Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are stepping back from their roles as senior members of the British royal family, sending shock waves across the pond, the couple announced Wednesday.
Instead, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will work to become financially independent while splitting their time between the United Kingdom and North America.
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” they wrote.
They said the split between the United Kingdom and North America, where Meghan — formerly Meghan Markle — was born and raised, will honor both families.
In May, the royal couple welcomed their son, Archie. The family spent the Christmas holidays vacationing in Canada and visiting Meghan’s mother in California. They skipped the Christmas gathering Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, traditionally holds at her Sandringham country estate.
“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity,” they wrote, promising to share more details “in due course.”
Other members of the royal family, including the queen, were not consulted before the statement was issued, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Buckingham Palace, said to be “disappointed,” released a statement after the announcement saying discussions were at “an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work out.”
The May 2018 wedding of the popular prince and the American actress was a major worldwide event, with huge viewership in the United Kingdom and the U.S. The wedding, which started at 7 a.m. on a Saturday on the East Coast, drew 29 million viewers in the U.S. and 18 million in the U.K. Thousands surrounded Windsor Castle and lined the parade route.
Since then, Meghan has had trouble adjusting to life as a royal and the fishbowl that comes with it.
The Sussexes made their announcement just months after speaking out about ruthless tabloid coverage in a British television documentary, which aired in October.
Meghan said in the documentary that she wasn’t prepared for the incessant media coverage and the vicious rumors that can be associated with the royal family.
“I think the grass is always greener,” she said at the time. “You have no idea. It’s really hard to understand what it’s like. I know what it seems like it should be, but it’s a very different thing.
“It’s not enough to just survive something,” she said. “That’s not the point of life. You have to thrive. You have to feel happy. I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a ‘stiff upper lip.’ I really tried, but I think what that does internally is probably really damaging.”
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, ramped up their fight with the British tabloids last year. She accused the tabloids of causing a rift between Harry and his brother, Prince William. William is second in line to the throne, behind his father, Prince Charles. Harry is sixth.
In October, Meghan filed a lawsuit accusing the Mail on Sunday newspaper of “unlawfully” publishing a private letter. Harry said the tabloids’ behavior “destroys lives” and referenced his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a crash in a Paris tunnel while fleeing paparazzi in 1997.
“I lost my mother, and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said.
The tabloids fought back, criticizing the couple for the cost of home renovations, their plans for the birth of Archie and other actions. When Meghan wrote a guest editorial in British Vogue, she was slammed for using the apolitical role of duchess to promote leftist views.
British television personality Piers Morgan blamed Meghan for the split from the royal family.
“People say I’m too critical of Meghan Markle — but she ditched her family, ditched her Dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William & has now split him from the Royal Family. I rest my case,” he said in a post on Twitter.
The decision to step back raises thorny questions for the royal family. It is not clear how the dual lives in North America and the United Kingdom will be funded or who will pay for their security costs.
The couple did not explain how they planned to become financially independent. Meghan is a former actress who had a prominent role on the USA Network television show “Suits” before she married Harry.
Harry, meanwhile, has his inheritance from Diana’s estate.
If the couple intend to get jobs, it would raise uncomfortable questions about conflict of interest.
It is not the first time British royals have bailed.
King Edward VIII abdicated after serving less than a year on the throne in 1936. He wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, an American who had divorced her first husband and was seeking to divorce a second.
Marrying a woman whose ex-husbands were still alive would complicate his status within the government and as the nominal head of the Church of England, so Edward gave up the throne instead of Simpson. His brother, King George VI — the father of Queen Elizabeth II — took over the crown.
The royal family has had a tumultuous year. Last year began with the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, flipping his car and colliding with another vehicle.
The prince, 97, was unharmed, but another driver sustained minor injuries. The prince subsequently gave up his driver’s license.
That was quickly overshadowed by media scrutiny over Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
An American woman named Virginia Giuffre said in court documents that Epstein trafficked her to Andrew, the queen’s second son, for three sexual encounters. Epstein, who was arrested in the U.S. on unrelated sex trafficking charges, is reported to have killed himself in a New York prison in August.
As headaches over Epstein mounted for Andrew and the rest of the royal family, the prince appeared in a television interview in an apparent bid to clear his name. The interview was widely panned as “nuclear explosion-level bad.”
Media and the public lambasted Andrew for refusing to say he regretted his relationship with Epstein and showing a lack of sympathy for Epstein’s victims. Charities began distancing themselves from the prince, and he stepped down from his royal duties after consulting with the queen and his brother Charles.