You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Prince Harry and Meghan Exit Britain, Stage West

The New York Times logo The New York Times 3/9/2020 Mark Landler
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle are posing for a picture: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan arriving at Westminster Abbey in London for the annual Commonwealth Day service, on Monday. © Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson Collection, via Getty Images Prince Harry and his wife Meghan arriving at Westminster Abbey in London for the annual Commonwealth Day service, on Monday.

LONDON — With smiles and backward glances, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, took part in their final engagement on Monday, honoring the British Commonwealth at Westminster Abbey, before they decamp for one of its frontier outposts, western Canada, and an uncertain new life as semi-royals.

As bagpipes played and cameras flashed, the couple walked in just before Prince William and his wife, Kate, and took their seats a row behind them. Megan greeted her sister-in-law but the brothers scarcely spoke — their icy formality a metaphor for a once-close relationship that has all but unraveled.

When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles entered under the abbey’s vaulted ceiling to “God Save the Queen,” the familiar pomp was tinged with sadness. They, too, said little to Harry and Meghan, who once symbolized the future of the royal family and whose decision to leave almost ruptured it.

Sign up for the Morning Briefing newsletter

Harry has busied himself with a last series of appearances in recent days, including an Abbey Road recording session with the rock star Jon Bon Jovi and a travel conference in Edinburgh at which he told participants, “Just call me Harry.” Meghan paid a surprise visit to a classroom in London on Friday to mark International Women’s Day.

But as of March 31, the couple will no longer be full-time working members of the House of Windsor. They are expected to return soon to Canada, where they have left their son, Archie, in the care of a family friend.

The choice of venue for the couple’s final appearance was laden with symbols of the life Harry is leaving behind: It is where Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953; where Prince William married in 2011; and where 30 kings and queens are buried, going back to Edward the Confessor in 1066.

“It’s quite a significant moment,” said Valentine Low, the royal correspondent for the Times of London. “It means that just because you’re in the royal family doesn’t mean you have to stay in the royal family.”

Buckingham Palace headed off one potential bit of awkwardness when officials backtracked on a plan to give William and Kate a place in the queen’s procession while sending Harry and Meghan straight to their seats. Both couples ended up skipping the procession.

The order of service, as the palace’s planning document is known, was distributed to the royal press corps before it was finalized, according to palace officials. While there is precedent for senior family members not to be in the procession, some royal watchers took it as a telling moment.

Prince Andrew, the queen’s second son, was absent altogether, his banishment the result of the furor over his friendship with the disgraced financier, Jeffrey Epstein.

Harry and Meghan’s leave-taking was a wistful coda to a two-month drama that began in early January when they unexpectedly announced a plan to “step back” from their official duties, relocate for part of the year to North America and seek financial independence.

The news, communicated through their Instagram account, caught Buckingham Palace off guard, and plunged the royal family into its gravest crisis since the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in 1997. But the warning signs were there: deepening internal dissent on the part of Harry and Meghan and clear public signs that the prince, and particularly his wife, were unhappy with their lives in the royal family.

Elizabeth II wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Queen Elizabeth II arriving for the Commonwealth Service on Monday. She gave the couple what amounted to a bare-bones severance package. © Henry Nicholls/Reuters Queen Elizabeth II arriving for the Commonwealth Service on Monday. She gave the couple what amounted to a bare-bones severance package.

That set off a tense negotiation between Prince Harry, the second son of Charles and Diana, and the queen over the terms of their departure from working royal status. After an extraordinary family conclave at the queen’s country residence, Sandringham, the queen offered the couple what amounted to a bare-bones severance package.

The couple agreed not to use their most exclusive titles, His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness; to give up most public funding of their lifestyles; and to repay more than $3 million in state funds for the refurbishment of their official residence, Frogmore Cottage, on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Harry remains a prince, sixth in line to the throne, and he and Meghan retained another of their titles: the duke and duchess of Sussex. But they also agreed to strip the word royal from their website and Instagram account. Those sites, which carried the brand SussexRoyal, are a key part of how the couple plan to market themselves in their commercial and charitable pursuits.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Kate and Prince William entering Westminster Abbey on Monday. British tabloids have given her glowing coverage since Harry and Meghan announced their plans to leave. © Henry Nicholls/Reuters Kate and Prince William entering Westminster Abbey on Monday. British tabloids have given her glowing coverage since Harry and Meghan announced their plans to leave.

Harry and Meghan left little doubt of their resentment. They said in a statement on their site that they were being held to a different standard than other family members who wanted to work in the private sector. And they said they were under no legal obligation to stop using “royal” outside Britain, though they said they would refrain voluntarily from doing so.

The churlish tone erased any presumption that the couple had managed to reconcile with other family members. Although the queen has emphasized that she would welcome Harry and Meghan back at any time, royal watchers said they worried that the couple were getting bad advice from public relations advisers in the United States, which could alienate the queen.

“That was written by people on the other side of the Atlantic who don’t understand how the royal family works,” said Dickie Arbiter, who served as press secretary to the queen from 1988 to 2000.

Perhaps the only clear beneficiary of the Harry and Meghan crackup is Prince William’s wife, the former Kate Middleton. After drawing her share of unkind tabloid headlines when she was a student dating William, she has gotten a shower of gauzy press coverage in recent weeks.

“Kate Middleton is ‘single-handedly’ carrying the Royal Family,” declared the Daily Mail last week. “Romantic Prince William gushes over wife Kate Middleton and tells fan how much he loves her,” rhapsodized the Daily Mirror about a cliffside walk they took during a recent visit to Ireland.

Royal experts said the tabloids, feeling singed by the love-’em-and-leave-’em Hollywood glamour of Meghan, have rediscovered what are considered Kate’s very sensible English charms. A poised, dutiful mother of three royal grandchildren, she has taken on a heavy load of engagements as her children have begun going to school.

“There was a danger, when Meghan and Harry were first married, that they were going to eclipse William and Kate,” said Penny Junor, a royal biographer. “They were just more charismatic and exotic. By comparison, Kate, whom we’ve all grown to know quite well, was not the new girl on the block.”

“Now,” Ms. Junor said, “Harry and Meghan, having done what they did, have made people think, ‘We quite like dull.’”

Related Video: A look inside the queen's life after Harry and Meghan's royal exit (Provided by PEOPLE)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT
AdChoices

More from The New York Times

The New York Times
The New York Times
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon