In Depth

Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are stepping down as ‘senior’ royals

Buckingham Palace left ‘hurt and disappointed’ by the couple’s decision

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have announced that they intend to step down as “senior” royals and want to become financially independent.

The couple released a statement on Wednesday evening saying they planned to “make a transition” to “progressive” new roles within the Royal Family.

“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,” said the Sussexes in a post on their official Instagram page.

“We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages,” they added.

The Royal Family is said to be “hurt” and “deeply disappointed” at the news, and the way in which the couple went about revealing their decision. The BBC’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond said the fact Buckingham Palace officials told the press that they were “disappointed” is “pretty strong”.

“I think it indicates a real strength of feeling in the palace tonight – maybe not so much about what has been done but about how it has been done – and the lack of consultation I think will sting,” said Dymond.

So what is behind the decision to step down?

Family feud

“This is clearly a major rift between Harry and Meghan on one part, and the rest of the Royal Family on the other,” says Dymond.

Prince Harry previously spoke out after reports of a rift between him and his brother, Prince William, saying they were on “different paths”.

The Sussexes moved away from Prince William and Kate Middleton last year, decamping their home from Kensington Palace to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, and moving their offices to Buckingham Palace.

The couple also split from the Royal Foundation that the four of them previously ran together, and are now about to launch their own separate charity, says The Guardian.

The press

Harry and Meghan have made no secret of their disdain for the press. Former Buckingham Palace press officer Dickie Arbiter said the decision to step down could be related to the “massive press onslaught” the couple faced when their son Archie was born in May 2019.

In a documentary last year, the Duchess said motherhood was a “struggle” because of the intense interest from the media.

And the couple launched legal action against the Mail on Sunday last October over its publication of private letters sent by Meghan to her father. Prince Harry also began separate legal action against the owners of The Sun, the now closed News of the World, and the Daily Mirror, in relation to alleged historic phone-hacking.

The Duke released a strongly worded statement at the time, saying: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

The couple plan to broaden their interactions away from the official Royal Rota system of journalists that is currently in place, and fundamentally change their engagement with media. “I think they’re really, really tired of all these articles condemning Meghan for everything,” royal expert Marlene Koenig told Time magazine.

The Sussexes say on their website: “Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by Royal Correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions.”

Social media

It isn’t just conventional media that the Royal couple are rejecting. They are frequently attacked on social media, with the Duchess coming in for the most criticism.

“I think social media is to blame,” author and royal commentator Claudia Joseph told The Independent. “If you read the comments about Meghan on Twitter, you can see why she would want to escape.”

Unhappiness

Perhaps the biggest reason for the couple’s decision to stand down is their obvious unhappiness since their highly publicised marriage in 2018.

Meghan revealed her unhappiness in an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby during a trip to South Africa last year: “It’s not enough just to survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy.

“I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.”

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