LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II has moved quickly to take control of the crisis surrounding the decision by Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to distance themselves from the royal family, ordering royal courtiers to sort out a future role for the pair within days.
British media reported Friday that the monarch, who is at her Sandringham estate in eastern England, held a conference call with her son Prince Charles and grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry.
The royal family is said to be “hurt” by Harry and Meghan’s statement Wednesday that they want to step down from being senior royals, with reports claiming they were not told of the statement beforehand. But the queen, Charles and William have told their teams to work with government and the Sussexes to sort out a solution.
In the meantime, Meghan has returned to Canada, where she and Harry spent the Christmas holidays, instead of with other royals at Sandringham. The former actress is American but has longstanding ties to Canada, having lived in Toronto while filming the TV show “Suits.”
The talks come after the royal pair released a “personal message” Wednesday evening that said they were stepping back from being senior members of Britain’s royal family, would work to become financially independent and would “balance” their time between the U.K. and North America.
Harry, 35, is Elizabeth’s grandson and sixth in line to the British throne, behind his father, older brother William and his brother’s three children. The former British Army officer is one of the royal family’s most popular members and has spent his entire life in the public eye.
Before marrying the prince in a wedding watched around the world in 2018, the 38-year-old Meghan was a star of the TV legal drama “Suits.” The couple’s son Archie was born in May 2019.
A friend of the couple, broadcaster Tom Bradby, said Harry and Meghan were made aware while in Canada over the holidays that the monarchy’s future focus would be on those at the top of the line of succession. An image of the monarch, Charles, William and his son George released last week underscored the message of who the Windsors see as their core members.
Bradby, an ITV television anchor who filmed a documentary with Harry and Meghan while they were in Africa, appeared in a news program on his network and described the royal split as inevitable. The wish by the duke and duchess to leave the grind of front-line royal duty had been known, but the timing of their announcement was not.
“It’s certainly not true to say the palace were blindsided by this,” Bradby told ITV. “The couple’s view was they came back and wanted to talk to the family about their plans. It had been made clear to them in their absence there was going to be a slimmed down monarchy and they weren’t really a part of it.”
Harry and Meghan, meanwhile, faced a barrage of criticism from the British press over their decision.
The latest developments reveal more divisions within the British monarchy, which was just rocked in November by Prince Andrew’s disastrous television interview about his relationship with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew, the queen’s second son, has stepped away from royal duties and patronages after being accused by a woman who says she was an Epstein trafficking victim who slept with the prince.
Harry and Meghan have long complained of intrusive media coverage and accused some British media commentators of racism. They slammed the country’s long-standing arrangements for royal media coverage and insisted that from now on they prefer to communicate directly with the public through social media.
Still, the couple have their supporters. Labour Party leadership contender Clive Lewis told backers Friday at his campaign launch that he understood their decision.
“It is extremely unfortunate and a sign of the media we have that they feel they have to do this,” he said. “I know it is not the only reason. But if you look at the intrusion on their lives, if you look at the racism that Meghan Markle has experienced in the British media, then I can understand why.”
The couple’s statement on Wednesday left many questions unanswered — such as what they plan to do and how they will earn private income without tarnishing the royal image. At the moment, they are largely funded by Harry’s father, Prince Charles, through income from his vast Duchy of Cornwall estate.
The couple said they plan to cut ties to the British taxpayer support given each year to the queen for official use, which currently covers 5% of the costs of running their office. But commentators have questioned whether the royal couple have misunderstood their true cost to the country, arguing their statement doesn’t appear to cover some of the costs embedded in royal life, such as security.
Harry and Meghan have considerable assets of their own. Harry inherited an estimated 7 million pounds ($9.1 million) from his late mother, Princess Diana, as well as money from his great-grandmother. Meghan has money from a successful acting career.