Beleaguered Prince Harry, God bless him, has had a few hurdles put in front of him yesterday afternoon, with more to come this week and next — and for many foreseeable weeks following — before his to-date rocky metamorphosis into a semi-off-duty, woke, new-age-y @sussexroyal Instagram brandsman can really begin. Turns out it’s not that easy to secede from the British Royal family. Summoned to Sandringham after church on Sunday, Harry had his first face-to-face with his grandmother and with what we might call the power behind the throne of the Court of St. James, namely, his daddy and his brother.
Life — and with it, the coursing hounds of the British press —has been more than slightly unkind to dear Harry since he insisted on breaking the news of his (in his mind, imminent) retreat from full-time duties as a core British royal last Wednesday night. To take one of the jollier examples, no less a strident bloviator than Piers Morgan, an editor at the Daily Mail, who is gleefully nursing an a priori public feud with Meghan Markle anyway, has called for the Queen to “fire” Harry and Meghan for the gross insult of their attempt — which is de-facto impossible, and wouldn’t be in the best interests of the Crown even if it were. That kind of thing. Unfortunately for Harry, you don’t need to do anything in London but smell the late-winter rain on the streets to know that there’s a lot more of that ire to come.
For his part, the young prince takes all that public chaff quite seriously, and he’s not shy about letting us know that it bothers him, which is why he so petulantly demanded a quotient of clemency from the British press a few months back. That clemency was, and is now especially, not forthcoming. He needs to toughen up his hide in a few spots and not be so wounded by it, under the classic motto of the downside of fame, comes with the territory.
That noted, the howls of pain from literally every level of the press and the public about Harry’s retreat do bear a narrative that can be read as a compliment. The British will miss him, this more impish and impulsive prince of theirs, the one with a great big charitable heart, a couple of courageous deployments in Afghanistan, and an innate genius for the common touch. Like his mother had, Harry has that rare reach across great swaths of society, and he is a lot of things, but he is not a remote royal figure. His heart — what he truly thinks — shines through. The British, and pretty much everybody else, love that quality in him. He’s a man and a humanizer. Nice to have around in a thousand-year-old monarchy. Takes a bit of the starch out of the atmosphere.
Which is why it’s so strongly felt that Harry his oddly balky American-showbiz wife have in some greater sense let the British down. Or more precisely, it’s thought that they— the newlyweds, in their grand haste at finding an exit — have let the Queen down, and by extension the British and Britain. The Sussexes are not going to be able to get around this fact, and they had better not be caught complaining about it, or it will get worse. The most recent polling in Britain has been telling: Some 70 % of the Britons polled think that Harry and Meghan mistreated the Queen in last Wednesday’s public relations debacle. Polls are meaningful to the Crown. It’s from the British polity that the monarchy is, politically and financially, maintained.
It’s a tiny detail in the grand monarchical swirl of the last five days in England, but Meghan Markle has had her dogs airmailed to Canada, the old standby beagle “Guy” (Disclaimer: No relation to this writer) and the newer Labrador. The actual date of the dogs’ flight isn’t known, but never mind, the thinking in Britain among the observers of the “Megxit” crisis devoted enough enough to pick up on the canine movements runs approximately this way: Whither the dawgs, there goeth the Duchess.
Meaning, Meghan Markle is not planning on returning to the UK any time soon.
This leaves Harry in the lurch. The nickname for the crisis — Megxit — was coined by the British press within hours of the Sussexes’ Instagram drop, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it. It’s thought that it’s primarily Ms. Markle who is responsible for the velocity and heedlessness of the tie-cutting between Harry and his family.
Harry’s more than a chap whose headstrong, theatrical, brand-new wife doesn’t get along with his family – although he is also very much that — but in a larger sense he’s on the prongs of a genuinely difficult dilemma. The British monarchy moves slowly. The options that the senior courtiers will present the Queen and Charles for debate with Harry will be extensive, because the Royal Family doesn’t want to lose Harry’s actually quite winning captaincy as the head of several of its initiatives, because his family obviously loves him and wants to support him, and because the monarchy’s tendrils reach into the very fabric of the British government’s financial and political life. At issue will, inevitably, be finances, including the public funding of the Royal Protection Officers of Scotland Yard, those excellently-trained boys in somewhat awkward suits that we see scowling at the crowds as the royals glad-hand in the streets of Pretoria, Auckland, Sydney or London.
Aides in three palaces have been tasked since the Queen put them on notice last Thursday that they had 72 hours – until yesterday’s initial war council – to come up with some options. Cabinet ministers are on alert. All parties are reading deep into the law of the Realm. It’s fair to say that the work has been around the clock and will continue to be as the matrix of options gets winnowed during the back and forth.
To help her run the parlay, and as a clear, strong mark of the importance of the meetings, the Queen will continue to summon Charles and William to her side. Not to put too sharp a Biblical blade on it, but it’s about threading a camel though the eye of the needle. In essence, the Queen, Charles and William — in concert with Harry — must find a solution to protect the delicate mechanism of the monarchy from any deviation in form, while expressly deviating from form to accommodate the actress and the prince.
Given Meghan Markle’s ongoing conversations with her Los Angeles agency and her general, obvious desire to re-enter public life on a forum and in a way not dissimilar from the one she left before marrying into the Royal Family, it’s being assumed that the ultimate goal of Harry and Meghan is to move to Los Angeles, once they have established a system and a rhythm to their bi-continental life from the Canadian base. Harry will find it harder to be in Canada, or anywhere else but on full-time royal duty, until his mini-part-time-abdication is fully negotiated. That will become an issue in his marriage.
It’s not by accident that the Royal Family is colloquially known as The Firm. They are the titular heads of state and the business end of the British government’s charity initiatives as well as their own. Their role in military affairs goes deep. Since they live mainly at the taxpayers’ expense, there is a strict body of law governing what they can and cannot do to make money. The Queen’s and Charles’ idea is to accommodate Harry and Meghan without change to the family business. Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s idea to change their part of it, at least.
Meghan Markle’s sudden and ill-advised AWOL status has sparked at least one report that she might participate via conference call in some of the negotiations, but it’s difficult to see that patch through actually happening. She has largely done her work already. The existence of the ‘@sussexroyal’ Instagram feed itself, along with a veritable hoard of Sussex-branded items, t-shirts, tea mugs and the like, are the content of the new, commercialized Sussex brand. Ms. Markle has some different ideas. Unfortunately for Harry, she’s moving on at her own pace, no matter what the Crown’s pace is or can be.
On that score, it’s not thought that the Queen will force the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to give up the sanctified ‘HRH’ – His or Her Royal Highness – style of address, though it is thought that various chunks of the Crown’s annual financial grants to Harry are on the table. Either way, it’s going to take months for that to shake out, and there could be a plethora of similar commercial royal-branding attempts upon which the Sussexes were counting that may now be deemed impossible, especially under the microscopic levels of scrutiny that Harry and Meghan Markle have called down upon themselves by jumping the gun last week.
The narrative will take its own sweet time to reach a denouement, but thus far, it’s elicited at least one clear moral: If you’re planning to withdraw from the British royal family, make sure you have your ducks in a row. And don’t dare get trigger-happy on Instagram.