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Here’s everything we know about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s step back from the royal family

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in South Africa in October.
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in South Africa in October.MICHELE SPATARI/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced Wednesday that they aim to transition out of their roles as senior members of the United Kingdom’s royal family, achieve financial independence, and split their time between the UK and North America.

Here’s what we know about how they’re distancing themselves from the crown, what led to this decision, and how the announcement is being received.

The announcement

Two of the highest-profile members of one of the world’s most traditional outfits – Britain’s royal family – made the surprise announcement in a nontraditional fashion: via a post on their shared Instagram account. Instagram turns 10 years old in 2020, while the British monarchy dates back roughly a thousand years in its current form.

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‘‘We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,’’ they wrote in the post. ‘‘We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth and our patronages.’’

There is no precedent for senior royals stepping back in this way, said Dickie Arbiter, the queen’s former press secretary. Prince Andrew, a son of the queen, was recently forced to step back from royal duties amid controversy over his past friendship with American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Edward VIII famously abdicated the throne so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

Harry and Meghan also unrolled the announcement on a new official website, a Canadian-designed site that the New York Times reported was quietly rolled out without input from the royal family.

On that site, Harry and Meghan have laid out their “about” page to reflect their desired change in status in the royal family. They also outlined a new media policy that removes them from the “Royal Rota," a system that gives British media exclusive access to official royal engagements.

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The role of the British tabloids

The change in media policy, and perhaps the couple’s change in status overall, may be in part due to the intense tabloid scrutiny the two have endured as members of the royal family. Meghan, who is biracial, was subject to racist and sexist comments in the British tabloid press prior even to her marriage to Harry.

Meghan told ITV in a documentary in October that ‘‘not many people have asked if I'm OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.’’ When asked if it would be fair to say things had been a struggle, Meghan replied, yes.

She said that when she first met Prince Harry, ‘‘my British friends said to me, I’m sure he’s great but you shouldn’t do it, because the British tabloids will destroy your life. And I very naively — I’m American, we don’t have that there . . . I didn’t get it.’’

The couple brought separate legal actions against the media in October.

The duchess earlier that month sued the Mail on Sunday tabloid, claiming it illegally published a letter she wrote to her father. Harry sued over the alleged illegal interception of voicemail messages by journalists from the Sun, the News of the World and the Daily Mirror newspapers.

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Though Meghan’s trials with the tabloids are more recent, Harry’s relationship with the British media is of no lesser note. His childhood was marked by the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, a year after she divorced his father, Prince Charles.

Diana, Princess of Wales, before her last public engagement in 1997.
Diana, Princess of Wales, before her last public engagement in 1997.-/AFP via Getty Images

Diana, who died in a 1997 car crash while fleeing paparazzi in Paris, was the subject of immense media scrutiny while alive and her funeral was televised and watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people, nearly half the world’s population at the time, according to the BBC.

Harry, who was 12 at the time of his mother’s death, has said he entered counseling years later amid the “total chaos” of Diana’s death.

In October, at the time of the couple’s legal actions against the press, Harry wrote a public letter defending his wife and citing the similarities between tabloid treatment of Diana and treatment of Meghan.

“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” Harry wrote.

A group of mourners waited before the funeral of Princess Diana in London in 1997.
A group of mourners waited before the funeral of Princess Diana in London in 1997.GERRY PENNY/AFP via Getty Images

The tabloid coverage of Harry and Meghan’s decision was histrionic, with outlets like The Daily Mail, Metro, The Sun, and The Daily Mirror blaring bold-face headlines about the couple’s decision and the Sun calling it “Battle Royale.” The mainstream British press treated the news with less dramatic flair, though it still was the top story for media giants The Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph.

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Instead of the tabloids, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they will engage with “credible outlets," with young journalists, and on social media.

The New York Times reported that Harry and Meghan actually revealed their plans prematurely after learning that The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, was aware of internal discussions about their decision and was preparing a story.

