When Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, revealed in early 2020 that they wanted to step down as “senior” royals, the monarchy faced a sudden crisis. And rumors flew in the media as those in charge – including the Queen herself – negotiated exactly what this new situation would mean for the duke and duchess. But finally, Prince William has opened up about his brother’s departure – and what he had to say was heartbreaking.
Yes, as practically the whole world knows by now, Harry and Meghan have chosen to relinquish some of their royal duties and become more self-sufficient as a couple. The shocking news broke in a statement that was released on January 8, and it came – rather unusually – via the pair’s official Instagram account. The message began, “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.”
The statement continued, “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.”
Harry and Meghan also claimed that they would now be dividing their time between Britain and North America. And their message to the public explained this decision further, saying, “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 duke and duchess concluded by saying, “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.”
Naturally, the news was a bombshell, and as the media hastily scrambled to find out more, further stunning claims emerged. BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond posted on Twitter, for example, “BBC understands that no other member of the royal family was consulted before Harry and Meghan issued their personal statement tonight. The Palace is understood to be ‘disappointed.’”
And that may indeed have been the case. You see, Buckingham Palace followed up by releasing an official statement on the matter that may have seemed slightly snippy. The message was short, in any case, reading, “Discussion with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand the desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
But what about William? For years, he and Harry had seemed incredibly close, with the death of their mother, Princess Diana, reportedly bonding the two even further. And, in fact, it was William who had helped Harry get into therapy when the younger sibling had struggled with his mental health as an adult.
Yet for a while before the big announcement, there had been rumors that the two princes had been arguing. In June 2019 royal family expert Katie Nicholl told Entertainment Tonight, “It’s absolutely the case that the brothers did fall out. I was told by a very senior royal source that actually they weren’t talking to each other at one point.”
The same day the announcement hit, moreover, an anonymous source seemingly confirmed this fractured relationship to Us Weekly. They said, “William was blindsided by Harry and Meghan’s decision and statement… There’s still a rift between the two brothers. It’s sad because when they were younger, William would be the first person Harry would go to with big news like this.”
But William reportedly wasn’t the only one to be left stunned by Harry and Meghan’s news. The Daily Mail – a newspaper against which the duke and duchess took legal action in October 2019 – apparently spoke to a royal aide who said, “The level of deceit has been staggering, and everyone from the top of the royal household to the bottom feels like they have been stabbed in the back.”
Yet another alleged insider told The Sun at the time, “There is fury over how [Meghan and Harry have] done this without any thought for the implications for the institution. The Queen is deeply upset. The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge are incandescent with rage… There are so many unanswered questions, but they’ve just up and done it without a thought for anyone else.”
To make matters even worse, the announcement came just hours prior to Kate Middleton’s birthday. William’s wife made a post on Instagram to celebrate the occasion, with Harry and Meghan’s official account commenting below to say “Wishing a very happy birthday to The Duchess of Cambridge today!” But apparently things weren’t quite so cordial behind the scenes.
Another anonymous source claimed as much by explaining to Us Weekly, “Harry and Meghan rubbed salt into the wounds by making the huge announcement a day before Kate’s birthday. It hasn’t gone down well with William.” It seemed, then, that there was little chance of there being a reconciliation between the brothers any time soon.
Some defended Meghan and Harry for their decision, though. On January 10 correspondent Tom Bradby told the U.K.’s ITV News that there had been some “really bad personal splits” in the royal family. He added, “There’ve been a lot of fallouts. A lot of harsh things were said around the time of [Harry and Meghan’s] wedding.”
The TV reporter went on, “And certainly the rest of the family find Harry and Meghan very difficult. [But] from Harry and Meghan’s point of view, they’re just being driven out, as they see it. And it’s sad.” Bradby didn’t say whether “the rest of the family” included William, however.
That same day, it was reported that Meghan had left Britain and traveled to Canada, where her and Harry’s son, Archie, was staying. And while the duchess was supposed to return to the U.K. within a matter of days, many of those on Twitter didn’t wait for that to happen before engaging in speculation.
