British royal family Photograph:( AFP )
Let’s look at Prince Harry-Meghan Markle row and the other scandals that have rocked the British royal family
On January 8, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, unveiled their controversial plan to walk away from royal roles.
“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,'' they said in a joint statement.
"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," the statement added.
Apparently, the announcement on the Sussex Royal Instagram page blindsided the Queen and other family members who had no idea it was coming, it sent tabloids into overdrive. Meanwhile, the Queen summoned Senior Royals to an emergency summit to discuss the future of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Billed as the Sandringham summit, the meeting took place at the Queen's estate in Norfolk and involved Queen Elizabeth II, Harry his father Prince Charles and his brother Prince William, with Meghan reportedly joining the discussions by phone from Canada.
Soon after, the queen released a statement, that said, "My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.
Monarchy in Crisis?
It looks like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have won the reluctant approval of the 93-year-old Queen. But what does their exit mean for the British monarchy? And what really went wrong?
Let’s look at this and the other scandals that have rocked the British royal family, the world's most famous monarchy, in the last few decades:
The Sussexes 'step back'
Prince Harry was known as the 'rebel prince' much before he met Meghan on a blind date in mid-2016, set up by a mutual friend. The relationship moved quickly and the couple immediately became endless fodder for the tabloids. In November 2016, Harry’s communications secretary issued a statement condemning the British press’s torment of his girlfriend. This was the start of their troubled relationship with the tabloids. A year later, in November 2017, they got engaged. In an interview, Harry said he tried to warn his future wife 'as much as possible' about the inevitable media scrutiny, but the couple was still 'totally surprised' by it.
Despite these early setbacks, they got married at Windsor Castle in May 2017. American-born, biracial, divorced, former actress Meghan Markle, who also happened to be an independent and outspoken woman, became the Duchess of Sussex. A year later, she gave birth to Archie, the first baby of part African descent in the family. The couple’s relationship and the birth of their son were heralded by many as immensely symbolic moments of modern Britain. An example of the monarchy embracing modernity, but it was not to be.
Throughout it all, the British tabloids kept criticising the Sussex with most of the ire being directed at Meghan. A top-selling British tabloid dubbed their announcement as 'Megxit', putting the blame squarely on Meghan's shoulders. This isn't surprising since she has been at the receiving end for negative coverage by the British press. For issues ranging from her family background to cradling her baby bump, and even eating avocados. One British Radio host was even fired after posting a tweet where he compared their offspring to a baby chimpanzee. It's safe to assume that her race had something to do with her becoming the media's new punching bag.
For his part, Prince Harry has been vocal about what he sees as sexist and racist coverage, even making a statement comparing the treatment of his wife to that of his late mother Princess Diana, who tragically died in a crash as her driver sped away to escape the paparazzi.
There was trouble on other fronts as well, rumours of a rift between Pince Harry and his older brother Prince William started emerging in March 2019. Around this time, Prince Harry and Meghan moved out of Kensington Palace. 2.4 million pounds of public money, which is about Rs 24 crores, was spent on upgrading their new official residence- Frogmore cottage. Soon after, the couple announced that they intend to split from their combined charity with the Cambridge and start their own charity, Sussex Royal.
Trouble was brewing in the Royal family and it started making headlines when they took part in an intimate documentary while on a tour to South Africa. They revealed the strain and pressure of living in the public eye. Meghan even said that her friends warned her not to marry Prince Harry because of the British tabloids and her husband declared that he would not be bullied into playing a game that killed his mother. In November, they announced that they will not be spending Christmas with other members of the Royal family. Opting for a six-week holiday in Canada instead where Meghan is currently residing.
Interestingly after their latest Instagram post, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gained 500,000 Instagram followers in just four days. They are now just 200,000 behind Prince William and Kate Middleton who have 10.8 million followers. In fact, when they joined Instagram last year on April 2, they made a Guinness World record for gaining 1 million fans within 6 hours
So will Harry and Meghan keep their titles while stepping back from the royal life and moving overseas? Well, so far the Sussex has expressed no intentions of relinquishing their HRH (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) titles.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are now expected to split their time between the UK and Canada, a country that lies within the commonwealth. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has offered his support, saying most Canadians would welcome the couple making their home there. However, he also added that further talks are needed over the costs of security.
Which bring us to the question of money. Right now the two receive money from the sovereign grant, a fund set up by the UK government for the Royal family. Apart from this, between them, they are estimated to have a net worth of $30 million. An accumulation of Harry’s yearly allowance and inheritance from his mother Dian and Meghan’s TV earnings.
As British royals, the couple is barred from earning their own cash, but this will change. So we may soon see them build celebrity empires like the Obamas or even the Kardashians. But by distancing themselves from the crown, one way or the other, they are certainly charting a new course.
WATCH: Royal mess continues
Prince Andrew's sex scandal
The 'megxit bombshell' comes just months after the Duke of York, Prince Andrew was forced to step down from Royal duties, amid accusations of a sex scandal.
