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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, officially the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced their intention to “step back” from their roles as senior members of the British royal family on Wednesday.
The couple, commonly referred to by their first names, said they intend to split their time between the U.K. and North America as they “carve out a progressive new role” within the monarchy and work to become “financially independent.”
The announcement, which was reportedly released in defiance of “clear instructions from the queen," is said to have sent shock waves through Buckingham Palace. The couple’s decision to distance themselves from official duties while retaining their titles is unprecedented, royal experts say.
Harry and Meghan have been the subject of intense media attention since first appearing together in public in 2017. Their wedding the next year was treated as a global event. They had their first child, Archie, in May.
Why there’s debate
The most frequently cited reason for Harry and Meghan’s decision is their discontent with the media coverage they receive. As the son of a future king and an idolized prince, Harry has been in the public eye his entire life. Meghan, an American with with a white father and black mother, has been subjected to enormous scrutiny in the press. The famously aggressive British tabloids heaped a unique level of criticism on her, some argue, that at times trafficked in racial tropes and occasionally dipped into explicit racism.
Another common explanation for the couple’s decision is a perception that they didn’t particularly care for the ceremonial elements of royal life. As sixth in line for the throne, Harry is unlikely to ever become king. This gives him a freedom that his older brother, William, who’s behind only his father, Charles, in the line of succession, doesn’t have. Others have accused them of wanting all of the financial and fame benefits of royalty without taking on any of the work that comes along with it.
Some see Harry and Meghan’s move as a sign of changing attitudes toward the monarchy, which they argue represents a legacy of subjugation and colonialism that has little place in the modern world.
The first indication of how the couple might spend some of their time after stepping back from royal duties came from reports that had Meghan signed a deal to do voice-over work for Disney, with all the proceeds going to a conservation charity.
Many of the broader details of Harry and Meghan’s future, such as where in North America they will live, are still unclear. It’s also unknown how much of a role, if any, they’ll have in the monarchy going forward.
Frustration with criticism from tabloids
“The British media spent much of 2019 turning their fire on Meghan. She was painted by many as a whinging, out-of-touch celebrity who did little more than complain about how restrictive life in the clan was.” — Luke McGee, CNN
“Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have finally had enough. Enough of the disproportionate
scrutiny, blatant misogyny and relentless racism that has been hurled at them (well, mostly at Meghan) unremittingly since they got married in 2018.” — Natalie Morris, Metro (United Kingdom)
Desire to control their media narrative
“Harry and Meghan are pursuing a media strategy closer to Hollywood A-listers than the grin-and-bear-it universalism associated with the ruling family. The price of access will now be good behavior — or as they call it, ‘objective news reporting.’ No more vague rumors, no more cruel comment pieces, if you want a ringside seat at the Harry and Meghan show.” — Helen Lewis, Atlantic
They didn’t like the job
“Why are they leaving? I think it was pretty obvious if you hung around with them as I did and followed them when they did their tours and trips. There were great chunks of the job they simply didn’t like.” — Jonny Dymond, BBC
The rise of populist politics in the U.K.
“If the media paid more attention to Britain’s communities of color, perhaps it would find the announcement far less surprising. With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving.” — Afua Hirsch, New York Times
Uncomfortable fit in the royal family
“Meghan Markle was never the British monarchy or media’s first choice. … Because she’s always been an outsider predominantly because of her racial background, there is poetic justice in that she was always destined to break protocol because she never was meant to exist inside of the order in the first place.” — Morgan Jerkins, Zora
Harry is not in the line of succession
“By stepping back, Harry can allow his brother, his father and his grandmother to shine, as they were born to do, while protecting his wife and their son from further pain (and his mother's terrible fate).” — Kaitlin Menza, NBC News
Distancing themselves from dysfunctional royal family
“They are cutting themselves off from an increasingly toxic brand while retaining their status as global celebrities.” — Ruth Graham, Slate
The royal family wasn’t going to change
“The sad thing is that, given the chance, Meghan could have been the person to truly bring the institution into the present day. … In the end, the tradition — even staleness — everyone was used to, won. Meghan took a gamble when she married into the most famous family in Britain, and it didn't pay off.” — Serina Sandhu, iNews (United Kingdom)
“They want to be super-woke celebrities (with all the outrageous 'Do as we say not as we do' hectoring hypocrisy they've already brought to that status) who get to keep all the trappings of royal life without any of the hard, boring bits and the right to cash in on their status however they choose.” — Piers Morgan, Daily Mail (United Kingdom)
Desire to profit off their image
“They’ve made no secret of their plans to monetize and trade upon their status, from spending their six-week holiday ‘break’ in a $14 million waterfront mansion in Vancouver … to trademarking ‘Sussex Royal,’ which will allow them to slap their brand on everything from clothing to books and magazines to anything you can think of, really.” — Maureen Callahan, New York Post
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images