The ‘third way’ of being a senior royal – representing the Queen one day, earning serious money the next, was always untenable. When Harry and Meghan first made public their desire to change the status quo they described it as a ‘progressive new role’. Critics, better versed in the workings of an ancient institution than some of those advising the couple, dismissed it as a ‘having your cake and eat it’ approach.
Given that the idea was never a runner, it’s striking that it has taken those who are still active royals more than a week to accept the inevitable. They clearly didn’t want this outcome but now they have it. They want to keep Harry and Meghan on-side. This is evident in the warmth of the Queen’s statement when she talked of her pride at how Meghan had ‘so quickly become one of the family’. Such a sentiment may prompt a wry smile on the part of the duchess. Only last year she complained, in a clear reference to the family she’d just married into, that not many people had asked her if she was okay.
Ten days ago, the talk was of ‘stepping back’. Now the Sussexes have very clearly stepped down. No overseas tours, no official military appointments, no longer His or Her Royal Highness. Twenty-four years after his mother became Diana, Princess of Wales, her younger son is becoming Harry, Duke of Sussex. The bitterness inflicted back then has so-far been avoided. Diana was stripped of her HRH. Harry and Meghan keep theirs; they just won’t use them.
The 21st century resolution of the HRH issue is just one of their victories. Harry and Meghan have won and the ancient institution he was born into has lost. On many levels, they are now free. One of these wins is that they can forge commercial deals without interference from senior royal officials.
Their departure has shown that even in a new decade if you’re a struggling royal you either stiffen that upper lip or you leave. It’ll be a lesson for George, Charlotte and Louis to reflect on if they chafe in the limelight once they grow up.
Wiser royals will know they’ve lost something that they’ll struggle to get back. They failed to fully embrace a woman of African-American heritage. Meghan, who has described herself as half black and half white helped to make the monarchy more relevant to parts of the British population and a bit more like modern Britain. She, with Harry by her side, engendered an interest in the Queen’s family that wasn’t just confined to the shores of the UK. Now that interest will be focused exclusively on them and their son Archie and not on the House of Windsor they are leaving behind.
Last year, in South Africa, Meghan uttered words never before delivered by a member of the British royal family when she spoke of being a ‘woman of colour’. Will a royal ever utter such words again?
Peter hunt is a commentator on the monarchy and constitutional issues. He is a former BBC diplomatic and royal correspondent.