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Harry and Meghan: An unprecedented family summit, questions about Canada's role and a rift with Prince William

Few royal happenings in recent years have rivalled the announcement by Prince Harry and Meghan that they intend to step back from their roles in the Royal Family. Senior family members are to meet Monday at the Queen's rural Sandringham estate in an unprecedented gathering with tentacles that may reach into the halls of power in Ottawa.

'We're separate entities,' William told Sunday Times in wake of Harry's decision to pull back from royal life

Prince Harry and Meghan leave Canada House in London on Jan. 7 after they stopped by to offer thanks for the hospitality and support they received during their recent stay in Canada. The couple has said they will 'work to become financially independent' as part of a surprise announcement saying they wish 'to step back' as senior members of the royal family. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/WPA/Getty Images)

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The most senior members of the Royal Family are set to meet Monday at the Queen's rural Sandringham estate in England in an unprecedented gathering to deal with an unprecedented situation — with tentacles that may reach into the halls of power in Ottawa.

British media have described the gathering as "crisis talks," involving the Queen and the next in line to the throne — Prince Charles and his son Prince William — along with Prince Harry, in an effort to find a way for Harry and his wife, Meghan, to step back as senior members of the family.

Meghan, it's been reported, will phone in from Canada, where she returned to be reunited with their infant son, Archie, who had stayed here even as his parents returned to the U.K. after a six-week visit to British Columbia over Christmas.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their seismic revelation last week: that they want to retreat from their current royal life, seek financial independence and split their time between the United Kingdom and North America.

Queen Elizabeth leaves a Sunday church service at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, England. She will hold an unprecedented summit Monday to discuss the details of Harry and Meghan's new arrangement with the Royal Family. (Joe Giddens/Press Association/The Associated Press)

There's been no official word to confirm that would, indeed, mean some period of their time would be spent in Canada, but everything points to that being on the table.

Ottawa helping hash out details

British media outlets, including the Guardian, have reported Monday's meeting will be a chance to go over proposals drafted after palace officials consulted with representatives of the U.K. and Canadian governments.

Items that could be discussed, according to the Telegraph, include tax issues and security for the couple.

Both of those issues could have significant Canadian implications, such as what would the tax responsibilities be for Harry and Meghan if they were living, and maybe working, in Canada for some period of time each year, and who would pay for their security? Would some or all of that fall ultimately on Canadian taxpayers?

Toronto residents weigh in on the prospect of Harry and Meghan stepping back from royal life and making Canada their new home. 0:38

While the "crisis talks" will deal with formal matters, there is also the sense Harry and Meghan's shocking announcement is causing more personal strife within the Royal Family itself.

The Sunday Times reported Sunday that William told a friend: "'I've put my arm around my brother all our lives, and I can't do that any more; we're separate entities.'"

William, the Times reported, went on: "'I'm sad about all that. All we can do, and all I can do, is try and support them and hope that the time comes when we're all singing from the same page. I want everyone to play on the same team.'"

On Monday, ahead of the meeting with the Queen, William and Harry issued a joint statement criticizing reporting about the family. A report on the Times of London's front page cited a source that alleged WIlliam had a "bullying attitude" toward Harry and Meghan that pushed them away.
 
"Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a U.K. newspaper today speculating about the relationship between the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge," the statement said.

"For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful."

Brothers' relationship has 'broken down'

Author Penny Junor, who has written a biography of Harry, said she thinks the relationship between the two brothers "has sadly broken down."

Harry has isolated himself from all those closest to him, and I think they are all very worried about him.- Penny Junor, author

"Harry has isolated himself from all those closest to him, and I think they are all very worried about him," Junor said via email Sunday — before the brothers released their statement and as media clamour around the family heightened.

Reports have suggested that a froideur developed between the brothers after William cautioned Harry about the speed with which his relationship was developing with Meghan.

Junor says that is a "very significant factor" in the breakdown of the brothers' relationship but suspects they had started to grow apart even before Meghan arrived on the scene.

"There was conflict over their areas of interest," she said.

And then came last week's announcement. The way in which it unfolded didn't help matters.

"William was furious over the way the announcement was made," said Junor. "Harry and Meghan had been specifically asked to wait before making the announcement, and they failed to do so."

How will Harry, Meghan carve out their role?

The announcement itself last week caused anger and disappointment at Buckingham Palace, Katie Nicholl, author of Harry and Meghan: Life Loss and Love, said in an interview over email with CBC News.

"There's a sense of betrayal at the palace over how the Sussexes went ahead and made this public when they were asked not to by the Queen.

"How they come back from this remains to be seen."

There aren't many examples to turn to for how Harry and Meghan may try to carve out a role more to their liking.

Certainly, there is nothing in the current family to offer any guide. But go back a few generations, and there is at least a bit of precedent for the decision to step away.

"There have been cases in the past of people who have been born princes and princesses deciding that they want a big change in terms of how their lives will unfold," said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.

Take, for example, one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, Princess Patricia of Connaught. When she married in 1919, she became Lady Ramsay.

Meghan is currently in Canada with the couple's eight-month old son, Archie, pictured on a trip to South Africa in September 2019. A according to reports in the U.K. media, she will call into the Monday summit. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

"She wanted to have the same title as her husband, so she stopped using the title of princess and stepped away from royal duties and devoted her time to her husband and her son and her watercolours," said Harris.

But that was a different time, and there's no suggestion there were issues wound up in that decision to rival Harry and Meghan's, which includes their stated desire to achieve financial independence and launch their "new charitable entity."

Few precedents

Of course, there are examples of royals who have lost their royal duties in significantly different circumstances. The Duke of Windsor, for example, abdicated as King Edward VIII in 1936. For him, there was an interest in trying to find a role after the abdication.

