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How a ‘progressive’ new arrangement for the British royal family could work

The British monarchy is in the midst of one of its most tumultuous times in recent history. Queen Elizabeth announced Monday that she would be open to a new arrangement that would allow Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to pursue a life outside their royal obligations. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to Robert Lacey, a royal historian, about whether the family can successfully reinvent itself.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The British monarchy is in the midst of one of its most tumultuous times in recent memory.

    And, today, Queen Elizabeth said she would be open to a new arrangement that would allow Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to pursue a life outside their royal obligations.

    The statement followed an extraordinary meeting today.

    Amna Nawaz fills in the picture.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the queen's statement was released after meeting with her heir, Prince Charles, and her grandsons, Princes William and Harry.

    The statement read — quote — "Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family."

    Joining us now from London to discuss this and what's ahead for Meghan and Prince Harry's future is Robert Lacey. He is a historian on the royal family and a consultant to the Netflix series "The Crown."

    Robert Lacey, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    I want to ask you if you can just start us off with some context here. How big a deal is it that there are members of the royal family who are intentionally, deliberately trying to take a step back from this institution?

  • Robert Lacey:

    It is very significant.

    I think it's a moment to rank with the annus horribilis which was the fancy Latin name for all the disasters in the 1990s with the royal marriages going wrong and the Windsor fire — the Windsor Castle burning, perhaps even the abdication of 1936, because, actually, if it doesn't work out, Prince Harry and Meghan have expressed their intention of abdicating.

    And, in that sense, you could say, this meeting and coming together and urgency was a result of a certain sort of blackmail.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let's talk a little bit about what we do know, which is still very early in stages in terms of how this arrangement will play out.

    What do you know, based on the people you have talked to, about how this kind of arrangement might even work?

  • Robert Lacey:

    Based on people I have talked to, I think it's got every chance of working.

    We have heard today confirmation that the Sussexes will settle in Canada, at least for periods of transition, while they work out how they are going to do the other thing that's in the statement. They do not want to be reliant on public funds.

    That is really a key over here. Taxpayers' money is the refrain that gets repeated. Every British taxpayer pays about one pound 24 or so, what's that, $1.50, in their taxes goes every year to the royal family. That might seem a small sum for all the fun and pleasure they give us.

    And it also, actually, is a small sum for the billions, literally billions, they bring in, in tourist revenue.

    But this issue has got the country pretty divided.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about the way that Harry and Meghan presented this when they made the announcement. They said — and I'm quoting from their original statement — they want to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.

    So can the two co-exist, a progressive new role within this institution that traces its roots to medieval times?

  • Robert Lacey:

    The strength of the wrong family is its ability to adapt to change, its realization that it's got to represent the values of the people that it's supposed to represent.

    My prediction, based on what I have heard, is that this tricky question of the money, so that the British taxpayer doesn't feel aggrieved, is going to be solved by some sort of huge American foundation.

    I will predict that, the creation of a big Sussex royal foundation in America. It will fund all their good activities and their crusading activities in North America and around the world.

    And what's going — this is not the end of the story. They're now for the next few days going to haggle over the details. And the sort of details they will be talking about will be, well, what are you going to crusade for in your new foundation? Fine to get involved in community development, racial equality.

    Once you stray into women's politics and that sort of area, maybe that will be trespassing on the traditional and very important political and social neutrality of the royal family.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Robert, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about a lot of the reports and analysis we have seen in the days since the announcement by Meghan and Harry that what was underlying their decision was also the disproportionate criticism Meghan received, and a lot of it fueled by some very real racism in Britain.

    What do you make of that?

  • Robert Lacey:

    It's quite true.

    There was terrible racism on the Internet, in social media, but also the British tabloids subjected Meghan to the sort of hazing that all royal women have to go through, cruelly, when they join the royal family. Kate went through it, Harry's — sorry — William's wife. Camilla went through it.

    So that's a real grievance, understandable. From Harry's point of view, there's been this existence of a rift we have just discovered that has been marring his relationship with his brother, William, for 18 months now.

    And so that's why Harry himself wasn't averse to going, and undoubtedly supported his wife in her wish.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is this a sense of how sort of the modern monarchy can now work? Is this a model for the future?

  • Robert Lacey:

    My view is that it is a very positive model for the future.

    Just at the time we're leaving Europe and the government's looking across the Atlantic, here is the royal family actually ahead of them. And the British royal family has in a way, almost despite itself, reinvented itself again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Robert Lacey, historian of the royal family, joining us tonight from London.

    Thank you very much.

  • Robert Lacey:

    Thank you.

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