In the meantime, Harry’s buddy JJ Chalmers argued the couple’s case on British TV. During an appearance on the BBC’s The One Show, Chalmers said of the royal, “The decision that he has made… At the forefront of that is to protect his family, because… the number one rule is to be a father and to be a husband. Any husband wants to protect their wife, and any father wants to protect their children.”
Chalmers also implied that the press was partly at fault for Harry and Meghan’s decision to leave the country, saying, “When [Harry] looks at how the media, for example, reacts and how social media talks about someone, he has to answer to his son one day when he begins to understand this and be able to look him in the face and say, ‘I made the right decision, and I did right by you.’ And ultimately, he grew up in the limelight, and he knows how this can end if it’s not handled correctly.”
Indeed, Harry’s relationship with the media has frequently been a complicated one. And the prince hasn’t been afraid of hitting back, either. After he first began dating Meghan in 2016, for example, he took the unprecedented step of releasing a statement that criticized the press for their treatment of the actress. Meghan had, Harry said, “been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment.”
It seemed, too, that Meghan had also found it difficult to deal with the British media. During Tom Bradby’s October 2019 documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, the duchess is filmed telling the journalist, “When people are saying things that are just untrue – they’ve been told they’re untrue but they’re still allowed to say them… I don’t know anyone in the world that would feel like that’s okay.”
In the same documentary, Harry confirmed for the first time that he and William had been drifting apart. He revealed, “Part of this role and part of this job, this family, being under the pressure that it’s under – inevitably stuff happens. But look: we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers.”
Harry went on, “[William and I are] certainly on different paths at the moment, but I’ll always be there for him. And as I know, he’ll always be there for me. We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy, but I love him dearly. The majority of this stuff [in the press] is created out of nothing. But as brothers, you know, you have good days [and] you have bad days.”
So, had January 8, 2020, been a good or bad day for the princes’ relationship? Well, although the public were initially left to ponder that question, an answer of sorts finally arrived on January 12. It was then, you see, that the British newspaper The Sunday Times revealed what it claimed to be some candid words from William.
According to the newspaper, William had spoken privately to an unnamed friend about what some were dubbing “Megxit.” Unfortunately, though, his words had made it into print anyway. The prince had allegedly remarked, “I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives, and I can’t do that anymore; we’re separate entities.”
Nevertheless, William had apparently expressed his hope that everything would work out in the end. The prince reportedly said, “All we can do – and all I can do – is try and support [Harry and Meghan] and hope that the time comes when we’re all singing from the same page. I want everyone to play on the team.”
On the same day that these words were made public, it was reported that the Queen had scheduled a summit to discuss the situation at hand. The meeting would supposedly include herself, William, Prince Charles and Harry. Meghan, meanwhile, would most likely join in via the internet, seeing as she was still in Canada.
Of this confrontation, a source told People magazine, “Following a series of meetings and consultations across the last few days, there is a range of possibilities for the family to review which take into account the thinking the Sussexes outlined earlier in the week. As we have said previously, making a change to the working life and role of the monarchy for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex requires complex and thoughtful discussions.”
The insider went on, “Next steps will be agreed at the meeting. The request for this to be resolved ‘at pace’ is still Her Majesty’s wish. The aim remains days, not weeks. There is genuine agreement and understanding that any decision will take time to be implemented.” This, at least, sounded promising.
Then, shortly after that revelation, the brothers rather unexpectedly released a joint statement. And this message concerned a piece of reporting – one to which it appeared both princes had taken exception – in an unnamed newspaper. The announcement read, “Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a U.K. newspaper today speculating about the relationship between the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge.”
The statement went on, “For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.” Despite all the royal turmoil, then, it seemed that William and Harry were presenting a united front no matter what.
Royal correspondent Rebecca English also took to Twitter to shed a little light on the situation. There, she wrote, “It’s clear from my conversations this morning that BOTH brothers are deeply, deeply unhappy about suggestions that Harry feels he has been ‘bullied’ out of the royal family by William.”
Yet calmer waters lay ahead. On January 18, you see, the Palace released a statement from the Queen that seemed to suggest bridges had been mended. This began, “Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.”
