ABC: With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping down, is the Royal family more dysfunctional than ever?
With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping down, is the Royal family more dysfunctional than ever?
By Bridget Judd
The fresh, new faces of the monarchy are all but gone, Buckingham Palace is in crisis mode, and questions are swirling over the Queen’s hold/
The slimmed-down monarchy
While the Duke and Duchess’s announcement may be tabloid fodder, it is not the first exodus from the Royal family (or at least, the public eye).
“I do think something is being taken away with Harry and Meghan leaving, there’s no question,” says Juliet Rieden, editor-at-large of the Australian Women’s Weekly and author of The Royals in Australia.
“But we have had this idea of a sort of slimmed-down monarchy — from the Queen, Prince Charles, Kate and William and their children — so this sort of falls into that narrative.”
According to Sean Lang, a specialist in the history of the British Empire at Anglia Ruskin University, this increasingly streamlined system “makes sense”.
“Prince Charles’s generation of ‘younger royals’ attracted a lot of criticism in the 1980s precisely because they seemed to be a lot of people with no obvious role — and the photographs of the royals in direct line of succession to the throne not only make the point clear, but they sell it to the public,” Dr Lang said.
“The inescapable corollary of that is that the royals outside that line of succession need to think about their role.”
“The disastrous Prince Andrew interview and now the Sussex announcement could make it seem as if the Queen’s position is looking wobbly. But in fact, I think it suggests the opposite,” Dr Lang said.
“The speed with which she and the Prince of Wales sacked Prince Andrew — because that’s what it was — shows that the monarchy has not lost its capability for swift exclusion.”
Dr Lang said the haste with which Buckingham Palace responded “with a short but effective communiqué” to the most recent announcement demonstrated that they have not lost their “instinct to act swiftly to preserve the monarchy”.
Will people lose faith in the Royals?
Though the palace may have limited the fallout, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s departure is likely to leave a hole.
The pair had played a key role in the rebranding of the Royal family, bucking the rigid social and cultural stereotypes often associated with the institution.
“When Meghan came into it, she brought a whole different audience to the Royal family and an audience the Royal family has not really reached before.”
However, that is not to say British support for the monarchy is contingent on any one personality.
Despite this, with the Sussex’s decision to step down, Rieden expects the republican movement to be agitating once more.
“It will change [perceptions]… and I think there’s going to be a lot of questions asked, particularly in England,” she said.
“Here in Australia we’ve also got question to ask I guess, and no doubt the republican movement will be ratcheting up.”
‘Star couple have effectively bowed out’
As expected, campaigners have been quick to capitalise on the announcement.
UK Republic campaign manager Graham Smith fired the first salvo, decrying that the monarchy is not sustainable in the modern era.
“The Royal family’s star couple have effectively bowed out of their leading role, and that raises questions about the monarchy’s future,” .
“The Queen and Prince Charles appear comfortable with all the trappings and formality of Royal duties, but it’s increasingly clear that the younger generations are not so keen.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Sandy Blair, national director of the Australian Republic Movement, who labelled it a “vote of no confidence in the British monarchy from Harry and Meghan”.
Mr Blair said the decision would, at the very least, make people think twice about the role of the Royal family.
“If people like Harry and Meghan — who have brought new life into the monarchy and helped people think about it in a new way — if they’ve felt enough pushback from doing that, that they now feel like they have to effectively leave it, that says a lot about the institution of the monarchy in the UK,” Mr Blair said.
“And if it’s not relevant to people in the UK, how relevant is it to people here?”
Should Harry and Meghan have pushed for change from within?
It is this push to remain relevant, it would appear, that has influenced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step back to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution”.
But some have questioned whether the couple would have wielded more influence by pushing for change from within.
“They’re getting criticism in the media, but I think with the people, there’s huge support,” Ms Rieden said.
“We understand that they found it very difficult and frustrating to be in the spotlight and that they don’t feel that they’ve been able to do their best work while under such intense scrutiny.
“They are both very passionate people, they both know what they want to do in the world, and I think they feel they can do that better in a new role that is outside of the senior Royal family.”
Dr Lang says there have been other examples of royals who have forged their own path elsewhere, including Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall business or Viscount Linley’s furniture business.
But the experience “hasn’t always been a happy one”, nor has it been attempted across the Atlantic.
“The Commonwealth is certainly a field which would play to Harry and Meghan’s strengths and interests, however, it is very much the personal area of interest of the monarch, the Queen and after her Prince Charles, so it would need to be done in close consultation with the two of them,” Dr Lang said.
“I would have thought some role on an international basis in the area of international development, mental health or climate change might well provide the sort of arena they are looking for, but they would be well advised to mend relations with the Palace before getting too heavily committed.”
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