Stormy waters for the Royal Family – or a storm in a teacup?

‘The Worst Royal Crisis in 85 Years’, wrote one national newspaper on its front page this week. ‘A Palace ‘reeling’ said another, after ‘toxic accusations’ and ‘incendiary racism allegations’.

The build-up and reaction to the Oprah Winfrey interview of the Sussexes has played out like a television drama, which is somewhat ironic given the medium through which they chose to air their grievances. Thus far, the Palace has, as is traditional for them, held its own counsel, perhaps hoping that a dignified silence will damp down media comment and popular speculation about the impact of the interview.

Even before this interview, 2021 has, for the members of the Royal Family, been a sad and worrying time. The health of Prince Philip continues to cause concern – who wouldn’t worry over a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather just short of his 100th birthday, hospitalised and with no firm date for his return home?

And now, against that backdrop, we have a media frenzy over these new details of how the Sussexes went through their traumatic times before ‘Megxit’.

One has to take seriously Meghan’s revelation about her pregnancy misery. Some women find it a happy experience; others find it a challenge to their mental wellbeing. Sadly, it seems, the Duchess fell into that latter category. She deserves sympathy and respect for speaking out, on what was International Women’s Day in the UK.

<p>Ceremony_of_Welcome_for_TRH_The_Duke_and_Duchess_of_Sussex_(2) Office of the Governor-General [CC BY (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby4.0)]<br></p>
<p>The_Duke_and_Duchess_of_Sussex_in_Australia_(1) Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General [CC BY (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0)]<br></p>
<p>Prince_Harry_and_Ms._Markle_visit_Titanic_Belfast_(40973168971) Northern Ireland Office [CC BY (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0)]<br></p>

There were, however, other points raised – and seized upon by the media – that would benefit from some clarification and context, so that they do not damage unfairly the reputations of either the current members of the Royal Family (including the Sussexes) or the Royal Household and those associated with it.

For example, The Duke suggested that, in cancelling a personal lunch at Sandringham with the Sussexes, The Queen had received ‘bad advice’. Is that fair? The Queen had another engagement in her diary and was reminded of it by her advisors. She chose, dutifully, to keep the prior engagement. She probably did not realise that events would swiftly make rescheduling the personal engagement with her loved grandson and wife problematic. She may regret that personally but it is unlikely to have changed subsequent events.

Then there is the issue of titles. Meghan implied that their son Archie was somehow being snubbed by not becoming a prince. But as has been widely pointed out, under the Letters Patent 1917, devised by George V to limit the size of the Royal Family, a child of Prince Harry’s would never automatically have been prince or princess. 

George V specifically excluded the sovereign’s great grandchildren unless they were in the direct (then male) line of succession. The Queen modified the primogeniture rule to make it simply the eldest child when estimating the line of succession in 2013.

But other aspects of the Letters Patent 1917 remain in force. 

It’s worth remembering that had Prince Harry been born Harriet, then only a special intervention by the Queen would have conferred the right to be a princess (male grandchildren could pass on a royal title, but only to male offspring). 

Until the Queen’s specific intervention for the younger Cambridge children, Charlotte and Louis Cambridge would simply have been Lady Charlotte and Lord Louis and only George would have been Prince. It’s worth looking at the model provided by Princess Patricia of Connaught. When, in 1919, she married Captain Alexander Ramsay, RN, in the spirit of the Letters Patent 1917, she promptly relinquished the title princess and style of Royal Highness.

On the issue of security, it has been practice, in recent years, to keep the costs of such security severely under control, in order to save the public purse. For example, from 2011, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie no longer had any entitlement to protection. A special exception is currently being made, after threats in 2017 and 2018, for Prince George, but ordinarily, while children, the descendants of the monarch are not seen as requiring full-time protection. Princess Anne’s children and grandchildren set the precedent here, alongside the children of her brother Prince Edward.

Finally, to be able to get married in a location (inside or out) not already licensed for marriage, you need a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury (unlike the USA, you can only legally marry in a spot licensed for the solemnisation of matrimony). Kensington Palace is not such a location, meaning there would have to be an application for a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. A legal marriage ceremony also has to be witnessed by two people besides the couple and celebrant.

Despite these inaccuracies, the interview has prompted those doom-laden headlines and claims that the monarchy is in crisis. I do not agree.

The institution has, historically, faced similar challenges (Edward VIII’s abdication, the divorce of Charles and Diana being just two), survived and adapted. It will do so again, despite the sorrow caused by the airing of a family quarrel in tones that will wound, personally. Time to heal will be needed, especially those charges of ignoring mental health problems and of racism.

Undoubtedly, it will be used by critics of the institution and the individual members of the family, but I do not believe, longer term, it will significantly damage the Queen’s personal reputation or the monarchy’s. Lessons will be learned (perhaps that those not in direct succession should not be groomed to take on senior working roles unless they actively volunteer); it will change, but it was (and is) doing that anyway.

Essentially, this is a family quarrel – as dramatic and sad in personal terms as any played out on a more private stage. The cups of tea being served to members of Harry’s family contain a brew that is strong, even bitter (one can even speculate on spluttering). But such storms are contained and the dregs poured over. Drama eases. That will happen here.

 

International Women's Day 2021

Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements or rally for women's equality.

Plymouth's women in leadership talk about their inspiring work and equality issues during a pandemic

 

Plymouth Powerful Women

From community activist Hester Robins OBE to scientist Emma Scott, and from Age Concern champion Edith Sitters to international swimmer Sharron Davies, the Plymouth Powerful Women project has identified and showcased 92 women who have helped to shape the city since 1919.

Launched on March 8, 2021 – this year's International Women's Day – the Plymouth Powerful Women website contains curated biographies of all of the women, and a walking trail focusing on 13 of them, available through a smartphone app.

Discover more about Plymouth Powerful Women