The official announcement went on, “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much-loved members of the family. I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life… It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
So, what decisions had the royals come to? Well, a further statement from Buckingham Palace cleared some of these matters up, saying, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are grateful to Her Majesty and the royal family for their ongoing support as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. As agreed in this new arrangement, they understand that they are required to step back from royal duties, including official military appointments. They will no longer receive public funds for royal duties.”
The message to the public continued, “With The Queen’s blessing, the Sussexes will continue to maintain their private patronages and associations. While they can no longer formally represent The Queen, the Sussexes have made clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty.”
And on January 19 Harry himself would speak out at an event for Sentebale – a charity that he had helped to create. The prince revealed, “The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly. It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven’t always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.”
On a lighter note, though, Harry added, “I will always have the utmost respect for my grandmother – my commander-in-chief. And I am incredibly grateful to her and the rest of my family for the support they have shown Meghan and I over the last few months. I will continue to be the same man who holds his country dear and dedicates his life to supporting the causes, charities and military communities that are so important to me.”
And that was that. In fact, on January 20 The Sun reported that, behind the scenes, Harry and William had finally reconciled. According to a “senior royal source,” the two men had “spent time together privately away from the official Sandringham summit, working on their relationship and discussing their future.”
The insider went on, “Given Harry is now permanently moving away, there was a realization [that] if [he and William] didn’t sort things out now, they never would. Of course, there have been serious differences in opinions, but the family warmth is back.” Hopefully, then, the new direction will be good for both of them.
And Harry and William may need to stick together when there’s yet another big change to the monarchy. You see, while the Queen may appear intent on staying in her position for some time yet, rumors persist that she may yet step down – or even be ousted. But is there any truth to this speculation? Well, royal officials have actually since weighed in on the matter – and what they have to say may draw a definitive line under all the gossip.
After almost 68 years on the throne, it’s no surprise that questions are being asked about how long the Queen can keep going. After all, at the time of writing she’s 93 years old. Moreover, her son Charles has reportedly been taking more of a hand as a power behind the throne. Nevertheless, the Queen persists. And recently, word emerged which has shed some light on her future plans.
There has been talk that Charles is now a “shadow king,” who may step in when the Queen reaches 95. That will happen in April 2021. It doesn’t happen very often that a reigning monarch steps aside to allow a regent to take control. But the necessary legislation exists and could, in theory, be utilized.
If Charles was to become the so-called Prince Regent, that wouldn’t mean Elizabeth would stop being top person in the United Kingdom. No, she would remain in her post as head of the British state, and she’d still be the Queen. But Charles might ultimately take over the duties of a king, if not quite receiving the title.
This outcome might not please the British people, though. A poll taken in June 2019 said that nearly half of them would like Charles to quit the throne straight away once he’s crowned. This would leave his son William as the king. However, it doesn’t seem likely that Charles would bow to public opinion, however strong it is.
But could Charles really just take over the duties of the king and let his mom put her feet up in retirement? Well, it’s not totally straightforward. There’s a whole bunch of people who have to agree before a regent can be appointed. The law says it cannot happen unless this agreement is secured.
At least three of a group of five specific people must agree that the Queen is unfit to rule. The first is the ruler’s spouse. Next is the Lord Chancellor, a person with an otherwise largely a ceremonial role. The speaker of the House of Commons is also one of the five, a less powerful person than America’s speaker, but nonetheless important in the British Parliament. Completing the list are the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls.
As U.S. biographer of the royals Sally Bedell Smith pointed out to newspaper USA Today in 2016, “The evidence of physicians is required to make the judgment of incapacity. In other words, there is a set procedure, and it is something that wouldn’t be invoked lightly. It’s a big deal.” Of course, it has happened before.
In 1811 the King of the United Kingdom was considered incapable of ruling and stepped aside. George III, a popular king, was beset with severe illness. Indeed, although he was well enough to agree to the regency, by the end of the year he was completely insane and never recovered. His son – the Prince Regent who later became King George IV – reigned in his place until the stricken king died in 1820.
The prospect of regency had arisen earlier in George III’s reign. In 1788 the King had a spell of insanity that prevented him from giving the speech that would open parliament. A crisis ensued, which paralyzed the government of the United Kingdom. Politicians agreed that it was time for a regent, but the King recovered before the necessary legislation could pass.
