- The existence of the British monarchy could be at risk now that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they want to “step back” and resign from their royal duties, according to experts.
- The chaos has opened a debate about the future of the monarchy in Britain. Plenty of other countries have abolished their crowns.
- Richard Fitzwilliams, a royal commentator, told Insider the couple’s decision would have a “considerable cost to the institution Harry was brought up to serve.”
- Meanwhile, the author Nigel Cawthorne said that “the royal family will be severely damaged by this in the long term.”
- However, Robert Jobson, the royal editor for the Evening Standard, said their move shouldn’t damage the monarchy because the duke and duchess are not direct heirs to the throne.
- It is unlikely that the House of Windsor will be removed from its official role in Britain’s government. But the “step back” sparks existential questions for the royals: What are they for, and should they stay there forever.
Business Insider– Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s departure from the royal family could severely damage the future of the monarchy, according to royal experts.
“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,” the couple announced last week.
Less than two hours after the announcement, the Queen said in a statement that “these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
As always, the Queen refrained from sharing her personal feelings on the matter. However, one palace source told the Daily Mail that the family was “shocked, saddened, and downright furious” about the situation, while another said the family was “deeply disappointed.”
The tip of the iceberg
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Several issues have been threatening to upend the royal household for months.
Prince Andrew and the pedophile: Andrew’s controversial BBC “Newsnight” interview in November about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein ultimately led to Andrew’s retirement from royal life. Buckingham Palace denied that the Duke of York was told to step down, telling Insider it was “a personal decision.”
The Queen even alluded to the scandal in her Christmas speech.
“The path, of course, is not always smooth and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy,” she said, “but small steps can make a world of difference.”
A royal wedding not covered on TV: That event already appears to be affecting other members of the family. Princess Beatrice, Andrew’s daughter, is set to get married in 2020. Though there was live ITV coverage of her sister Eugenie’s wedding in 2018, no broadcaster has picked up the rights to capture Beatrice’s royal wedding.
A duke at the end of his life: Alternatively, the monarch could have been alluding to her husband’s health. The 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh spent four nights in a London hospital over the holidays, finally leaving on Christmas Eve after being treated for a preexisting condition, a representative said.
A Queen at the end of her reign: And of course, there is the Queen herself. She is 93. She is a lioness in winter.
Resigning from the taxpayer’s tab: No matter the meaning behind the Queen’s words, Harry and Markle’s experiment suggests that members of the royal family could survive as “regular” citizens, without financial support from British taxpayers.
The bottom line: Put these all together — scandal, retirements from public life, and a generational handover on the throne — and it raises a question: Given the opportunity, should Britain abolish the monarchy?
The palace got its leak out first
“The royal family will be severely damaged by this in the long term,” Nigel Cawthorne, the author of “Call Me Diana: The Princess of Wales on Herself,” told Insider.
“It is yet another dangerous instance where the palace looks out of touch with the young generation of Brits.
“They gave the Sussexes the cold shoulder, gunning for them with press leaks to make them look bad,” he added.
The couple’s plans to resign were leaked to the British tabloid The Sun before they made the announcement, Harper’s Bazaar’s royal editor, Omid Scobie, reported. A source told Scobie that the couple had planned to hold off on the announcement but felt that “they had been cornered” after the news broke.
‘It is an even bigger disaster than Prince Andrew’s tin-eared Epstein interview’
This wasn’t the first time confidential information or commentary seemed to have been leaked by palace sources.
Several aides spoke with British tabloids about the couple’s decision to quit, with one anonymous aide telling the Daily Mail: “People had bent over backwards for them. They were given the wedding they wanted, the house they wanted, the office they wanted, the money they wanted, the staff they wanted, the tours they wanted, and had the backing of their family. What more did they want?”
Cawthorne told Insider that “it is an even bigger disaster than Prince Andrew’s tin-eared Epstein interview because it involves the new generation.”
‘Eroding their soft power’
Additionally, Richard Fitzwilliams, a royal commentator, told Insider the couple’s decision would have a “considerable cost to the institution Harry was brought up to serve.”
Though Fitzwilliams didn’t elaborate on what this “cost” might be, Eric Schiffer, an expert on celebrity brand management, told Insider it was already damaging both the couple’s and the royal family’s reputation.
“It’s a laser-guided ‘commoner’ missile to the heart of the legacy of the monarchy,” he said, “eroding their soft power positioning and royal relevance in the minds of a modern generation of followers.
“Revolutionizing history means destroying core family values, which splinters the citizen connection,” he added. “Running from the bloodline responsibilities won’t recover a reputation but rather ruin it.”
There is already a debate on having a referendum on the future of the royal family
In the aftermath of Harry and Markle’s announcement, the Labour politician Clive Lewis said the British public should have a say in the royal family’s future.
Speaking at his campaign launch for Labour leadership in London last week, Lewis said that “a lot of people would like to see the monarchy scaled down,” according to the BBC.
“I think it is extremely unfortunate and a sign of the media we have that they feel they had to do this,” he said, adding, “Why not have a referendum on the future of the royal family?
“Let’s talk about what a modern state looks like and what the role of the royal family would be,” he said. “I’d rather see us as citizens than subjects in the 21st century.”
Greece and Bulgaria both voted to abolish their monarchies
A referendum isn’t out of the question — other countries, including Greece and Bulgaria, abolished their monarchies after the public voted in referendums.
Of course, there’s the question of what abolishing the monarchy would do to Britain’s economy. Forbes reported in 2017 that the British monarchy contributed nearly £1.8 billion to the UK economy annually, including £550 million in tourism.
However, Graham Smith, the CEO of Republic, which advocates the monarchy’s abolition, has insisted that tourists would still flock to Buckingham Palace even if the Queen no longer lived there.
“These places have historic significance,” Smith told iNews last year, adding that places associated with a king or queen would still be popular “revenue raisers” and might even function better as tourist attractions, because “you can’t go into them most of the time, so I think they would succeed quite well as museums and galleries.”
The monarchy is up for debate, though it will likely survive
Whether these events could actually lead to abolishment has royal experts torn.
“I don’t think it will,” Robert Jobson, the royal editor of the Evening Standard, told Insider.
“The monarchy as an institution is all about the monarch and her direct heirs,” he said. “The Sussexes are popular, but their involvement in matters of state are negligible.”
Kristen Meinzer, a royal commentator, echoed Jobson’s comments, telling Insider: “I don’t think this move by the Sussexes will damage the monarchy as we know it.
“I do, however, think it will usher in the era Prince Charles has been advocating for — albeit a tad sooner than he planned on — in which the monarchy is more streamlined,” she added.
‘The palace doesn’t really need Harry and Meghan’
“The fact is there’s already an heir and multiple spares, now that William has three children,” Meinzer said. “The palace doesn’t really need Harry and Meghan working full time for them.”
The palace is well aware of this, according to one person who knows the royal family better than most.
Grant Harrold, a former butler to Charles, told Insider that the recent images released of the Queen with the three direct heirs to the throne — including one of them making Christmas puddings together — was designed to convey a message about the future of the monarchy.
“This is an unprecedented move which no one saw coming,” Harrold told Insider of Harry and Meghan’s decision.
“As we are in uncharted territory with this move, it is difficult to say at this stage what this could mean for the long-term future of them and the monarchy.
“What is clear is that over the past few weeks, with the images released of the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George, the family are promoting the future of the monarchy.”
Meinzer added: “They won’t be the first royals to earn their wages outside the firm. Beatrice and Eugenie already do — though, of course, they also receive lots of financial support from their parents.”
Harry and Meghan have an estimated net worth of $30 million
The duke and duchess have not disclosed how they plan to achieve financial independence from the royal family. They have an estimated net worth of $30 million, deriving from Harry’s inheritance from Princess Diana, his annual allowances from Charles, and Markle’s income from starring in the hit television series “Suits” and from endorsement deals and sponsorships, Business Insider previously reported.
Rutger Bruining, the CEO of biography-writing service Story Terrace, said this signified a new chapter for the royal family.
“It is very difficult for people to understand and support the behaviour of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to step away from the limelight and no longer carry out their duties as senior members of the royal family,” Bruining told Insider.
“I believe that this simply the next chapter in the royal family’s rich and storied journey, and shows that the monarchy is open to change, adapting as society evolves.”
The monarchy has already survived an abdication, a disaster much bigger than this
Bruining highlighted that if the monarchy could survive the abdication of King Edward VIII, who stepped down from the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, who’s to say it can’t survive this?
“I think their decision simply symbolizes a new step in what it means to be a royal, and I am excited to see how this decision influences the trajectory of the royal family moving forward,” he added.
Ultimately, the fate of the monarchy is difficult to predict. This time last year, even royal experts couldn’t have estimated that three members of the family would have resigned by the beginning of 2020.
Perhaps Bruining summed it up best when he said Harry and Markle were carving the way for a new definition of the word “royal.”
How they implement this definition could determine how Brits view the monarchy moving forward — and whether they want it to exist at all.
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