Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s bombshell resignation from front-line royal duties rocked the British monarchy on Thursday, with reports they defied Queen Elizabeth II by going public.
The couple said they would now “balance” their time between Britain and North America and rip up long-established relations with the press, in a surprise announcement Wednesday that appeared to blindside Buckingham Palace.
In a short, terse response a little while later, a palace statement said discussions with Harry and Meghan were “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,” the palace said.
Media reports said the couple made their shock statement — released on their own website, Instagram account and through Buckingham Palace’s email communications system — without notifying either Harry’s grandmother, the monarch, or father, the heir to the throne Prince Charles.
London’s Evening Standard newspaper said they had “defied clear instructions from the queen” not to go public about any future plans at this time.
It added senior courtiers had warned the couple “will be punished for this”.
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The mood in the palace was understood to be one of disappointment and even “hurt”, according to the BBC, while Thursday’s newspapers were full of reports of a family “split” and the queen’s “dismay”.
Meanwhile Madame Tussauds London said it was moving its waxworks of the pair away from other top family figures “to reflect the upcoming change in the royal line up”.
Royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams said Harry and Meghan announcing this step without the queen’s blessing was “extraordinary”.
“This is symptomatic, clearly, of the fact that they are unhappy with royal roles and feel deeply pressurised,” he told AFP.
“They’ve chosen to… go rogue. The result, therefore, could have very serious consequences.”
The couple’s decision follows a turbulent year, in which they admitted to struggling in the spotlight and growing apart from Harry’s brother Prince William.
They have also complained of negative news coverage and taken several papers to court — another unusual move.
“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,” they said.
“We have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”
Meanwhile on a new website, they said they would no longer work with the royal rota — a well-established system allowing the press to take turns covering events and then share the coverage.
Instead the pair will attempt to invite only “specialist”, “grassroots”, “credible” and “young, up-and-coming” media to events.
Royal analysts said the changes were unprecedented for senior family members.
“We would have them as members of the royal family carrying out some official duties but also operating privately as well, and there isn’t really a precedent for that,” said expert Victoria Murphy.
Britons passing Buckingham Palace on Thursday appeared surprised at the news.
“They both knew what they were getting into and I think that they need to meet that challenge,” said Roger Sainsbury, a member of the armed forces.
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, are among the core members of the royal family and, along with William and his wife Kate, seen as embodying the monarchy’s future.
They spent six weeks over Christmas in Canada after speaking of the pressure of being in the spotlight following their fairytale wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018 and son Archie’s birth 12 months later.
They skipped the royal family’s traditional Christmas at Sandringham, the sovereign’s private estate in eastern England, spending the festive season instead with Meghan’s US mother Doria Ragland.
Rumours that all was not well with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surfaced in October when Harry — sixth in line to the throne — admitted that he and William were “on different paths” and had good and bad days in their relationship.
Asked whether she was “not really OK” and if life had “really been a struggle” after becoming a mother and living under intense media scrutiny, Meghan appeared emotional and replied simply: “Yes.”
Harry also issued a stinging statement that month about general tabloid coverage and launched the first of a handful of lawsuits against newspaper publishers.
Asked if Meghan was facing the same media pressures as his mother Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi, Harry also told ITV: “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”