Before 1788 regents had, from time to time, ruled in the United Kingdom and – before the U.K.’s establishment – in England. However, this was never because of the incapacity of the monarch. In 1714, for instance, the Lord Chief Justice had ruled while the nation awaited George I taking the throne. More commonly, regents have served in the absence of a king at war, or simply because they were a minor.
In 1937 the Regency Act was passed. This was because King George VI was ailing, and the possibility that the then-Princess Elizabeth might be called upon to act as the regent in his place was real. The act itself outlined the process of appointing a regent. And interestingly, it stated that it wasn’t a measure to be taken strictly in the case of an old or sick monarch. For instance, if a leader felt they couldn’t approve legislation in good conscience, a temporary regent would be needed to allow the act to pass.
It’s not unheard of for British monarchs to give up the throne altogether, although it’s by no means common. The only time a king has abdicated totally of his own will was in 1936. Edward VIII gave up the throne because of the strong opposition that his marriage to American divorcée Wallis Simpson met amongst the establishment.
Before that, kings had abdicated with, ahem, a little persuasion. Richard II had to abdicate when cousin Henry Bolingbroke stole power when he wasn’t around. And James II ran away from England in 1688, when England underwent a revolution. At the time, people couldn’t agree whether he’d forfeited or abdicated. But either way, he was out.
Abdication has been a little more common in some other countries. In Japan, for instance, more emperors abdicated than ever died in office. And empresses would quite often surrender the throne if a man suited to the role turned up. In fairly recent times, King Juan Carlos of Spain gave up his throne for son Felipe, who was crowned in 2014.
And it’s become the norm in the Netherlands, where three queens in a row abdicated in favor of their heirs. Other countries have seen monarchs quit because they had grown old. Within the past 100 years, places such as Belgium, Qatar and Bhutan have all changed sovereigns because of age.
Abdication is not the only way a monarch could leave the job in England. Charles I, for instance, stopped being the king when his head was removed by the Parliamentarians. They had defeated his royalist forces in the English Civil War. Afterwards, they executed him on the accusation that he was a tyrant.
Charles I was not the only monarch to meet his end by execution. No, Lady Jane Grey went the same way. She was known as “the Nine Days’ Queen,” because that was how long she reigned before supporters of her cousin Mary overthrew her. Within a year, she was executed.
Other kings saw their reigns ended on the battlefield. Richard III died in 1485 fighting to keep his crown. Richard I was struck down by a crossbow’s arrow in a siege. In another conflict, William I took a fatal tumble from his horse. And King Harold is famously said to have fallen after being hit in the eye by an arrow at the Battle of Hastings.
The Queen is obviously very unlikely to die on a battlefield, but retirement does seem possible. One reason to speculate is that her husband Prince Philip has retired from public engagements. The Queen was reportedly right behind his decision. When told by Sir Michael Atiyah, a renowned mathematician, “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” Philip had a ready quip. He said, “Well, I can’t stand up much longer.”
One of Philip’s assistants was quick to point out that health had not forced him to quit. They said, “The Duke decided this is the right time. He’s nearly 96, and most people will have retired 30 years earlier.” So in August 2017 he bowed out from public duties and stopped accompanying the Queen on hers.
The Queen’s spouse had certainly put in a decent amount of work. He’d appeared in public on his own more than 22,000 times. And on more than 600 occasions he’d gone overseas to represent the U.K. He’d also given more than 5,000 speeches. And while his health had generally been good, he’d had a few medical issues.
Philip is not the only current member of the British royal family to quit the job. Prince Andrew, second son of the Queen, has also given up his royal obligations. This followed in the wake of revelations about Andrew’s involvement with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, which Andrew hadn’t been able to properly explain.
Royal watcher Victoria Arbiter had something to say about Andrew’s retirement on Twitter in November 2019. She wrote, “Prince Andrew is ‘stepping down’ in response to a wave of self-induced scandal and poor choices. But it’s extraordinary to think he’s effectively retiring from royal life 37 years before his father did.”