The royal family’s reaction

It is not immediately clear how the remainder of the royal family reacted to the news, though a Wednesday statement from Buckingham Palace prompted speculation that the Queen may not have been fully informed of the decision before the announcement. The statement read: ‘‘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.’’

The BBC alluded to senior members of the royal family being “hurt” at the news, but did not specify how that news reached them or who was “hurt.” That quote was picked up and amplified by several tabloids.

Harry’s status in the line of succession to become monarch may have factored into the couple’s decision. Since the births of his nephews Princes George and Louis and his niece Princess Charlotte, the likelihood that Harry become king has waned significantly.

The grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, he was born third in line for the monarchy and is now sixth behind his father, Prince William (his brother), his nephews, and his niece. Since the House of Windsor was established in 1917, none of the family’s four eventual monarchs (George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II) have been any lower than third in the line of succession.

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Before their plans were accelerated by The Sun’s impending story, Harry had called Charles to discuss a change in status and the two agreed to establish a written proposal the lay the basis for discussion, later this month, of such a move. But the rushed timeline meant Harry and Meghan went forward with their announcement without extensive conversations with the rest of the family.

In the coming days, those inside Buckingham Palace may weigh in further. For the moment, though, things from the palace are fairly quiet.

Where will Meghan and Harry live? And what will they do for work?

On Tuesday, the couple visited Canada House in central London, where they thanked the Canadian High Commissioner for the hospitality they received during a recent stay in Canada. Harry, Meghan and their baby, Archie, spent Christmas there and were spotted on Vancouver Island.

Harry and Meghan with their baby son Archie in September 2019, meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah in South Africa.
Harry and Meghan with their baby son Archie in September 2019, meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah in South Africa.HENK KRUGER/AFP/Getty Images

Canada is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and may play a role in the duo’s plans. Much speculation on social media and in the tabloid press revolved around a possible move for the couple to the country, where Meghan once lived as an actress during her time on the show “Suits.”

The BBC noted in its coverage of the couple’s announcement that Jessica Mulroney, one of Meghan’s closest friends, lives in Toronto with her husband Ben, a son of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Meghan is from California, where the couple may also consider moving. Harry, Meghan, and Archie spent Thanksgiving with Doria Raglund, Meghan’s mother, who lives near Los Angeles.

Without citing specific evidence, the Chicago Tribune, which has joked often about Meghan’s status as a Northwestern University alumnus, suggested she might be moving “closer to home” in a tweet.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that, at least temporarily, Harry and Meghan will retain their British home, Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor.

As far as employment and becoming “financial independent,” it is initially unclear what the two will do for income. Meghan appeared in 108 episodes of Suits prior to stepping away from acting and Harry spent 10 years in the British Army, serving a tour in Afghanistan.

The two have been involved in the Invictus Games, a global adaptive sports event created by Harry for wounded veterans. They recently established their own charity, Sussex Royal, to be independent of the charity of Prince William, Harry’s brother. Their new website, the New York Times reported, is associated with that charity, which is untethered to any “official” royal duties.

Conceivably, the two could sign book deals or do speaking tours, leveraging their high profiles to fulfill those duties. Vanity Fair speculated that the two might launch into a celebrity tier “all their own” in a story titled “Harry and Meghan Are Now Free to Become Obama-esque Global Superstars.”

Barack and Michelle Obama have launched several ventures since their family left the White House, among them a film production company.

Meghan and Harry’s website noted that in terms of income, the “Sovereign Grant” they are forsaking covers just 5 percent of the costs for the duke and duchess and is used for their official office expenses.

The other 95 percent of their income is associated with Prince Charles, through the proceeds he gets from the Duchy of Cornwall, an estate that funds the public charities and private life of the Prince of Wales and his family. It is unclear if Harry would be entitled to money from the Duchy under the circumstances of his step back from the family.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.


Peter Bailey-Wells can be reached at peter.bailey-wells@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @pbaileywells.