Princess Patricia stepped away from royal duties when she married in 1919, but there are few precedents for what Harry and Meghan want to do. (Getty Images)

He was governor of the Bahamas during the Second World War, "but afterwards, he was never able to have a successful public role," Harris said.

He and his wife, the Duchess of Windsor, "became public curiosities as they grew older," she said.

In more recent years, there have been attempts by some members of the Royal Family to forge a career, but they haven't ended well, either.

Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, ran into trouble when they tried. Edward's failed television production company was left with assets of only £40 when it was liquidated in 2009. And Sophie quit as head of a public relations company in 2001 after embarrassing comments she made were secretly recorded by a tabloid reporter posing as an Arab sheik and published in the News of the World.

What about the money?

Amid the many questions that loom over how Harry and Meghan might carve out a new role, a major one is how their desire to achieve "financial independence" might work out.

On a website built to promote their new initiative, a long section is devoted to trying "to provide clarity on existing and future funding arrangements." And part of that includes plans to cut their tie with the Sovereign Grant, the money the U.K. government uses to help finance the royal household.

Harry and Meghan say the grant, funded by revenue from the Crown Estate real estate portfolio, covers just five per cent of their expense "and is specifically used for their official office expense."

Frogmore Cottage was refurbished using funds from the Sovereign Grant before Harry and Meghan moved in to the home near Windsor Castle. (GOR/Getty Images)

Craig Prescott, director of the Centre for Parliament and Public Law at the University of Winchester in southern England, said on Twitter that it appears Harry and Meghan "are forgoing that five per cent to obtain greater freedom to operate as they please and to control more tightly how they work with the media, probably to use social media more."

It seems, however, that they will keep receiving income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which is held by Harry's father, Prince Charles.

"The accounts for 2019 state that it is worth around £930 million (around $1.6 billion Cdn) and the surplus from the estate given to Prince Charles was £21.6 million ($36.8 million Cdn)," Prescott said via email.

"Some of this has been used to fund Harry and Meghan."

Prince Charles attends a reception to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his chairmanship of the Duchy of Cornwall Prince's Council. Harry and Meghan would continue to receive income from the Duchy of Cornwall estate. (Ben Birchall/Getty Images)

What's "uneasy" about all this, Prescott wrote on Twitter, "is how they appear to be taking advantage of the complex and messy division between the public and the private when it comes to royal property. It's worked out very well for them."

Harry and Meghan also plan to continue to live at Frogmore Cottage (where renovations were also funded by the Sovereign Grant).

"So once again, to simply say that by no longer taking money from the Sovereign Grant means that they are financially independent from the monarchy is skating over a much more ambiguous situation, and the position is nowhere near as stark as the phrase 'financial independence' indicates," Prescott said.

"They will continue to benefit from the substantial expenditure covered by the Sovereign Grant for their refurbished property." 

The danger for Harry and Meghan, Prescott said, "is that instead of increasing their independence, their proposed arrangements rely on the continuing consent of Prince Charles and the Queen."

The degree of independence Harry and Meghan can have has limits - any arrangement is subject to the ongoing consent of Prince Charles and the Queen, seen here with her grandson after the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor at Windsor Castle last May. (Steve Parsons/WPA/Getty Images)

If they thought Harry and Meghan's new activities would distract attention from or embarrass the monarchy, they could pull the plug, he said.

"As shown with Prince Andrew, both [the Queen and Prince Charles] are not afraid of acting decisively if required in the broader interests of the monarchy. Harry and Meghan will no longer have the defence of being full time 'senior royals' to justify the benefits they have received so far."

For example, Prescott suggests, what if those who are managing the Duchy of Cornwall on behalf of Charles decide to hike the rents of its tenant farmers "while Harry and Meghan are photographed in Toronto with their celebrity friends and Instagraming a glamorous life in Canada? 

"The headlines in the British newspapers would be terrible."

All of this, Prescott said, makes him think "that the details have not been properly considered."

A Toronto tie

Prince Harry and Meghan made their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games in Toronto on Sept. 25, 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The website that includes the section on Harry and Meghan's financial plans has a Canadian connection — it was created by Article, a Toronto-based company that describes itself as a "digital creative agency."

Article founder Ryan Sax said it's been a pleasure to work with Harry and Meghan on the website.

"To know that they chose our boutique Canadian agency means so much to us, and I'm happy we could create something special for them," Sax said via email on Friday afternoon.

According to the company's website, Article creates "tailored online experiences," and its clients "range from national brands to lifestyle influencers."

The website says Article doesn't choose projects based on size but works with brands it believes in and is "particular about fit."

Along with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it lists the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tim Hortons, the NBA, cannabis company Canopy Growth and Joe Fresh among its clients.

Harry and Meghan spent last Christmas Day attending the traditional service at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham with the rest of the Royal Family, but this year, they chose to spend the holiday in Canada. From left to right, Prince Charles, William, Kate, Meghan and Harry. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

4 generations in front of the camera

Multigenerational photos of the Royal Family are not a dime a dozen, but there have been two within the past few weeks.

First came the charming pre-Christmas shot of the Queen looking on as her son Charles, his son William, and William's son George stirred some Christmas puddings.

And then to mark the beginning of the new decade, there was a more formal photo released of the royal foursome.

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George pose for a photo on Dec. 18, 2019, to mark the start of the new decade in the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace in London. (Ranald Mackechnie/Buckingham Palace/The Associated Press)

Some speculation has focused on that photo in particular as perhaps being at least a partial trigger for Harry and Meghan moving forward with their plans to chart their own course.

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About the Author

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

With a file from The Associated Press

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