Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry took to Instagram to announce that they would be stepping back as senior members of the British royal family in order to become financially independent philanthropists free of the institution. They will now split their time between Britain and North America, continuing charitable work under their own banner. The news came as a major shock and was all the more exciting given that it soon transpired that the Palace didn’t seem to know that this was even going to happen. The tabloids are, predictably, up in arms and finding new ways to paint Markle as the demon of the century. Kensington Palace, the base for the Cambridges, has gone into damage control by releasing a new image of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to mark her birthday that the usual sympathetic outlets are passionately describing as ‘queenly.’ Gossip continues to swirl over the Sussexes’ intentions and what will come next for the family.
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“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.” - The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio) Image © PA
Someone asked me last night if I thought that this news could signal the beginning of the end for the British royal family. When the drama surrounding Markle first emerged, from the racist and sexist smears lobbed at her to the manufactured anger over every minute decision she made, I would have said that I believed the institution to be impervious to any form of weakness. After all, The Firm had endured following the fallout of Princess Diana and her death so this was nothing in comparison. Now, however, I think we’ve reached a tipping point that not even the stiff-upper-lip fetishizing royalists can ignore.
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the royal family needed Meghan Markle. In 2020, as Britain swings further towards right-wing hate-campaigns and isolationist-focused ‘patriotism’, there has been a noticeable shift in our expectations of such establishments. We already slobber over the upper-class elites with our choice of politicians, but at least there’s a democratic decision behind that (as flawed and crooked as it has become.) Younger Brits are already tired of how classism, patriarchy, and white supremacy dominate every aspect of our lives and we’ve little patience for so-called traditions, especially ones designed to keep the rich and poor ‘in their places.’ The monarchy has modernized over the decades, from embracing the PR power of television to being magazine cover stars. They have had to tear down the invisible walls that keep them out of bounds to the rest of the world, and even then, they remain remarkably archaic, especially in comparison to other European royal houses, like the Scandinavian families. They needed fresh blood, and with Prince Charles planning to radically slim down the working royals once he ascends to the throne, they needed one who would be OK being front and center on the largest stage imaginable.
Enter Meghan, an American actress, influencer, and activist whose credentials were so perfect for the job that it’s a surprise she didn’t turn up on the door of Buckingham Palace gift-wrapped.
We’ve talked before about Meghan, her qualities, and the endless war she has faced with the British press as well as her own family. It never calmed down, not even after the birth of her son following a pregnancy that was endlessly scrutinized from beginning to end. We became so familiar with this awful pattern that we could practically recite its tropes from memory: The thinly-veiled insults about her race; the language directed at her feminism being deeply steeped in misogyny; complaints that everything she did was ‘against royal protocol’, regardless of whether or not another woman in the family had done the same thing without complaint; accusations of diva behavior designed to highlight her supposedly ‘difficult’ status. Every kind deed she did was looked at with suspicion or directly contrasted with Kate, the ‘good’ duchess. No matter what she did, the goalposts were moved to ensure she was always wrong in their eyes. This is not to say she could never be critiqued. That’s not how any of this works, but it was abundantly clear from the beginning that the press attention she received came from a far nastier place than anything directed at Kate or even that one prince who was long-time friends with a pedophile.
When you look at the things that Meghan has accomplished since marrying into the Windsors, her duchess achievements are pretty safe, but what made them stand out was her savvy approach to outreach and understanding of celebrity. She may have only been a USA Network star but she still knew how to play the game. She seemed to have a keen awareness of how her near-fantastical new gig was merely a hyper-real extension of what she’d been doing for years. To get super ‘down with the youths’ about it, she knew they needed an influencer more than a full-on princess, someone with that starry touch who didn’t seem above it all or entirely out of one’s reach. It may seem like a pathetically low bar was set for Meghan but that’s how monarchy works. Smile and wave and nod politely as you cut ribbons. Who has a use for that in 2020 when the world is on fire? Meghan was hardly lobbing Molotov cocktails at Prince Phillip’s car but she was positively radical compared to the manor residents with displays of basic human decency that included calling herself a feminist, collaborating on a cookbook with a community made up primarily of women of color, and supporting activists on issues such as climate change. This is the absolute bare minimum we should ask of non-sh*tty people and yet they’re the issues that made Meghan the target of claims she was going ‘too far.’
I wonder if the Queen and her aides have considered the optics of her beloved grandson, one of the most popular royals with the public, feeling that he and his mixed-race wife have to get out of the institution of royalty because they see no future in it for someone like her. There’s no place in the ‘modern monarchy’ for a vibrant and passionate activist with international appeal who young people adore because she was too feminist, too black, too loud, too ‘difficult’. Of course, the chances are that they knew perfectly well what it meant and didn’t care. Meghan could simply be a scapegoat if you believe the rumors that the Cambridges and Yorks threw her to the wolves in favor of safer press coverage for themselves.
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a notable increase in positive Cambridge press in the UK, especially in relation to Kate and her supposed growing confidence in the role of the future queen. It’s tough to gauge what’s changed with her because, from the outside, she seems the same as always: pretty, well-dressed in safe fashion choices, and totally devoid of anything that could be described as controversial or outspoken. The papers write adoringly about how much she’s grown into the role as if she was born to be a consort to a rich man, something that is spun as the one true dream for women everywhere. Then again, that only further exposes the harsh reality of this situation.
‘Modern monarchy’ is one of the most hilarious oxymorons in the English language, and it wasn’t Meghan or Harry’s sole responsibility to force the royals into the 21st century. They did, however, come a lot closer to achieving that goal of giving royalty in Britain a tangible role in society in the long-term than their predecessors, and certainly more than the Cambridges (who, to be fair, are bound by more restrictions than the Sussexes because of their status as the heirs.)
The monarchy doesn’t want to be modern or approachable or part of the community. That would negate the point of a monarchy. They certainly don’t want modern women in it. Once again, that’s not the point. They want rail-thin clothes horses who will push out multiple children with dignity and efficiency, women who will look pretty and do as little as possible. Women who don’t talk back. Women who don’t talk full stop. How’s that for a monarchy fit for 2020?
Frankly, even if Meghan stayed on as a full-time front-line royal, it would still be better for the nation if we got rid of the monarchy. It’s outdated, undemocratic, imperialist nonsense that only seeks to further reinforce the smothering classism that has irrevocably screwed over Britain. With her and Harry stepping back, they’ve only further exposed their irrelevance. If they don’t even want to pretend to be for the next generation of Brits then why the hell should we keep paying for them? We don’t need them but they certainly need us, and they’ll certainly come to regret letting Harry and Meghan go.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.