Queen Elizabeth calls family meeting for Monday to discuss 'next steps' for Harry and Meghan
Buckingham Palace says 'range of possibilities' on the table after couple decides to 'step back'
Queen Elizabeth will meet with members of the Royal Family on Monday at her Sandringham estate in eastern England to agree on "next steps" after Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, decided to "step back" as senior royals, Buckingham Palace said Saturday.
The palace said "a range of possibilities" was on the table, but the Queen was determined to resolve the situation within "days not weeks" after Harry and Meghan announced their news without consulting the monarch.
As the British media went into meltdown over the news, the Queen moved quickly to take back control, summoning her son and heir, Prince Charles, and grandsons, Princes William and Harry, to a crisis meeting to sort things out.
Elizabeth, who assumed the throne in 1952, has weathered family crises before, and is determined not to let her grandson and granddaughter-in-law weaken the House of Windsor or undermine the monarchy.
Harry's next scheduled public appearance is a rugby event at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. Meghan, meanwhile, has flown to Canada, where the couple and their eight-month-old son, Archie, spent a six-week Christmas break; according to Reuters, citing British media, Meghan is expected to join Monday's meeting by telephone if the time difference allows.
Harry and Meghan announced this week they plan to "balance" their time between the U.K. and North America, with Canada their likely base. Meghan is American, but lived in Toronto for several years while filming the TV show Suits.
The prince and the former actress married in 2018, and broadcasts of their Windsor Castle wedding were watched around the world. Harry, 35, is sixth in line to the British throne, a former British army officer and one of the Royal Family's most popular members.
He has spent his entire life in the public eye, but has not always been happy with scrutiny by a media he blames for the death of his mother, Princess Diana. She died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by photographers.
Some columnists have been critical of Meghan, depicting her as a meddling American interloper into the Royal Family; others highlighted her biracial heritage with words like "exotic." In 2017, Harry accused the media of directing "a wave of abuse and harassment" at his then-girlfriend that included articles with negative "racial undertones."
Brexit, Prince Andrew highlight difficult 2019 for Queen
Harry and Meghan's shock decision to become part-time royals who earn their own money came after a rough year for the Queen. In September, she was drawn into the U.K.'s political discord over Brexit when Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked her to suspend Parliament as lawmakers tried to thwart his plans to take Britain out of the European Union. The Supreme Court ruled that the suspension was illegal and Johnson had misled the monarch about his reasons for it.
In November, her son Prince Andrew gave a disastrous television interview about his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. His awkward performance failed to silence questions about the Queen's second son, who has relinquished royal duties and patronages after being accused by a woman who says she was an Epstein trafficking victim and claims to have slept with the prince.
In her annual televised message to the nation on Christmas Day, the Queen appeared to allude to both national and family divisions when she said that the path to harmony and understanding "is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy."
She urged people to "set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation."
Ironically, some of Meghan and Harry's unhappiness may stem from the Queen's efforts to strengthen the monarchy by making it more lean and slimmed down. An image released by Buckingham Palace last week of the Queen and the three heirs next in line to the throne — Charles, William and William's son, Prince George — appeared to underscore who the Windsors see as their core members.
"From Harry and Meghan's point of view, they're just being driven out," Tom Bradby, an ITV television anchor who is close to the couple, said.
The discord comes at a delicate time for the monarchy. The Queen remains robust, but, at age 93, she has handed over a growing number of public duties to Charles and William. Her husband of 72 years, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has retired from public life and was recently hospitalized.
"It's hard not to think that if the Duke of Edinburgh had been around and in circulation more, that perhaps this particular situation wouldn't have got out of control," Majesty magazine managing editor Joe Little said. "The Queen may be head of state, but the duke is still very much head of the family, although inevitably at 98 and a half, he's much less hands-on than he used to be."
With files from Reuters