While Andrew claimed that he’d asked the Queen to okay his departure, the U.K. tabloids insisted that he’d been canned. Apparently, some of the other royals – in particular Charles and William – wanted him gone. Finally, even Philip supposedly weighed in, claiming that Andrew had to retire to “save the monarchy.”
Indeed, some of the commentary on the crisis was quite spicy. One writer in The Guardian newspaper suggested, “Andrew wasn’t just a bad apple. He comes from a royal orchard of them. It’s time Britain matured as a republic.” This was in an article titled, “Let’s get off our knees and abolish the monarchy.”
And in 2020 another prince gave up on working full-time as a royal. Harry and his wife Megan became embroiled in another crisis, as they triggered an event which has been dubbed a “Megxit.” The pair decided to withdraw from royal work and to spend some of their time in Canada.
After the Queen had met with the couple, she gave a statement that raised more questions than it answered. She didn’t use royal titles to describe Harry and Meghan, which fueled speculation that they would lose them. And all of this has been taking place within a context of chatter about Harry’s relationship with big brother William.
It’s very possible that these scandals have made the Queen feel that retirement should be an option. After all, she’s not young anymore, and coping with the grind of royal duties must be stressful. However, her mom Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother carried on with public appearances until shortly before she passed aged 101.
More whispers were heard after the Queen wore a lighter-than-usual crown when she opened parliament in 2019. Insiders, it was claimed, were spreading word that the Queen was ill. The talk peaked with the idea that the Queen is fighting bladder cancer and is not strong enough for chemo or surgery.
However, a royal watcher noted in the Daily Express that it seemed like nothing more serious than a cold had been afflicting the Queen. And perhaps she had simply made a concession to age in not wearing the Imperial State Crown. After all, it’s a rather heavy thing, given its adornment with jewels.
Of course, the Queen hasn’t gotten into her 90s without the odd health problem. In 2003 she needed minor surgery on her knee, which kept her out of the public eye for a few weeks. Then in 2018 she had to have cataracts removed. On that occasion, though, she didn’t skip a day, slipping on a pair of shades and getting back to business.
But rumors persisted at the end of 2019 that Charles would become her regent at some point. So, Charles’ representatives eventually had to make a statement that set out the Queen’s ideas about the future. It said, “There are no plans for any change in arrangements at the age of 95 – or any other age.”
In fact, the Queen has always been quite adamant that she would never give up her throne. As for retirement, it just doesn’t feature in the Queen’s plans. The reason is that she believes strongly in doing her duty – and her duty, as she sees it, is to stick with it.
Royal expert and biographer Sarah Bradford told U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph that it would not be happening. She said, “She won’t abdicate. That’s not what she does, or what the British monarchy does. There’s no tradition of abdication here – it goes against the informal rules of our constitutional set-up.”
Bedell Smith agreed with her, telling USA Today that chatter about abdication had been around for many years and had only strengthened because of the Prince Andrew crisis. However, she said, the Queen made a pledge when she was only 21. This promise has supposedly been renewed on more than one occasion afterwards, and it seems to preclude the Queen from ever retiring.
On her 21st birthday, the Queen had been in South Africa. Here, she made a broadcast over the radio that the whole world heard. She said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Bedell Smith mentioned, too, something that the Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes had claimed she said when the Archbishop of Canterbury resigned in 2003. She said, “The Queen sighed and said, ‘Oh, that’s something I can’t do. I am going to carry on to the end.’” Even if struck down by illness, the Queen would likely fight on.
Sarah Bradford sympathized with Charles, although she didn’t feel that there was any reflection on his personal qualities. She said, “I do feel sorry for the Prince of Wales, waiting and waiting, while his mother looks better and better. She’s not staying on because of any concern about his abilities as a king. The Queen simply feels she must do her duty, and she’s never even contemplated abdication.”
Perhaps the Queen is so adamant about abdication because she saw her life turned upside down by the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. She had been only Edward’s niece at this time, with little hope of becoming a monarch. And her mom had always believed that becoming King had led the Queen’s dad George VI to an early grave.
Ultimately, the Queen stays in the job because the people of Britain approve of her. Nothing could stop her giving up on the spot, if that’s what she desired. But the bottom line for the Queen is that she was given a job that she would have until the day she died. And she intends to honor her pledge.