World·Royal Fascinator

Royal pregnancy and privacy: How Harry and Meghan and other royals are setting their own terms for parenthood

As word spread that one royal baby was born and another is on the way, the actions of the parents and their apparent expectations around privacy provide insight into how life for those a little further down in the line of succession may evolve in a Royal Family that will have fewer working members.

Life as adults likely to vary widely for Queen's great-grandchildren depending on place in succession

Harry and Meghan, shown at Canada House in London in January 2020, stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family last year. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

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When Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank welcomed their first child — a son — a few days ago, there was an official announcement from Buckingham Palace. 

There was also comment from the palace a few days later as word spread that Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their second child.

But in each case, any official royal comment almost seemed overshadowed by how the couples chose to initially spread their happy news, turning in particular to social media to share carefully curated black-and-white photographs that ultimately revealed few details.

Those photos, and the couples' actions, provide insight into how life for those a little further down in the line of succession may evolve in a Royal Family that will have fewer working members.

"With some of the more junior royal babies who will not grow up to undertake full-time royal duties ... it's becoming more and more up to their parents to shape what degree of announcement takes place, or if there's an announcement at all," said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.

Take, for instance, how Harry and Eugenie's cousin Zara Tindall and her husband, Mike Tindall, announced that they are expecting their third child: the former rugby player shared the news on his sports podcast late last year.

Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank leave the Portland Hospital with their new baby son on Feb. 12, 2021 in London, England, three days after the baby was born. (John Phillips/Getty Images)

For Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, the arrival of their son — August Philip Hawke Brooksbank — was a bit more in keeping with some past royal births, although the new parents opted out of any kind of photo call before driving away from the hospital.

"There was some media interest in their departure from the hospital, but they didn't do one of those occasions where the baby is presented to assembled media, even though it's clear that media were gathering," said Harris.

Eugenie did, however, share a photo on Instagram of the baby's hand being held by the hands of his new parents, and more photos were released and posted Saturday.

The announcement last Sunday from Harry and Meghan, who are living in California, garnered international headlines. It also reflected themes emerging around the couple who, Buckingham Palace confirmed Friday, will not be returning to royal duties after stepping back as working members of the family last year. At that time, they talked of seeking a more private, independent life for themselves and their first child, Archie.

"Harry and Meghan are very much engaging with the media on their own terms," said Harris.

But as they do that, how much and what kind of privacy are they ultimately seeking? For some observers, that's been a matter of debate.

One tabloid headline — "Publicity-shy woman tells 7.67 billion people: I'm pregnant" in the Daily Star — attracted attention in recent days, with some calling it mean-spirited and others feeling it captured a certain irony of the moment.

The announcement of Meghan's pregnancy came a few days after she won a privacy case against the Mail on Sunday newspaper over publication of excerpts from a letter to her father and just before a U.S. television network said that it will broadcast an interview with Meghan by celebrity host Oprah Winfrey. Later in the show, which will air on March 7, they will be joined by Harry.

The new babies — those recently arrived or on the horizon — will be great-grandchildren to Queen Elizabeth, but among that generation, their paths in life will likely vary widely depending on how close they are to the throne.

This photo was posted online as it was announced Prince Harry and Meghan are expecting a second child. No due date has been made public. (Misan Harriman)

For Prince George, third in the line of succession, and his younger siblings, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, children of Prince William and Kate, the path looks a little more clear.

"George, Charlotte and Louis all have the title of his or her royal highness and an expectation of undertaking full-time royal duties, whereas their cousins and second cousins do not, and as they grow older will probably find that they drop out of the public eye," said Harris.

Still, they may attract attention now and then. 

"Even in the past, comparatively junior members of the Royal Family who lived more private lives still attracted some media interest simply because of these royal connections — even those who had quite distant royal connections," said Harris, pointing to how a few years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the person who was last in line to the throne.

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and their baby son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe in Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2019. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

Archie and his new brother or sister in particular may draw a bit more attention than others of their generation, simply because of who their parents are.

"It's not surprising that Archie and his sibling … seventh and eighth in line to the throne, are going to attract a great deal of media attention both as members of the Royal Family and because their parents are famous people in their own right," said Harris.

What's private and what's public?

The question of royal privacy was also at play in recent days as news reports focused on a British parliamentary process known as Queen's Consent and delved into whether Elizabeth might have lobbied the U.K. government to change a draft law in order to conceal her private wealth.

The Guardian reported that government memos discovered in the National Archives show that in the 1970s, the Queen put pressure on government ministers to change proposed legislation "to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public."

Buckingham Palace said Elizabeth was shown legislation that might have forced her to reveal her private finances "by convention," the BBC reported.

On the Royal Family's website, it says there is "a long established convention that the Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent (which is different to assent) for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown."

There is 'a long established convention that the Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent' for debating of bills that would affect the Crown's prerogative or interests, the Royal Family's website says. (Ben Stansall/Getty Images)

Consent has not been withheld in modern times, the website said, except when advised by the government.

For those outside the palace and Parliament, it could all seem a bit murky.

"It's a further example of what I call the confused distinction between what is private and what is public when it comes to the monarchy," Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said via email. 

"Indeed, the law has struggled with the idea of the Queen owning property privately, because once upon a time all land simply belonged to the Crown — it gets confusing very quickly."

Queen's Consent was considered a formality, Prescott said, "just a part of the parliamentary process that was perhaps thought to be … a historical hangover as much as anything."

But the Guardian "has given examples of where it appears that there is a bit more to it than that, especially when the interests of the Queen, or the Prince of Wales, through the Duchy of Cornwall, are involved," Prescott said.

Still, this doesn't appear to veer significantly into the realm of royal meddling.

"The examples revealed by the Guardian show that the Queen, or her advisers, have not sought to change government policy in general, but consider how it applies to the Crown, and especially the Queen's own personal estate," Prescott said.

"The concern is that the monarch could use this procedure to really place their stamp on government policy, perhaps indicating where they disagree and would like government policy to be changed…. There is no evidence that this is the case."

And there's no evidence any version of Queen's Consent could now reach into Commonwealth countries. 

"The U.K. Parliament no longer has the power to legislate for Commonwealth countries such as Canada or Australia," said Prescott.

Prince Philip in hospital

Prince Philip remains in a London hospital more than two weeks after he was admitted for treatment of an infection. He has also had a heart procedure. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Prince Philip continues to rest at a central London hospital, where he was admitted earlier this week after feeling unwell.

As is the general custom when it comes to matters of royal health, there have been few details released about his condition. 

But royal sources have reportedly described Queen Elizabeth's husband as being in good spirits when he went into hospital and said that the admission came as a precautionary measure and was not related to COVID-19.

Philip, 99, and Elizabeth, 94, both had their first COVID-19 vaccinations last month.

Royally quotable

"The thing that really resonated with me when I started to understand better what it means to have more women around a peacebuilding table was the effect of how peace can last for longer."   

— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as she took part in an online seminar to talk about the importance of promoting the work of women peacebuilders in conflict zones.

Royals in Canada

The pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions mean royal visits to Canada are unlikely any time soon, but the Royal Family did draw attention to the country the other day.

As Britain was marking the 50th anniversary of decimalization of its currency, the Royal Family's Twitter feed was diving into monetary trivia, and it came up with a Canadian angle related to the monarch.

In 1935, Canada became the first country in the world to use her image on its currency, when it printed the then nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth on the $20 bill.

Since then, and particularly after she became Queen in 1952, there have been numerous images of the Queen on Canadian bills and coins.

Four effigies of Elizabeth have appeared on circulation coins, with new versions introduced in 1953, 1965, 1990 and 2003.

The Royal Canadian Mint also issued a special 50-cent Golden Jubilee circulation coin in 2002, replicating the effigy of Elizabeth that appeared on the 1953 Canadian coronation medallion, a Mint spokesperson said via email.

Four effigies of Queen Elizabeth have appeared on Canadian circulation coins, with new versions introduced in 1953, top left; 1965, top right; 1990, bottom left; and 2003, bottom right. (Royal Canadian Mint/CBC)

Elizabeth's image has also appeared in numerous renditions on bills over eight decades.

In 2015, to mark the Queen becoming the longest-reigning monarch in Canada's modern era, the Bank of Canada issued a commemorative $20 note.

The most current image of the Queen on Canada's bank notes is based on a photograph taken in 2010, a bank spokesperson said via email. 

The portrait on the $20 bill issued two years later was taken by Ian Jones and commissioned by the bank. 

The images of the Queen on the bills and coins in wallets and pockets across the country seem unlikely to be altered in the near future.

The mint said there are no plans to change the image on circulation coins and the bank said it has no plans at this time to redesign the current $20 note featuring the Queen.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Charles and Camilla have received COVID-19 vaccinations. [BBC]

  2. Famous past TV appearances and interviews suggest Harry and Meghan should be wary of opening up to Oprah. [The Guardian]

  3. Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai's ruler who tried to flee the country in 2018, sent secret video messages to friends accusing him of holding her "hostage" as she feared for her life. [BBC]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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