Prince Harry and Meghan v the Palace: timeline of a royal crisis

The summits and rival statements since the Sussexes stood back as senior royals

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pictured with Prince Harry in 2019.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pictured with Prince Harry in 2019. They announced a desire for a ‘progressive new role’ in January that year. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pictured with Prince Harry in 2019. They announced a desire for a ‘progressive new role’ in January that year. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

First published on Thu 4 Mar 2021 13.21 EST

Prince Harry and Meghan married in May 2018 and within months the tensions between them and the rest of royal family began to emerge:

March 2019: Their own household

Buckingham Palace announced that a new household would be created for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the spring.

The Queen gave permission for the couple to form a new office at Buckingham Palace with its own staff, separate from the office they previously shared with the Cambridges at Kensington Palace.

Reports also suggested the couple originally requested their office to be completely independent of Buckingham Palace, but this was denied.

June 2019: Split from Royal Foundation

The divergence of royal paths gathered pace amid news that the duke and duchess were to set up their own charitable foundation, splitting from the Royal Foundation and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Cue further scrutiny of the Sussexes’ future career path. Details of the direction in which they were headed came in September when the new foundation, Sussex Royal, helped launch an initiative to raise awareness of, and promote, sustainable travel.

October, 2019: Meghan talks to ITV

Revealing that she had been warned before her marriage to Prince Harry that the British tabloids would “destroy” her life, Meghanspoke in frank terms about the pressures of her new life.

“It’s been complicated,” she told Tom Bradby, a friend of Harry’s for 20 years, in an ITV interview. It generated a much remarked-upon moment when the broadcaster asked Meghan about the impact on her physical and mental health.

“Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m OK,” she said.

Meghan added she had “really tried” to adopt the “British sensibility of stiff upper lip” but thought that “what that does internally is probably damaging”.

January, 2020: “We are stepping back

Harry and Meghan announced that they planned to step back from senior roles in the royal family in an effort to become financially independent, a move which surprised the public – and also, apparently, Buckingham Palace.

“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 couple said.

A somewhat different picture was painted in a later statement issued by the palace, which said: “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.”

However, the BBC reported a day later that the royal family had been “hurt” by the announcement. Citing sources at Buckingham Palace, the broadcaster said that Prince Harry and Meghan did not consult any royal about making their personal statement and that other royals had been “blindsided”.

Amid immediate talk of a royal crisis, the Queen summoned senior royals to a summit at Sandringham to discuss what the new reality would mean for the Sussexes: principally around how they would be funded and security costs.

Ahead of the meeting, the Duke of Cambridge reportedly expressed sadness over tensions. The brothers were now “separate entities” but Prince William was said to have hoped matters could be resolved so the royal family could once more play as “a team”.

… but no deal at the royal summit

Almost as if refereeing a meeting of opposing factions, a statement issued on behalf of the Queen described how there had “constructive discussions” at the summit.

“Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family,” it said.

But reports, and briefings, cast the outcome of the summit in a different light. The couple were said to have been informed that they would no longer be able to officially represent the Queen. The couple was told “you can’t have it both ways” and chose not to be constrained “by some sort of review process” in contracts they signed.

Days later, Prince Harry would express his sadness over the couple’s decision to step down from royal duties, saying he had taken a “leap of faith”. He said he had not taken the decision lightly, but there was “no other option”.

February 2021

After months in which the impact of Covid-19 slowed the evolution of “Brand Sussex”, tensions between the palace and the now Los Angeles-based couple emerged again at the end of a year-old review of their position.

The couple would not return as working members of the royal family, the palace said, adding that they would also be giving up their royal patronages.

An immediate response was issued by the Sussexes, who said they were “committed to their duty and service to the UK”. But one particular line was seen as cocking a snook in the direction of the Palace: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”