Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted a reception for the U.K.-Africa Investment Summit on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. They were joined by Prince William’s aunt Princess Anne, his uncle Prince Edward, and Edward’s wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Small talk was made among royals, businessmen, and dignitaries. Official portraits were taken. Speeches about the importance of international relations were made. And somewhere, high above the Atlantic, Prince Harry was on his way to Canada to start his new life far away from Buckingham Palace.
While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their wish to step back as senior royals on January 8, they still hoped to remain, well, part of the institution. “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,” they wrote. “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.”
But that was followed by a second statement. If the first was grandmotherly in tone, this one was strictly business. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would no longer formally represent the queen. They would keep private patronages, but royal duties—such as Harry’s military appointments—and public funds associated with those duties must go. Gone, too, were their “HRH” (his or her royal highness) titles. Although they weren’t technically stripped of them—the royal family likely learned from the days of Princess Diana, when the decision to get rid of her “HRH” after her divorce came across as petty—the couple will not use them, “as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family.” The duke and duchess also wished to repay the Sovereign Grant (which funds official royal expenditures) for the funds spent on the renovation of their home, Frogmore Cottage.
Although some of Buckingham Palace’s statement was in line with the Sussexes’—especially the choice to not take any public money—this didn’t sound like the “progressive new role” they set out for.
The British papers harped on this apparent hard line: “Harry and Meghan cast out,” read a headline in the Sunday Telegraph. “Queen orders a hard Megxit,” said the Sunday Mirror. “They’re Out: Sussexes seal exit deal with the Queen,” heralded the Sunday Times.
Harry shared his disappointment at a private reception for the charity he founded, Sentebale.
“It brings me great sadness that it has come to this,” he said. “What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away, and we certainly aren’t walking away from you. Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.”