Prince Andrew, the second son and third child of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip announced his decision after consulting both his mother and his brother Prince Charles, amid growing criticism following a television interview he gave about his friendship with the late convicted sex offender- Jeffrey Epstein who committed suicide in August last year while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
Prince Andrew is accused of having sex with Epstein's alleged 'sex slave' Virginia Roberts when she was just 17. The Duke of York has denied these allegations. But the FBI is continuing to investigate the case to untangle his history with the shamed American financier and his human trafficking racket.
In a disastrous interview, Prince Andrew, eighth-in-line to the throne, defended his friendship with Epstein, leaving viewers across the world aghast. The outcry finally forced Buckingham Palace to distance itself from the disgraced Duke - many royal experts surmise that he will not return to public duties until he is fully cleared of any wrongdoing.
Interestingly, his former wife, Sarah Ferguson, affectionately known as Fergie, with whom he continues to share a home, has stood behind him through this controversy.
Sarah Ferguson's scandalous photo
The Duchess of York faced her own crisis in 1992 when she was frozen out of the Royal Family after compromising photographs emerged of her on holiday with John Bryan, her financial advisor.
The Duke and Duchess of York tied the knot in 1986 - but just six years later their marriage ended in a scandal - they announced their separation in March 1992, but were still married when these photographs were published. They would go on to divorce in 1996.
The royal family didn’t want anything to do with Ferguson after the incident, but she was recently accepted into the Royal fold again and even attended the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Princess Diana’s Untimely Death
Half-past midnight, a black Mercedes crashed into a concrete pillar outside the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris. And the world lost Princess Diana - the people's Princess.
Diana’s boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver Henri Paul also died in the crash. Only one passenger survived - Trevor Rees-Jones - Fayed’s bodyguard.
In the wake of the crash, given Princess Diana's complicated relationship with Prince Charles and the Queen herself, all kinds of conspiracy theories began to emerge. But in the 2008 inquest of Diana's death, it was concluded that paul’s drunk driving and speeding were to blame for the accident.
However, many questions remain unanswered - why were they not wearing seatbelts? Why didn't Princess Diana have her own bodyguards? And could Diana have been saved?
At her funeral in September 1997, her brother Charles Spencer blamed the paparazzi, describing his sister as “The most hunted person of the modern age".
And hunted she was on the night of the fateful crash, the couple was trying to evade the press.
Diana and Dodi Fayed died barely six weeks after beginning a romance - rumours of Diana's impending engagement and even a pregnancy meant that the couple was relentlessly pursued.
The Egyptian millionaire’s father, Mohamed al-Fayed, believed that Royal Family and British Secret Services were plotting against the marriage because they disapproved of the match.
Diana's activism and glamour made her an international icon, but the Princess of Wales faced difficulties within the royal family and in the public eye from the start.
Prince Charles married lady Diana spencer in 1981, and they welcomed Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984, but their relationship was visibly strained. They separated in 1992, before formally divorcing in 1996.
Flouting tradition, in 1995, she gave an explosive interview to journalist Martin Bashir where she revealed that “There were three people in this marriage”, alluding to her husband’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, adding it was “a bit crowded.” She also admitted to an adulterous affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt.
A few weeks later, the Queen herself urged her son and daughter-in-law to divorce, and the following year, they made it official. Sadly, Princess Diana was killed just a year later. However, with these acts of defiance, she set a new precedent for the next generation of royals.
Prince Charles and Camilla’s affair
On the other hand, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, went on to wed Camilla in 2005, 34 years after their first meeting, and the two are still together.
Interestingly, a year before Diana's interview, he too publicly admitting to having an affair. His confession sent ripples through the Royal Family.
At the time, the public largely blamed Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla for the breakdown of his marriage to Diana - it became the scandal of the decade.
Princess Margaret, the original rebel
Queen Elizabeth II has been the central figure of Britain's monarchy for more than six decades. Head of state of the United Kingdom and 15 commonwealth nations, she married Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. They have four children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
The queen only had one sibling – Princess Margaret, the late countess of Snowdon. The two sisters could not have been more different. While the British monarch is famously staid and consistent, her younger sister was known as a rebellious royal, ‘a wild child'.
She fell in love with group captain Peter Townsend, a royal air force officer and the equerry to her father King George.
Apart from being a commoner, peter was also a divorcee, and divorcees weren't allowed to remarry in the church of England, which Princess Margaret's sister was the head of.
After facing much opposition, the Princess cut off all ties with Townsend and went on to marry photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960 - the first royal marriage to be broadcast on television.
However, the Royal marriage soon started to crumble and after years of infidelity by both partners, the couple separated. It was the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII's in 1540.
King Edward VIII Abdicates
In December 1936, the Queen's uncle - King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry his lover Wallis Simpson - an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing the divorce of her second.
Being the British Monarch, King Edward VIII was also the head of the Church of England and was forbidden to marry a divorcee. and so he abdicated the throne after ruling for less than a year. Thereafter, he took the title Duke of Windsor and embarked on a life with his new wife in Paris.
And now, more than eight decades later, Prince Harry is set to follow on his footsteps. The circumstances surrounding Prince Harry and King Edward VIII’s royal status decisions are very different. Harry is not the king, but he is set to become a ‘part-time’ royal, having made a decision to quit or reject the royal life and defying the British monarchy.