UPDATE 1/9 1 PM: According to Express and other sources, Queen Elizabeth II has called for an emergency meeting to discuss Harry and Meghan stepping back. The royal family has already gathered to celebrate the Duchess of Cambridge's 38th birthday, but senior members are expected to also discuss security, funding, and other aspects of the Sussexes' new role while they are together.
UPDATE 1/8 4 PM: According to the BBC, no royal family members were consulted before this change, and some are expressing disappointment. Queen Elizabeth II has also released an initial response, saying: "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."
After a lot of speculation over how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would handle their royal duties moving forward, the couple has made a major announcement: this year, they are stepping back from their status as senior royal family members.
Rumors surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been around for years—marrying an American is a big deal for royals, as The Crown fans know—but they have increased over the past year as Meghan dealt with harsh criticism and the couple continued to contemplate their path forward in the royal family. Upon having their first child last May, they decided against giving him any titles despite having the option to do so, instead simply naming him Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. After the tabloids were going too far in talking about Meghan, Harry came out with a statement defending her in early October, and the Duchess herself gave an emotional statement about her difficult position as part of a documentary just a few weeks later.
The speculation reached a new level over the holidays, when Harry and Meghan skipped the royal family's Christmas parties and churchgoing, instead spending six weeks on Vancouver Island with baby Archie amidst a break from royal duties. Upon returning to work in 2020, the Sussexes' first stop was Canada House, where they discussed climate change and thanked the country for hosting them.
Such a thank-you visit doesn't normally happen, which led the world to think the couple was contemplating moving to Canada, and perhaps stepping back from royal duties. Earlier today, Buckingham Palace released a statement that they refused to comment and insisting any talks were in the early stages. That also doesn't often happen, and ultimately, Harry and Meghan released a joint statement on their Instagram early this afternoon, explaining that they have made the decision to step back as senior royal family members. They will split time between the UK and North America, and work to become financially independent while continuing to support the crown. The couple has also set up a website, sussexroyal.com, that provides more clarification on the details of the new transition. You can see the full Instagram statement below, and read on to learn more about the move.
What are the senior royal family members, anyway?
In their announcement, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made it clear that they're not ending their status as royals altogether, but instead stepping down from being "senior" members. According to Royal Central, there are a few conflicting definitions for this, but one seems to most accurately describe the current situation: the senior royal family comprises the queen, the Counsellors of State (Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Andrew), and their spouses (Camilla, Kate, and Meghan). Counsellors of State carry out Queen Elizabeth II's duties whenever she is absent, and senior royal family members usually have the most responsibility, though there are some notable exceptions, like Princess Anne and the Duke of Gloucester. It seems, then, that Harry and Meghan will be performing less official duties than they did in the past, and there certainly will be some changes to the limitations on their lifestyles, though it's unclear just how much freedom they will now have. Other royal family members have also recently stepped back from duties—Philip due to his advancing age, and Andrew due to public controversy over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein—so it seems the circle of people holding the highest responsibility is getting pretty tight.
Where will Harry and Meghan spend their time in North America?
The couple hasn't confirmed anything, beyond that they will split their time between Meghan's home continent and the UK. However, a few locations seem likely for them to spend significant time. The first of these is Canada: even before the Sussexes spent six weeks there with baby Archie, the Duchess had a close relationship with the country during her pre-royal life, living in Toronto while filming Suits. Another likely place the couple will frequent is Los Angeles, where Meghan grew up and her mom, Doria Ragland, continues to reside. While the Duke and Duchess didn't visit the US at all during their six weeks off, they did reportedly spend some time with Ragland, so it seems likely they would enjoy some time there once they've established a North American residence. Meghan also has close friends in New York and has traveled there more than once since becoming a royal, so it seems the city will be a favorite of hers for weekend trips, whether she goes alone or her family joins her.
Are the Sussexes giving up their HRH titles?
No one really knows yet. Philip and Andrew both kept their titles upon stepping back, so it seems Harry and Meghan could do the same if that's what they decide. After all, they said they will continue to support the crown and spend part of their time in the UK. However, the Sussexes did decide not to give Archie a title, so it also wouldn't be entirely surprising if they wanted to align themselves with their young son using a more private status. It does seem, though, that this is mainly about having more space away from the pressure of public duty, so they might be happy with simply stepping back.
Will Meghan get a personal Instagram again? Will Harry?
This is obviously something much less pressing than the rest, and if it happens, it won't warrant an announcement ahead of time. However, fans of Meghan (and even anyone who started following her whereabouts well ahead of the wedding) know well that she used to be active on social media, as well as her fashion and lifestyle blog, The Tig. It wasn't surprising when the now-royal retired from acting and deleted all her personal platforms ahead of becoming a duchess, but this did appear to be a genuine passion of hers, so without the senior royal pressure, there's a chance she could revisit having her own online presence. Princess Beatrice has a Twitter and Princess Eugenie has an Instagram, so Meghan wouldn't be the first royal to go this route. With a lower-pressure status than ever before, maybe Harry will even join her.
What does this mean for Archie?
Archie already didn't have a title, so he has been pretty free to enjoy a private life since birth. It seems that, as before, he will be able to make his own choices while still being pretty well off, but now he will just get to spend some more time with his parents and experience growing up in multiple countries.
What does it mean for Harry and Meghan to become financially independent?
On their website, the couple explains that they are giving up the Sovereign Grant, which funds 5% of their office expenses. They further explain that this grant is "the annual funding mechanism of the monarchy that covers the work of the Royal Family in support of HM The Queen including expenses to maintain official residences and workspaces," also clarifying that, "in this exchange, The Queen surrenders the revenue of the Crown Estate and in return, a portion of these public funds are granted to The Sovereign/The Queen for official expenditure." The other 95% of their office funding comes from income that Prince Charles allocates through the Duchy of Cornwall. Harry and Meghan have not announced plans to give this part of their funding up, so it's unclear what exactly will happen. While receiving the sovereign grant, the Sussexes are unable to earn their own income, so it appears becoming financially independent is more about freeing up their ability to do so than cutting all financial ties with the royal family.