So, the Queen has momentarily quietened the latest scandal to afflict the British royal family by supporting Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s desire to take a ‘step back’ by allowing a ‘period of transition’ as they split their time between the UK and Canada.
At 93, Elizabeth II must have thought that her days of fixing family issues were long gone, but such is not the case with an institution so archaic and inflexible as to feel redundant for most ordinary people. Or so it would seem.
The public reaction to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s surprise announcement, and the media frenzy that followed, shows how deeply ingrained interest in the lives of the royal family remains in modern Britain. It seems a particularly quixotic sideshow for many people despite the inherent dullness of much of the Windsor clan.
Obvious comparisons can be drawn between Prince Harry’s wish to alleviate the royal burden from himself and the decision by Edward VIII to abdicate the throne in 1936. Whilst not as drastic a turn of events – Harry is, after all, only sixth in line to the throne – the circumstances of Edward’s abdication and the personalities involved show some parallels with the current ‘crisis’.
Having only ascended the throne in January 1936, Edward VIII’s reign never seem destined to be a long or happy one. A reputed playboy in his youth, he never wanted to be king and showed disdain towards royal tradition on his ascension, failing in the eyes of many to act in a manner befitting of a royal. Breaking point came with the entrance into his life of an American woman (cue comparisons with Ms Markle).
Wallis Simpson was a soon to be twice-divorced woman when her and Edward entered a relationship. Scandal abounded at the royal court and the public were just as horrified by the news that their monarch was dallying with a treacherous divorcee. This was particularly troublesome given that the King was the titular head of the Church of England, which thoroughly disapproved of re-marriage after divorce.
Edward was not to be deterred, however, and he renounced the throne to marry ‘the woman I love’.
It could be argued that the appearance of Wallis Simpson on the scene was the perfect excuse for Edward to justify turning his back on a duty he never wanted to fulfill. One may be equally cynical and suggest that Meghan Markle offered Harry a similar opportunity.
Never appearing comfortable within the royal fold – how could anyone born outside such bizarre tradition and conformity? – Meghan has rumoured to have been agitating for a break from the stifling role of monarchical ambassador. Harry, too, has frequently castigated the unfair attention directed at his family (especially from the press), seemingly pained by having to tow the royal line.
Whereas Edward retained royal titles and proceeded to live the life of riley after his abdication – cosying up to Hitler, socialising with the elite on both sides of the Atlantic, landing a cushy number as Governor of the Bahamas – Harry does not given the impression that he simply wants the easy life.
Already deeply engaged in charitable work (as is Meghan), the Prince clearly just yearns for a break from the spotlight. Questions will necessarily still rumble regarding the Sussex’s income, for how can they continue to take taxpayer money without being paraded on show from time to time?
If ever there was an opportunity for some introspection from the royal family then it is now. This is not a modern institution in touch with reality, its global role and clout diminishing by the year as the heady days of Commonwealth unity disappear in the rearview mirror. Losing one of its most popular members – however conclusively – is a devastating blow and neither the Queen nor Prince Phillip will last much longer despite their remarkable longevity.
It remains to be seen whether Prince Charles, or his elder son William, have the energy and desire to re-invent the British monarchy for the 21st century.