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Prince Harry and Meghan: The couple who quit being 'senior' royals

The last couple to reject senior royal life was Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Caity Weaver & Elizabeth Paton | NYT 

Prince Harry
Meghan and Harry

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made a big and hasty announcement this week that caught the world by surprise. Here’s what we know so far.

What are Prince Harry and Meghan doing?

It’s not fully clear and it depends whom you ask. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their intentions to “carve out a progressive new role within” the “institution” of the British monarchy; to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family”; to “work to become financially independent while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen”; to “balance” their time “between the United Kingdom and North America”; to “honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages”; to launch a “new charitable entity”; and “to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge, and all relevant parties.” According to a frosty statement from Buckingham Palace: “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 through.”

Is “senior royal” a job?

No. It’s a designation applied to those adult members of the royal family closest to the throne in the line of succession, and their spouses, who tend to carry out the majority of public engagements alongside and/or on behalf of the queen. It currently refers to Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip; Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla; and Prince William and his wife, Kate. One could argue that, since Prince Harry has neither removed himself from the line of succession nor given up his title, he and Meghan remain senior royals. Announcing a plan to “step back” from being a senior royal is sort of like declaring an intention to recuse oneself from being famous.

Has anyone in the royal family done this?

The last couple to reject senior royal life was Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the original divorced American duchess for whom he relinquished the throne in 1936. But he was, you know, the actual head of state, so the decision prompted a full-blown constitutional crisis. Prince Philip retired from public life in 2017, at the perfectly reasonable-to-retire age of 96. After her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Diana gave back her HRH title and quit her role with 93 charities. And in November, Prince Andrew announced he was stepping back from public duties after an interview with the BBC about his friendship with convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Will Harry and Meghan keep their titles?

They have expressed no intentions to relinquish their titles. Their new website consistently refers to them as “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.”

How are they going to earn an income?

Unclear. One possible clue about their intentions: In June, Harry and Meghan’s foundation submitted a trademark application for the name “Sussex Royal.” The application covers goods and services including (but not limited to) books, periodicals, stationery, charitable campaigns, charitable consultancy services, sports coaching services, counselling services, T-shirts, caps and pyjamas.

So how do they have money right now?

Harry’s inheritances from his mother and grandmother, coupled with Meghan’s acting earnings, mean that the couple are almost certainly millionaires several times over. While they don’t receive a “salary” as members of the royal family, they are granted allowances from various royal sources.


© The New York Times 2020

First Published: Fri, January 10 2020. 21:01 IST
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