“The period of Royal Mourning following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has now ended,” the British royal family announced on its Twitter account on Tuesday. And almost as soon as a return to normality for the House of Windsor was ushered in, Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan Markle were further relegated to the royal background.
The first slight was physical: during the funeral of Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were forced to sit in the second row, surrounded by cousins and lesser royals. Now, the couple have suffered a digital reverse. The official website of the royal family has been updated but to find Harry - who is fifth in line to the throne - and his wife requires a patient scroll. Before coming across the media-friendly couple, the faces of gray noblemen of secondary importance and lesser-kown scions of the House of Windsor parade across the screen: people like the Countess of Wessex, Princess Anne, the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra, and the Duke of Kent.
Harry and Meghan, who decided to walk away from their royal duties two years ago, share the bottom of the page with Prince Andrew, who was stripped of the majority of his honors, titles and patronages and ceased to use the HRH styling after being accused of sexually abusing a minor in a case that was settled out of court.
The relationship between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the rest of the royal family has been chilly since 2020, when they resigned their duties and moved to the United States amid accusations of racism, a traumatic episode that shook the very foundations of the British crown. During Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, a certain attempt at rapprochement was evident. The newly anointed Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate Middleton, greeted the crowd accompanied by Harry and Meghan, an image that had not been witnessed for years. In his first address to the nation, King Charles III made a point of specifically mentioning the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, expressing his affection for his son and his wife, but also seeming to underline that their place remains far from his throne. “I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.”
With an end to public events to commemorate Elizabeth II, media interest has moved to the official website of the royal family, where every slightest move is interpreted as either an act of rapprochement or, more regularly, a fresh insult to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their demotion to the farther reaches of a page entitled “The Role of the Royal Family” certainly seems to fit the latter. The page was updated shortly after the death of the monarch and Harry and Meghan were still in the middle of the page, below the most important members of the royal house but above some of the lesser lights of British royalty, the Daily Mail noted at the time.
Another potential change to the status of Harry and Meghan has not yet materialized, although rumor has been rife on the subject: Buckingham Palace officials have so far not clarified whether the couple’s children, Archie and Lilibet, aged one and two respectively, will receive the treatment of prince and princess, as protocol usually allows for grandchildren of Elizabeth II. There are indications that this will not be the case, given their status has not been updated on the official website, as those of other members of the royal house have.
What remains of the year promises to be a busy time for the British royal family. Charles III is immersed in Operation Golden Orb, the name given to the planning process for his coronation, which is expected to take place in June 2023. In the meantime, Charles will be tasked with improving his image in Britain and among the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, where he does not enjoy nearly as much popularity as his mother did. On another front for the new monarch, Harry is set to publish a biography this fall, a book that his publisher Penguin Random House (who reportedly paid $20 million for the rights), describes as “intimate and heartfelt.”
“The King may have to decide whether to ask to see pre-publication proofs or whether to use lawyers to threaten action to keep sensitive family secrets or contested allegations out of print,” The Guardian noted a few weeks ago. Movements on the official website of the British royal family are aseptic and silent; they may even seem to be little more than anecdotal. But they do give a hint as to how the chips are being stacked and how the royal game may play out in the coming months.