Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced earlier this week that they are going to visit the U.K. next month to carry out a series of charitable engagements, observers of the great soap opera of the British monarchy have been trying to make sense of what exactly the surprise move means.
While disinterested observers might see absolutely nothing to possibly object to at the couple dropping in on Blighty to support causes which they have said are “close to their hearts” on their way to and from the Invictus Games, insiders are grumbling that Harry and Meghan are apparently positioning themselves as quasi-royals by undertaking charitable engagements in the style of the institution.
Behind palace walls, the mood is one of weary resignation. While any irritation is being carefully tempered by an unwillingness to pour fuel on the fire, one source, a former Buckingham Palace staffer, told The Daily Beast: “The chutzpah of those two is unreal. Their proposal for being hybrid working royals was comprehensively rejected [at the Sandringham Summit], but it looks like they are just going ahead and doing it anyway.”
Queen Elizabeth’s office dismissed the suggestion that there was any irritation at the palace over Harry and Meghan’s visit. Sources at the palace have previously told The Daily Beast they were notified in advance of Harry and Meghan’s plans, but declined to specify how much notice they were given. Harry and Meghan’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The problem that Harry and Meghan’s visit presents for the royals was neatly described to The Daily Beast by Duncan Larcombe, a biographer of Harry who formerly toiled as royal editor for Britain’s top-selling tabloid newspaper, the Sun.
“To the casual observer, especially overseas and even more especially in America, this will look like Harry and Meghan are back doing royal jobs, especially given that one of the gigs Harry is doing is the WellChild awards for sick children, which he always used to do when he actually was a working royal. It will be incredibly high-profile. They will be all over the media, and you won’t be able to put a cigarette paper between what Harry and Meghan are doing and what Will and Kate are doing. It’s a calculated provocation on their part. They are seriously pushing their luck and risking the wrath of the queen.”
One thing the queen will not be doing, as The Daily Beast exclusively revealed earlier this week, is rushing to clear her diary to make time for a cozy chat with Harry and Meghan. A source at the palace told The Daily Beast that the queen had a busy schedule in early September (which includes formally inviting Britain’s new prime minister to form a government), saying, “There is formal work to be undertaken that week and some things cannot be moved.”
The writer Christopher Andersen, whose latest bestselling royals book Brothers and Wives named Prince Charles as the royal racist (the palace denied his claims), told The Daily Beast: “It makes perfect sense for Harry and Meghan to travel to the U.K. and Germany—these are three charities that are near and dear to their hearts. It makes just as much sense for the queen and the rest of the royals to want to steer clear of the Sussexes. The queen is unwilling to be seen as accepting any half-in, half-out role for Harry and Meghan. She said fish or cut bait—you’re either all in or all out—and she meant it.”
But for Harry and Meghan, this visit seems to be very much about blurring the line between their royal and non-royal lives. Their argument—that they are simply helping worthy causes—echoes their rebuff to the queen when she said, announcing their departure form frontline royal life: “Following conversations with the Duke, the queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of the royal family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.”
Harry and Meghan issued a statement in response which concluded, “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”
It is interesting, in this regard, to note that they have still not taken down the website they set up in early 2020, sussexroyal.com, which says they will “become privately funded members of The Royal Family with permission to earn their own income and the ability to pursue their own private charitable interests.” The website also makes reference to their (denied) wish to carry on as part-time royals, saying: “The preference of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex was to continue to represent and support Her Majesty The Queen albeit in a more limited capacity…”
The statement subsequently issued by Buckingham Palace was blunter: “With The Queen’s blessing, the Sussexes will continue to maintain their private patronages and associations. While they can no longer formally represent The Queen, the Sussexes have made clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty.”
This is where the palace has real grounds to call out Harry and Meghan for breach of contract. Whatever position one takes on their moral right to expose the royals’ alleged vile behavior towards Meghan or Harry’s decision to publish a memoir, it is hard to make the case that the public airing of grievances is a way to “uphold the values” of the queen.
There is a compelling case to be made that Harry and Meghan have violated the exit agreement. If, for the sake of argument, one accepts this, the question becomes what sanctions the palace is now capable of imposing on them.
The notion of stripping them of their “Duke/Duchess” titles remains a popular one in the U.K., but it will never happen because the palace dodged that fight with Sarah Ferguson. She was never stripped of her “duchess” title when she divorced Andrew, left the ranks of working royals and launched a commercial career, which, at its lowest point, saw her selling juicers on QVC.
She still uses the title to promote herself, most notably on Twitter, where she trades under the name of @SarahTheDuchess. The palace has also been notably unwilling to remove Andrew’s “Duke of York” title (despite the protestations of the good people of the city of York). If you can pay a multi-million dollar settlement over a sex case, or be caught selling access to your husband to undercover journalists (as Sarah was) and still keep a duke or duchess title, it hardly seems appropriate to remove it for Harry for attending a fundraiser for sick children.
The only recourse the queen, and the rest of the royal establishment has, is to deny the commercially independent Sussexes a refresher of the royal endorsement on which so much of their commercial appeal is based on.
This seems to be what is happening. The ice-cold shoulder they were shown at the Platinum Jubilee made clear that Harry and Meghan will never again get to stand alongside the queen in public. The events of that weekend also suggest, quite clearly, that a photograph of Lilibet with her will never be issued.
But the queen signaling that she may decline to make space even to meet the couple behind closed doors on their forthcoming trip to the U.K. represents an unmistakable and tangible hardening of the position.
Indeed, there is every possibility that the Sussexes have already met the queen for the very last time—whether or not they know it yet.