The most striking aspect of Prince Harry’s notice to quit the royal family is his naivety which has the distinction of being both charming and reckless.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex issued their jargon-laded, obscurely phrased and hopelessly confused statement and presumably thought that was that. In the best (worst) traditions of PR statements, it raised more questions than answers.
All the buzz words and pop phrases are there, perhaps reflecting the true audience the Sussexes had in mind. There is much ado about adjustments and transitions, the search for balance and space, promises to share and collaborate. No doubt about it; these are thoroughly modern royals.
But as to the substance of the statement – such as it is – is it really so sensational? Not really. Much of the furore has been fanned by the confusion of messages, including vague commitments to become “financially independent” while “continuing to honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth and our patronages”.
The message between the lines, however, is clear enough: the Sussexes want out. Or more to the point, they want to be in on their terms. (Good luck with that.)
Whatever the slant, talk that Harry and Meghan’s gambit to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” poses an existential threat to the British monarchy is overwrought nonsense. The longevity of the British monarchy can be directly attributed to the fact that no one member of the royal family is indispensable.
The reported anger and disappointment of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William will be more familial than institutional, although inevitably there will be some blurring of lines.
Parts of the statement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are gratuitous to the point of insolence. Why would you commit to “continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties” when the cause of much of the family’s anger is precisely because no such “collaboration” has occurred? At least they got to use the buzzword.
The royal family believes that duty is everything and on this fundamental principle Harry, a prince of the royal blood, has let down the family, and by extension, the nation and the Commonwealth.
When Harry wed Meghan
Harry has always been the more emotional and erratic of the two royal brothers, but in recent years he has, by sheer willpower, matured into his role as a prince of the realm. He has shown a preparedness to meet his royal obligations, to observe the rituals of monarchy, to stand in dynastic solidarity beside his grandmother, father and brother.
All that soured when Harry wed Meghan. The rabid British press, initially captivated by the royal marriage, turned on the young newlyweds, and Meghan in particular, with merciless and unrelenting vitriol.
Harry might have had the mettle and sense of duty to endure the onslaught if it was solely about him, but it was plainly another matter when it involved his wife. That’s the charming part of this messy affair: behind it is, if not an act of chivalry, certainly an act of love by Harry.
Some commentaries on social media charge that Meghan should have entered the marriage in the full knowledge of what awaited her. The life proved too much for Sarah Ferguson and Diana – both of whom believed they could modernise the monarchy – why should it not for Meghan?
It has been suggested – again on social media – that to lay the blame at the feet of Meghan is misogynistic and racist. On these terms, it becomes almost impossible to analyse what is without doubt an historic event. It is an event unique in its particulars, but containing a familiar element: the difficulty of reconciling personal desire with public duty.
Harry and Meghan’s dummy spit
Harry’s uncle, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, the youngest child of the Queen and Prince Philip, having proven by temperament and disposition to be illsuited for life as a Royal Marine, famously quit before competing his training. Instead, he attempted to fashion a life for himself outside the confines of royal norms as a television producer in the 1980s and 90s. It didn’t work out. Edward eventually settled into a full-time role as a working member of the royal family and in recent years has taken on many of his father’s duties.
More famously, in 1936, Edward VIII preferred to abdicate rather than abandon plans to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love”.
The British monarchy survived the seismic event of Edward’s abdication – considered the ultimate failure of duty by the royal family – and it will survive Harry and Meghan’s dummy spit.
If Harry and Meghan had been less impetuous and negotiated an accommodation that satisfied family honour and institutional stability – as well as address their own issues – the current angst would have been mostly avoided.
Unfortunately, Harry and Meghan appear to want the best of both worlds: the cachet of being royals (albeit part-time) while pursuing “a progressive new role within this institution”. That might not be so easily done when “this institution” has been so right royally dissed by the two royal hotheads.
Harry has caused his grandmother unnecessary disquiet in the twilight of her illustrious reign. We might all ask, “What was he thinking?”, even as we sympathise with the frustrations that proved too much for him and his wife.
We can’t know how it will all end. Harry and Meghan may well make good their promise, vague as it is. They may or may not become part-time residents of “North America”. Harry might even end up Governor-General of Canada, a compromise no doubt being explored.
Beyond momentary fascination, it doesn’t really matter what the end result is. The British monarchy will get through this. It always does.
As for claims that Harry and Meghan’s “resignation” will prove a fillip for the republican cause in Australia…talk about naivety.
Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher