Prince Harry and his celebrity wife Meghan’s bombshell resignation from front-line royal duties rocked the British monarchy on Thursday, with reports suggesting Queen Elizabeth II had not been informed in advance.
The couple said they would now “balance” their time between Britain and North America and rip up long-established relations with the press, in a surprise statement Wednesday that appeared to catch Buckingham Palace off guard.
In a short, terse response a short time later, a palace statement said discussions with Harry and Meghan were “at an early stage”.
“We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through,” the palace said.
Media reports said the couple made their shock statement — released on their Instagram account, own website and through Buckingham Palace’s email communications system — without notifying either Harry’s grandmother, the monarch, or father, the future king Prince Charles.
The mood in the palace was understood to be one of disappointment and even “hurt”, according the the BBC, while Thursday’s newspapers were full of reports of a family “split” and the queen’s “dismay”.
The decision follows a turbulent year for the pair, who have admitted to struggling in the spotlight and growing apart from Harry’s brother Prince William.
They have also complained of negative news coverage and taken several papers to court, another unusual move.
“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,” they said.
“We have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” they added.
Struggling in the spotlight
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, are among the most senior, core members of the royal family, and, along with William and his wife Kate, seen as embodying the monarchy’s future.
The pair spent six weeks over Christmas in Canada after speaking of the pressure of being in the spotlight following their fairytale wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018 and son Archie’s birth 12 months later.
They skipped the royal family’s traditional Christmas at Sandringham, the sovereign’s private estate in eastern England, spending the festive season instead with Meghan’s American mother Doria Ragland.
Rumours that all was not well with the Sussexes surfaced in October when Harry, sixth in line to the throne, admitted that he and William were “on different paths” and had good and bad days in their relationship.
“We don’t see each other as much as we used to,” he told ITV television’s Tom Bradby, whom Harry and William have grown to trust with interviews over the years.
Asked by Bradby if she was “not really OK” and life had “really been a struggle” becoming a mother while living under intense media scrutiny, Meghan appeared emotional and replied simply: “Yes.”
Bradby said Wednesday that he sensed he was witnessing “a long, sad farewell to this royal life”.
“This is a new war of the Windsors — and it’s not over yet.”
In October, Harry issued a stinging statement about general tabloid coverage and launched the first of a handful of lawsuits against newspaper publishers.
Asked if Meghan was facing the same media pressures as his mother Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi, Harry told Bradby: “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”
On a new website, the couple said they would no longer take part in the royal rota.
The rota system is an established arrangement between the palace and the press in which news organisations take turns covering events and then share the pictures, text and video with everyone else, avoiding the mass media scrambles of the past.
Instead the couple will attempt to invite only “specialist”, “grassroots”, “credible” and “young, up-and-coming” media to events.
Queen Elizabeth’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter told Sky News television that the couple’s approach was “a succession of doing things their own way — which is the wrong way”.
“Sometimes there’s good press; sometimes there’s bad press. You take the rough with the smooth.”