Losing control of the narrative is anathema to royalty. The great ship of state is supposed to sail serenely on despite the weather, not get tossed about on the ocean’s waves.
Harry and Meghan know this well. And so, no doubt, they knew exactly how disruptive it would be for the royals when they unilaterally declared Wednesday that their daughter Lilibet was a princess. They causally tucked her new title into a christening announcement delivered to People magazine—as opposed to the more traditional easel outside Buckingham Palace.
The article also took a dig at the royals’ absence, with a source saying Charles, Camilla, Kate, and William had all been invited to the affair, which featured a ten-piece choir brought by Tyler Perry, but didn’t show up.
After an hour of two of startled silence, the royal rabbit removed itself from Harry and Meghan’s headlights, and journalists were briefed that the palace had no issue with the move and had, indeed, been expecting it all along and would shortly be updating their website to reflect the new titles, and that the hold-up had only been a matter of Harry and Meghan getting on and announcing it. (The royal website now shows Prince Archie of Sussex and Princess Lilibet of Sussex as sixth and seventh in line to the throne.)
Harry and Meghan said in a statement that the decision to use Lilibet’s princely title was “settled in alignment” (note: not “approved,” the Sussexes’ point being that their kids were entitled to the titles as a matter of law and nobody’s permission was required) with Buckingham Palace.
But the timing and manner of the big reveal made it look rather like the Palace, and many courtiers, had, if not been blindsided, certainly been caught off guard.
The bulletin to People was about as far from a co-ordinated joint announcement as you can get and has fueled suspicion that Harry and Meghan, tired of Charles’ refusal to officially declare their kids prince and princess (which he could easily have done at any point from his accession address onwards), decided to put it up to the royals.
The timing was certainly exquisite: the king was hardly going to be anything other than accepting when he is widely thought to be on the point of securing the couple’s attendance at the coronation. The Daily Mail reported Thursday that officials tasked with planning the event are actively making plans for Harry and Meghan to attend, with one source saying, “Harry and Meghan are being factored into all of the planning.... the cars, the seating plans, dining arrangements, everything.”
Friends and allies of King Charles and Prince William told The Daily Beast that the king would be “pleased” that Harry and Meghan had decided to use Prince and Princess titles for their children, and that it showed they had never been discriminated against, contrary to Meghan’s claim in the Oprah interview that Archie was unfairly denied the title “Prince” at birth, suggesting this was down to racial prejudice.
She said she was aghast at the “idea that the first member of color in this family not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be.”
As constitutionalists were at pains to point out at the time, the rules (known as letters patent), issued by George V in 1917, made it clear that their children would not be prince or princess until their grandfather was monarch.
A friend of Charles’ told The Daily Beast: “Meghan said on her Oprah interview that the royals had blocked Archie from becoming a prince, but it was always just a matter of convention. When the queen was alive they were great-grandchildren of the monarch so they were not entitled to the titles. Now they are grandchildren of the monarch, so they are.”
The friend tried to put a pro-Charles spin on this week’s turn of events, presenting it as a victory for the values of traditionalists, saying: “Charles will of course be pleased that [Harry and Meghan] clearly want the children to inherit their royal titles.”
A friend of William’s, asked about the developments, also referred back to the Oprah interview, and told The Daily Beast: “Meghan made out there was some dastardly plot to favor William’s kids over Harry’s. That really hurt William. Now everyone can see that was never the case.”
An alternative interpretation of the week’s action and reaction is that despite the readiness of the Palace to accept the titles, and there is no doubt that they acted quickly to update their website and made all the right noises this week, this does not obscure the fact that Charles failed to declare the children prince and princess soon after the death of the queen. Would it have been so hard for his accession address which paid tribute to Harry and Meghan to mention “Prince and Princess Archie and Lilibet,” for example?
In failing to do so, and in leaving the question hanging, some would say Charles left an open goal, and, this week, the Sussexes scored.
Christopher Andersen, New York Times bestselling author of a new biography of Charles, The King, told The Daily Beast: “Since Queen Elizabeth’s death, Charles’ silence on this matter has been deafening. There were many occasions when the king, in an effort to heal the rift between the Sussexes and the rest of the royal family, could have made the grand gesture and bestowed titles on Archie and Lilibet, but Charles clearly chose not to.”
“Harry and Meghan forced the Palace’s hand. Rather than continue to wait around to see if King Charles would bend and finally bestow them on the Sussex children, Harry and Meghan took the bull by the horns and did it themselves. You have to admire their audacity. It’s really very American of them.”
While some observers might consider it hypocritical to be garlanding your children in titles bestowed by an institution you claim drove you out of the U.K. in fear of your life, the latest move by the Sussexes definitively answers the question of whether or not Harry and Meghan will ever relinquish their own titles. They won’t. Nor will the Palace ever try to strip them.
This week’s move by the Sussexes cannot be seen in isolation from the frenzied blur of activity by both sides in recent months. The Netflix films may feel to those following the royal story like they happened a lifetime ago, but in fact the second tranche of them only came out on Dec. 15 —less than three months ago.
Since then we have had the reverberating bombshell of Harry’s book and the drama around the Sussexes’ eviction from Frogmore Cottage, not to mention the ongoing will-they-won’t-they around their coronation invites.
But if anyone needed proof of the disastrous collapse in relations between the two sides, it is surely evident in the fact that the news of the princely status of the Sussex children was broadcast not in a joint statement, accompanied by a photocall with grandpa and a dignified reminder that these adorable mites are sixth and seventh in line to the throne, but in a negative story, ripe with anonymous briefings to People magazine.