Meghan Markle and Prince Harry on the Royal run
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to step back from public life and work towards financial self-sufficiency after a period marked by open warfare with the media over claimed intrusion and bullying. It is understood that no other member of the royal family was consulted before the decision was announced, and Buckingham Palace was disappointed by the news.
The couple plan to split their time between the UK and North America, the continent of Meghan’s birth, as they raise their son.
“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,” said an official statement from Prince Harry and Meghan.
“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.”
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said discussions with the couple on their decision to step back from the royal family were “at an early stage”, adding: “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
The couple have appeared increasingly unhappy in recent months with their public roles and the level of scrutiny they have faced.
In October, Meghan began legal proceedings against the Mail on Sunday after the paper published a handwritten letter she had sent to her estranged father. The action was launched alongside a scathing statement from Prince Harry denouncing the media’s “bullying” of his wife; behaviour he likened to the treatment of his mother, Princess Diana.
He said he could no longer be a “silent witness” to Meghan’s “private suffering”, adding that his “deepest fear is history repeating itself”.
He wrote: “There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.
“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Before the couple married, Harry had attacked the British press for introducing “racial overtones” into the reporting of their relationship. He accused the Sun of printing “a smear on the front page”, an allegation the paper denied.
Concerns were expressed about their wellbeing when they gave an emotional interview during a tour of southern Africa last year. Meghan was visibly upset when asked if she was OK in reference to her struggle with tabloid scrutiny.
The interview also led to speculation of a rift between Harry and his brother, William, Duke of Cambridge, as the former said he loved his brother dearly but that they were “on different paths” and had “good days” and “bad days” in their relationship.
During her Christmas Day address, the Queen spoke of the “bumpy” path her family and the nation had experienced.
Possible signs the couple were looking to distance themselves from the institution of the monarchy had emerged over the course of their relationship. They decided their son, Archie, should be referred to as Master, rather than using the courtesy title Earl Dumbarton or to style him Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.
They split their household from Kensington Palace, setting up their own at Buckingham Palace with a separate head of communications and their own SussexRoyal Instagram account. They then left the Cambridges’ Royal Foundation to start a separate Sussex Royal charity.
The royal family has been slimmed down over the course of the last few years, with greater focus being placed on those most senior in the line of succession.
During the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012, only a core group of family members were invited to accompany the monarch and her husband on her royal barge. They included Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, as well as his two children and their spouses.
Other relatives – including Charles’s brother the Duke of York and his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – were placed on a separate vessel. Last year, Prince Andrew stepped back from public duties, having been forced to deny a series of allegations about his sexual conduct, with Charles playing a leading role in his eventual removal.
The Duke of Edinburgh decided to retire from public duties in 2017.
The couple indicated their wish for financial independence, though they have not indicated whether they intend to take paid work or live on their accumulated wealth.
Harry has inherited millions of pounds from his relatives’ estates, and, prior to taking a public role, Meghan was a highly successful actor. The Queen also gave them a home to live in.