Harry and Meghan want to write their own love story. Is this their first step in doing so?
New York - She was too bold, too outspoken, too difficult, too American, too multicultural, the critics said.
She should not have alienated the news media by refusing to join in their celebrity games. She should not have spent so much money renovating the house the royal family was kind enough to bestow upon her and her husband.
And most of all, they said, Meghan Markle, aka the Duchess of Sussex, should not have inserted herself, Yoko Ono-like, into the once-close relationship between Prince Harry, her iconoclastic husband, and Prince William, his towing-the-line older brother and a future heir to the British throne.
But even as the duchess has faced lacerating criticism from Britons who like their royals to be dutiful and traditional - and from the tabloid newspapers that feed off and direct public opinion - so, too, has she had her own problems with life in her adopted country.
“It’s not enough to just survive something, right?” she asked plaintively last year in the documentary “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey,” talking about the British custom of keeping calm and carrying on through even the most untidy of emotional upheavals.
“That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy,” she went on to say. “I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.”
The result of this reciprocal unhappiness, it seems, was Wednesday’s extraordinary Instagram announcement from the couple that they would “carve out a progressive new role” and “step back as ‘senior members’ of the royal family.” How this would work in practice is anyone’s guess.
Other royals have left the family before, in various ways. Diana, the Princess of Wales, lost her royal title in 1996 after divorcing Prince Charles. King Edward VIII gave up his right to the throne in 1936 by announcing that he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, an unacceptably divorced American.
And Prince Andrew was all but banished from the family last year after his association with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein came to light.
There is no precedent for Harry and Meghan’s situation.
No senior royals in the past have voluntarily said that they want to remain members of the royal family while also being somehow outside it at the same time. Except for King Edward, later the Duke of Windsor, who was exiled from home but longed to return, no senior royals have lived for any substantial time anywhere but Britain.
Harry and Meghan’s plan to live part of the time in the United Kingdom and part in North America, as their statement said, seems even more jarring.
And while the other royals who have left the family’s viselike embrace have done so reluctantly, unwilling to give up the trappings and remunerations of royalty, Harry - at least judging by his and Meghan’s Instagram statement - appears to be enthusiastic about the prospect.
Not only does the couple want a new role within the monarchy, the statement said, but they want to “work to become financially independent.” That’s a radical notion indeed, in a family whose members have long enjoyed public financing.
It is significant that even as Meghan and Harry went to great lengths in their statement to praise the royal family and pledge fealty to Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and to the monarchy in general, the response from the queen’s camp was on the icy end of the temperature spectrum. Buckingham Palace does not like to be taken by surprise.
“Discussions with the Duke and Duchess are at an early stage,” the palace said in its own statement - meaning, possibly, that discussions, such as they are, started very recently. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Meghan and Harry’s desire to break free from royal traditions and renounce the usual menu of royal obligations speaks directly to the challenges facing the monarchy as the reign of the queen, now 93, enters its final years.
As the second son of Charles, who has spent his whole life waiting to become king and is himself now a formidable 71, Harry has virtually no chance of ever becoming king himself. While William, as the elder brother, has been tethered to the notion that he will succeed his father on the throne, Harry has had to find another path.
He served in the British army for 10 years, did two tours in Afghanistan and founded the Invictus Games for injured and impaired members and veterans of the armed services.
Along the way, Harry developed a reputation as something of a bon vivant. His early girlfriends, at least the ones anyone knew about, were mostly young aristocratic women roughly from his own social circle. Meghan, a divorced American actress with a white father and an African American mother, represented a departure.
Their marriage, in 2018, seemed both modern and traditional, a meeting of past and present, America and Britain, Anglican and Episcopalian.
But after a honeymoon with the couple, the tabloids took a new approach of relentless criticism - of Meghan’s outfits, of her outspokenness, of her habit of jetting to America for such occasions as a star-studded baby shower, of her supposed desire to enjoy the trappings and riches of royalty without agreeing to take on the attendant responsibilities.
New York Times