Oh Cinderella, what have you done?
When Meghan Markle, an American actress, wed Britain’s Prince Harry in May of 2018, the press called it a “literal Cinderella moment.” She was the lowly commoner – and an American no less! – who caught the eye of a prince. Glamour called the whole thing “a fairy tale” and Cosmopolitan said Meghan was “literally a Disney princess.” It seemed like a dream come true – a happily ever after of epic proportions. But now Cinderella wants out.
Not out of her marriage – things with Harry seem to be going quite well – but out of the royal family. In a statement released on Wednesday via their Instagram page, Meghan and Harry announced their intention to “step back” from the royal family, and relinquish their role as “senior royals.” They said they hope to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution” and that they will work to become “financially independent” from the royal family. They promised to continue to “fully support” the queen and honor their duty to “The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages” while splitting their time between Britain and North America. The job of royal princess, it turns out, is more than Meghan bargained for.
Being a real-life princess is no fairy tale
The announcement comes after Meghan went public with her struggles to live the life expected of a princess. In a documentary for Britain’s ITV last October, Meghan admitted, with tears in her eyes, that becoming a new mom under the intense scrutiny of the British tabloids was a “struggle,” and that her friends had encouraged her not to marry Harry because “the British tabloids will destroy your life.”
Meghan admitted that becoming a new mom under the intense scrutiny of the British tabloids was a struggle.
The news also follows rumors – confirmed by Harry in the same documentary – of a rift between the royal brothers, William and Harry, with Harry expressing that they were “on different paths.” Rumors of a feud between William’s wife Catherine (or Kate Middleton, as she’s better known) and Meghan were swirling as far back as Christmas 2018, and Harry and Meghan’s decision to leave Kensington Palace (where they’d lived with Will and Kate) seemed to suggest these rumors were true.
Feminist icon or spoiled celebrity?
Since her engagement and subsequent marriage to Prince Harry, Meghan has cultivated an image of herself as a new brand princess: a feminist princess. Walking herself down the aisle at her wedding and proclaiming that she is “proud to be a woman and a feminist,” Meghan sought to change the image of what it means to be a royal woman. But it’s hard not to compare her to Kate.
Meghan sought to change the image of what it means to be a royal woman.
Kate is a much more typical royal wife, popping out a bunch of babies to secure the succession and dutifully showing up at functions and events looking impossibly put together and sincere. But this seemingly ornamental role, as it turns out according to Meghan Markle, is something that is actually very difficult to do – something that takes inner strength and determination. A task which Meghan, apparently, isn’t up for. Meghan’s making a fuss, but Kate is sucking it up and doing the job. Meghan – just like Kate – knew what she was getting herself into by marrying one of the Windsor boys. It’s not just a marriage, it’s a job. A job that Meghan apparently can’t – or won’t – do.
What does Meghan and Harry’s decision even mean?
According to the BBC, Harry and Meghan made their announcement without consulting the royal family at all. The royal family is supposedly “disappointed” and senior royals are said to be “hurt” by the announcement. Buckingham Palace issued an official statement which reads: “Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.” In other words, everybody calm down.
According to sources close to the palace, the kind of split Meghan and Harry are proposing isn’t really possible. Former Buckingham Palace press officer Dickie Arbiter suggested that there are many details which Meghan and Harry probably haven’t considered. For example: Who will fund their security detail? What will the public make of the fact that £2.4m of taxpayer money was spent to renovate a house the couple will no longer be living in? How will the couple fund their opulent lifestyle on two continents without the support of the Royal family? Royal author Penny Junor said she doesn’t “think it's been properly thought through.”
All this suggests that Meghan and Harry are having the royal equivalent of a temper tantrum. There’s no doubt the job is hard in many ways. Most people wouldn’t sign up for it. But Meghan did. Without the spectacle and the functions, the charity work and the public image, there is no royal family. They are figureheads, pure and simple, maintaining a way of life and a tradition that is an integral part of British life.
Perhaps it should change – perhaps, as some have suggested, it should be done away with entirely – but it can’t be run from, at least not in this way. Prince Harry could give up his title entirely – as Edward VIII did in 1936 to marry an American divorcée – but he can’t have his cake and eat it too. And neither can Meghan.
Only time will tell what Meghan and Harry’s announcement will really mean for them and for the royal family. But for now, it’s looking a bit like our Cinderella isn’t so happy with her happily ever after.