Even as the UK is bracing up to wrestle with the after-effects of its recent exit from the European Union, the decision of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, to step back from royal duties has caused a tremor in the British royal family. The situation is considered similar to the exit of Princess Diana from the palace and the abdication of Edward VIII to marry an American divorcee. Although Queen Elizabeth herself had intervened and provided a formula to manage “Megxit”, as it is dubbed by the media on the lines of Brexit, the matter is again in her court as the formula might, in practice, result in a divorce between Harry and Meghan.
The trouble had started from the day Harry and Meghan Markle announced their decision to get married as Meghan was not only a commoner, but also a divorced American actress with a black mother. There were rumours as early as the autumn of 2018 that they would split with the royal family, particularly because of the continuing media interest in their private life. The British tabloids are notorious for following the royals relentlessly, as in the case of Princess Diana. Harry was particularly concerned that the fate of Diana might befall Meghan because of the paparazzi.
On January 8, when Prince Harry and Meghan announced that they intended to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work towards becoming financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen, many were not surprised. The announcement was released after months of internal discussions but before the couple had finalised a plan with the Queen. It said: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.
"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. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment.
"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.
"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.
"We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties.
"Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support."
Buckingham Palace responded with an icy statement saying: "Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are 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."
It was clear that Harry and Meghan were equally unhappy about the treatment of the latter by the the royal household and the media and it is believed that it was the Duchess who initiated the split plan. “If we look back on it now, we can see the progression of it in the splitting of William and Harry’s households, and the splitting of the foundation,” said a royal historian on the developments in the House of Windsor.
The couple’s decision to leave the palace and to settle down in Canada within two years of marriage was predicted by Princess Diana’s astrologer, Debbie Frank, not only because of the planetary positions of the two, but also because Meghan’s temperament and her ambition to make it big in acting. She appeared to be in a hurry to adjust herself to her new situation as a royal, but it was not in her nature to accept the various constraints, particularly her financial dependence on the palace. Taking all these into account that the Queen herself had worked out a formula that would enable the young couple to pursue their interests and make their own money, while retaining the Sussex titles, but without being Royal Highnesses. But when it came to details, it appeared that it had implications for their married life. It became evident gradually that the unprecedented arrangements might alienate them from the royal family and the UK itself. It remains to be seen in what way the Queen will amend her earlier statement to make it easier for them. The Queen, who has straddled at least three generations of royalty, is in favour of incremental changes in her own lifetime.
The royal family had tried hard to make Meghan feel at home in the palace and they even included a homily by an African-American bishop at her wedding, symbolising the blending of two very different cultures. The Queen also had broken tradition by inviting Meghan to spend Christmas 2017 with the royal family in spite of the fact that Meghan and Harry were not yet married. The Queen saw very wisely that Harry was a huge favourite around the world in the former Commonwealth countries that are former colonies. Considering that, she gave him three roles in the Commonwealth, an institution close to her heart.
The British press is convinced that the initiative for the change came from Meghan and her ambition to have an independent career and that is the reason why the development has come to be called Megxit rather than “Harrexit”. This is largely true because, till his wedding, Harry had not shown any signs that he was uncomfortable with his royal duties. The actions of the royal family smack of some bitterness towards Meghan as suggested by the removal of their wedding souvenirs from the royal website, though souvenir shops discounting their memorabilia, could be a bureaucratic move.
For the Sussexes, the future is uncertain, but not bleak. They seemed fully prepared to meet the challenges of the new situation, though the financial burdens like the cost of their security in Canada may be daunting till they settle down in their new careers. They may continue to be in the limelight as a power couple. It is predicted they may divorce by 2025 and that Harry may not return to the palace even then. The Britons make much fuss about their royalty, but the British Government does not interfere in these matters. Prime Minister Boris Johnson just wished the couple well and left it to the Queen to deal with the storm in a teacup.
Prince Charles had given his daughter-in- law the nickname “Tungsten,” having noticed how determined and strong she was. But this tungsten quality is probably behind her decision to leave the palace. His repeated pleas not to leave did not make any impact on her. She walked into an unknown future with her steely will and determination.