rota system”.
What is that? It’s the cabal of native U.K. news entities that have, over the years, been bestowed by Buckingham Palace, the virtual exclusive franchise of direct access to the calendar of Royal activities and to coverage of members of the family. These include The Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mirror, The Evening Standard, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, and The Sun.
This disengaging from the incessant demands of the “Royal Rota”, in the view of not only the British establishment, but a large segment of the public – is cavalier and conceited.
An analogy for American sensibilities might be professional athletes who, despite the expectations of team owners, fans and sports media, disdain or refuse altogether, giving interviews to sports journalists. A prominent example of that, but certainly not the only practitioner of it, is current Seattle Seahawks plug in at running back, Marshawn Lynch.
Reticence to submit to the obligations of relentless media engagements, on the part of the Duke and Duchess, is thought to be ingratitude and irresponsible. An abdication of duty. Never mind that Harry, far from shirking duty in Her Majesty’s Army, (which is not an obligation for royals, but is a tradition of Windsor, including the Queen herself) – put himself in harm’s way in deployments to Afghanistan, earning the respect of his fellow countrymen in uniform.
Despite all of this, is there any sort of principled criticism to be legitimately examined and are Harry and Meghan exempt from it? The answer to the first is yes and the second is no.
Tom McTague, writing in the Atlantic, views the couple’s intended course of action in these terms:
It doesn’t take a royal kremlinologist to work out that you can’t step back from your duties and fully support the person in charge of doling out those duties, or retain the privileges of a constitutionally apolitical institution and promote causes that stray into politics. It’s rather like me suggesting to my editor that I intend to step back from my daily duties as a journalist, while insisting I remained fully supportive of his vision to publish stories and to pay me anyway. Perhaps I should try?
McTague, goes on to reference examples of double standards that the Duke and Duchess are vulnerable to questions in regards to. He mentions their climate activism, but finds duplicity in their frequent use of private jets for various destinations.
On this issue, Sir Elton John – a vociferous defender of Harry and Meghan, is telling the press:
“I am deeply distressed by today’s distorted and malicious account in the press surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s private stay at my home in Nice last week. Prince Harry’s mother, Diana Princess Of Wales was one of my dearest friends. I feel a profound sense of obligation to protect Harry and his family from the unnecessary press intrusion that contributed to Diana’s untimely death.
After a hectic year continuing their hard work and dedication to charity, David and I wanted the young family to have a private holiday inside the safety and tranquility of our home. To maintain a high level of much-needed protection, we provided them with a private jet flight. I’m calling on the press to cease these relentless and untrue assassinations on their character that are spuriously crafted on an almost daily basis.”
McTague also contends that the traditional expectation of the royals is that they maintain political neutrality. That is true in the abstract, but in practice, it has not always held.
In mid-October, for example, the Queen delivered an opening speech in Parliament, in which she stated, that leaving the European Union on October 31 was a “priority” for the government.
If the subject matter of Brexit is not a political topic, one would be hard pressed to name a better example. “What we have got in effect is a party-political broadcast from the steps of the throne,” opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was quoted in reaction.
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Financial independence. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The other aspect of this that McTague and others have touched on is the apparent inconsistency in Meghan and Harry proposing that they will “become financially independent”, but from a practical standpoint, doing so while transitioning out of their status as recipients of public funds. Along with this is the question of what form the financial independence would take?
Previous attempts at this by other famous royals, have not been generally well received. The Duke of Windsor, who also took an American for his bride, published his memoirs, “A King’s Story”, in 1951. It was very successful from a financial standpoint, but drew considerable criticism.
It was wrong, the late Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, (who served the royals in the 30s), said of the release of the Duke’s book at the time, “to write such a book for profit and to sell things that are not his to be sold.”
Bringing the endeavor to establish financial independence from the Crown into further disrepute, was the behavior of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson’s self promoting books and the controversies still brewing, about Prince Andrew’s with the notorious Jeffrey Epstein.
Fergie overspent and consequently got herself into an insolvency situation, which was remedied with a $19,000 check from Epstein. When news surfaced of Epstein’s horrific conduct, the royals were scandalized, as they have been since Andrew’s activities in company with Epstein have surfaced and he has badly fumbled his attempts at denying them.
In all fairness to Fergie, shortly after the bailout, the New York Post reported that Ferguson declared publicly that she regretted the deal, citing it as a “gigantic error of judgment.” And she told the Evening Standard, “I abhor pedophilia and any sexual abuse of children. I am just so contrite I cannot say. Whenever I can, I will repay the money and will have nothing ever to do with Jeffrey Epstein ever again.”
Epstein instructed his attorneys to pressure the Duchess into a retraction, threatening legal consequences. Fergie, stood her ground and we know how the rest of the story played out.
But these are the sorts of snafus that the royal family wishes not to see any further iterations of. The various avenues that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might embark upon in their goal of fiscal autonomy are possible minefields, treacherous to navigate.
As to the specifics of how and what would be required to realize their stated goals – that is too complex and involved for the scope of this article and Madeline Berg with Deniz Cam, analyzing it in Forbes, do a more comprehensive examination of it.