Harry and Meghan’s ‘declaration of war’ on royal family

On the 8th of May this year, the Queen will lead large scale events around the UK to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the end of World War II. On that day, the then-teenage Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret slipped out of the palace gates and anonymously joined the thousands in the streets, celebrating the end of the bloody conflict.
Only days into 2020, the Queen is facing another raging battle: only this time, it is one taking place behind the gilded Palace gates and only erupted into public view this week.
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On Thursday, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, dropped the shocking announcement they were quitting as “senior” royals. It was a stunning move that capped off nearly two years of tumult for the embattled couple, who have faced a slew of public relations nightmares and increasingly fraught relations with the press.
However, within hours of the news breaking, another story started to emerge.
Reports in the UK press began claiming that the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William had been kept in the dark about the couple’s sensational decision.
More than that, Her Majesty is said to have only found out about the historic development via a TV report while the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge only learned of the impending bombshell ten minutes before it dropped.
Hours after the revelation, a senior source soon told the Sun: “[The Sussex] statement was not cleared with anyone … This is a declaration of war on the family. There is fury over how they’ve done this without any thought for the implications for the institution. The Queen is deeply upset. The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge are incandescent with rage.”
Shots. Fired.
(Consider also Buckingham Palace’s extraordinarily terse two-sentence statement in response to the Sussex announcement. The brevity and bluntness of it speaks volumes.)
The significance of this stark rejection of protocol (and even basic manners) is colossal.
For Harry, who has grown up innately aware of the very carefully considered way things are done at Buckingham Palace, to act with such license (if not impudence) speaks volumes about just how rancorous things are inside the Windsor clan right now.
Whether they planned to or not, the way the events of Thursday played out are tantamount to something of a two-fingered salute to the Queen and powers that be.
All of this makes for the clearest, and most damning, signal yet that there is a serious feud raging inside the royal family. For more than a year now, there have been a series of clues suggesting that all was far from well inside the palace.
In late 2018, it was first alleged that there had been a dispute over the tiara that Meghan had wanted to wear for the wedding and that Harry had told staff that “what Meghan wants, Meghan gets.”
The Queen, upset by her grandson’s behaviour is reported to have pulled him into line.
Then came claims that Meghan and her sister-in-law Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, had had a falling out with reports that Kate was left in tears after a flower girl dress fitting.
Perhaps all of this could have been put down to pre-wedding jitters, but then came the next revelation: That Princes William and Harry, once the staunchest of supporters of one another, were embroiled in a feud. (Some reports have suggested that Harry felt his brother had not done enough to welcome Meghan into the family.) In October last year during a TV interview, Harry seemingly confirmed this.
Over the northern summer, when the extended Windsor family compliantly made the trek to Scotland to spend time with the Queen at Balmoral, Harry and Meghan were conspicuously (and perhaps, tellingly) absent.
Likewise, their choice to eschew the royal family’s Christmas celebrations for a six-week break in Canada did nothing to dispel the impression of an enduring froideur between the Duke and Duchess and his family.
Which brings us to this week’s shock announcement and the muddled, and allegedly hurtful, way it was made public.
The Windsors are not a democracy, rather there is a strict (and obvious) hierarchy. Circumnavigating, if not simply downright ignoring, long-established protocol is far more than a slight towards the Queen. It is a glaring repudiation of the way the Windsor family has operated for decades, which by extension, is a clear-cut rejection of Her Majesty’s authority.
It is hard to get away from the impression that in a number of royal residences, a long simmering anger has reached boiling point right now.
All of this begs the question, can the Sussexes ever come back from this?
Do these events represent a mortal wound when it comes to the relationship between the Queen and her grandson?
As of the time of writing, hurried discussions are being carried about by the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry about how to manage this situation, with questions about the Sussexes’ financial arrangement, security costs and housing likely on the table.
All of these are complex, tricky issues to navigate and finding an amenable solution for all parties is going to be supremely complicated.
Then again, this might all seem like a piece of cake in contrast to trying to repair the tattered Windsor relationships.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years of experience working with a number of Australia’s leading titles.