Following a period of speculation by royals fans over what would be next for Prince Harry, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the couple will ultimately be giving up royal duties and working roles.
Queen Elizabeth II showed full support for their decision in a statement released Jan. 13. “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family,” the statement said. The Queen continued, explaining that “Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives.”
And Prince Harry made his first public statement since the announcement at a dinner for supporters of his charity Sentebale on Sunday. “What I want to make clear is, we’re not walking away,” he said, adding that he had hoped to continue his royal duties without receiving public funding, but that “wasn’t possible.”
“I’ve accepted this knowing that it doesn’t change who I am or how committed I am,” he continued. “But I hope that helps you understand what it had come to—that I would step my family back from all I have ever known to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”
The Sussexes first announced they will be transitioning away from their role as “senior” royals and will begin splitting their time between the U.K. and North America in 2020 in a statement shared on their official Instagram page on Jan. 8.
“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,” the Duke and Duchess said in the statement. “We intend to step back as roles as “senior” members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”
Shortly after the statement was shared, Buckingham Palace also posted its own initial response. “Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” the statement read. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Following the announcement, Meghan made headlines for returning to Canada. And this news came after Harry, Meghan and their young son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, were absent from the royal family’s Christmas celebration while spending “extended family time” with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, in Canada over the 2019 holiday season.
“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,” the statement read.
They ended the announcement with a promise to share the full details of this next step in their lives “in due course.”
What does this mean for the future of the royal family?
“A lot of questions still have to be answered,” historian and British royals expert Marlene Koenig tells TIME. The biggest difference is in how the Sussexes will provide support — both now and in the future — to Prince Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and father Prince Charles when he ultimately succeeds to the throne. Traditionally, “you’d have the second son carrying on more official duties and adopting more patronages” as time went on, Koenig explains. For reference, Princess Anne — Queen Elizabeth’s second-oldest child after her heir Prince Charles — has been the hardest-working royal over the last two years, even though her own children do not have royal titles of their own.
But this step back from the Sussexes suggests a new and different tactic. “I think they’re looking to focus on certain issues as opposed to what would have been the bread and butter of the royal family,” which are the traditional patronages, she says. “They’ll still be Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but they want a more private life,” she predicts.
Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry keep their royal titles?
When Prince Harry and Meghan tied the knot, they received newly minted title designated by the Queen. For Prince Harry, that was His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle’s title became Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex. But in a statement on Saturday, the Queen referred to the couple as simply Harry and Meghan, and announced that they would no longer use their HRH names.
But that decision left Meghan’s name as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — the construction commentators observed was previously only used for divorcées of the royal family like Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York. Buckingham Palace reportedly realized the erroneous error of Meghan’s latest title, according to British broadcaster Sky News, and they will be re-evaluating the new titles.
It’s worth noting that the pair opted against giving their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor an honorary royal title, though he may be in a position to inherit his father’s title further down the line. This was one of a number of moves indicating that the Duke of Sussex and Duchess of Sussex intended to uphold their family’s privacy.
Technically, the statement from the Sussexes says they’ll be splitting their time between “North America” and the United Kingdom. But based on Meghan’s recent venture back to Canada after spending time there over the holidays, Koenig feels confident that’s where they’ll set up their second home base. “In the U.S., once you step outside your house there’s no privacy. You can be followed with a camera all day and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she says. In contrast, they have been able to operate in relative privacy during their excursions to Canada — which may appeal to their taste for less press coverage. Canada is where the pair met and where the Duchess of Sussex previously lived, too.
How will the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attain “financial independence?”
On their website, the Sussexes have laid out explanations of the source of their current income, which primarily consists of the Sovereign Grant and provisions from the Duchy of Cornwall. The Sovereign Grant is derived from revenue of the Crown Estate; a portion of these public funds are issued as a grant to cover the royal family’s work in support of the Queen, helping pay for things like maintenance of official residences and offices. The Duchy of Cornwall, meanwhile, is the land managed by Prince Harry’s father, Prince Charles, who is the current Duke of Cornwall. Historically, the male heir apparent is able to reap the financial benefits of being the figurehead of the Duchy; in 2018, Charles’s public accounting statements showed that income to be over £21 million. On their website, the Sussexes note that “95% of the funding received for their Office expenditure” came from this bucket, as an allocation from Prince Charles to his younger son and his family. (Koenig notes that Prince William and Prince Harry both are also recipients of an inheritance from Princess Diana totaling around £21 million.)
Now, the Sussexes intend to release themselves from the Sovereign Grant, which is about 5% of their funding. They currently do not receive an income from charitable events or engagements. “Will they show up for events and get a check directly? Will they come to Trooping [of the Colour]? Will [Prince Harry] be made a Knight of the Garter when his father becomes king? We don’t know,” Koenig says about the remaining questions.
Have other royals set a precedent for “stepping back,” historically?
The short answer: no. In 1936, Edward VIII — Queen Elizabeth’s uncle — gave up his throne to marry the American woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. At the time, this was scandalous enough to require his abdication; he lived in exile as the Duke of Windsor after handing over his rights to the crown. “You can’t just renounce your right to the throne; it has to be done by an act of Parliament, because succession is governed by several laws,” Koenig explains of those unusual circumstances. But the Sussexes are facing a very different situation. “They’re not being kicked out; they’ve made a decision to take what they do as royals, but do it on their own terms,” she says. Where Edward was no longer part of the working royal family, it remains unclear to what extent Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will retain some of the working royal duties. And while there has long been a push to streamline the working royal establishment, no current working royal has “stepped back” in quite this way.
That said, in their website the Sussexes make it clear there are currently members of the royal family who both hold titles and earn incomes. “Yes, there is precedent for this structure and it applies to other current members of the Royal Family who support the monarch and also have full time jobs external to their commitment to the monarchy,” they note.
What about their relationship with the media?
In another section, the Sussexes laid out revised media policies as well. Their focus is to broaden their interactions with media, calling out an interest in “grassroots” and “young, up-and-coming” journalists, and eschewing the official “Royal Rota” system of British journalists that’s currently in place. “I think they’re really, really tired of all these articles condemning Meghan for everything,” Koenig says. The Sussexes filing lawsuits against multiple British tabloids, claiming they have printed “untrue” stories.
On their site, the Sussexes amplify that sentiment: “Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by Royal Correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions,” they say. Koenig suggests this fraught relationship has “absolutely” played a part in their decision now. The media outlets at the center of these suits have stood by their reporting and denied the allegations.