Harry and Meghan get their freedom, but at what cost?

More than a week after Prince Harry and Meghan dropped their royal bombshell, speculation has in many ways only intensified about how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will chart their own course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

Power of their brand appears strong in short term, but there may be long-term challenges

'Massive change' as Harry and Meghan drop HRH titles

4 years ago
Duration 8:36
Commentator Katie Nicholl discusses the future of the British monarchy now that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will no longer serve as working members of the Royal Family.

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You're in or you're out. You can't be a part-time working member of the Royal Family.

After 10 days of intense speculation sparked by Prince Harry and Meghan's announcement they wanted to step back as senior members of the family, some clarity emerged with the latest word Saturday from Queen Elizabeth and Buckingham Palace.

And while the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have gained some freedom, they may not have received everything they wanted as they seek to forge their new path, which will include some time living in Canada.

"What's proved impossible is for them to pick and choose what they are interested in undertaking while rejecting the role of a senior member of the Royal Family," said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.

They won't be using their HRH titles. They won't be doing royal duties or receiving any public funds for those duties, and are paying back the 2.4 million pounds ($4 million Cdn) spent from the Sovereign Grant to refurbish their new home at Frogmore Cottage — a situation that had become a significant point of public criticism around the couple in the U.K.

They'll keep their private patronages and associations, the statement from Buckingham Palace said, and Harry and Meghan "have made clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values" of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry watch a flypast of Royal Air Force aircraft pass over Buckingham Palace in London on July 10, 2018. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

While there had been some speculation they might continue to do some duties on behalf of Elizabeth, Saturday's announcement ruled that out.

It's clear, said Harris, that it was impossible for them to be part-time members of the Royal Family.

As they step back from royal duties, that will include official military appointments, a move that seems particularly poignant for Harry, given his years of service and devotion to supporting soldiers and their families.

Harris said she thinks giving up the military role was all part of the process of stepping back as a senior member of the family. It may also allow Harry more flexibility to spend time outside the U.K., because there won't be the interest or requirement to be present for military events that fall at fixed times each year.

The announcement also seems to suggest Harry won't have the leadership role that he was taking on for the Commonwealth, following his appointment by the Queen as a youth ambassador in 2018.

As much as Saturday's announcement offered some clarity, significant questions remain, particularly around security for the couple and who would pay for that — another topic that has become a lightning rod for public comment in the past few days.

"It's clear that's still an issue," said Harris.

Buckingham Palace said it does not comment "on the details of security arrangements," and there are "well-established independent processes to determine the need for publicly funded security."

There is also little sense from Saturday's announcement of how Harry and Meghan might gain the financial independence they have said they are seeking as they move to develop their own brand.

Meghan sipped Tetley tea and spent more than an hour with shelter managers and front-line workers during a visit to a women's shelter on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Jan. 14, 2020. (Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre/Facebook)

In the short term, the power of that brand is "quite a lot," said Mark Borkowski, a British public relations expert.

"How to maintain it is going to be difficult. They're going to have to rely on a lot of friends to provide them with some of the stuff gratis — homes and whatever," Borkowski said earlier this week.

"I'm sure they can raise a lot of money for charities. I'm sure the foundation could be powerful. But I don't think it will give them the lifestyle money, and the further they get away … they lose that royal sheen."

Saturday's announcement suggests there was some sensitivity to the criticism that had arisen, in particular around the renovations at Frogmore Cottage.

"By paying back the expenses, that will hopefully lay to rest the controversy regarding how the renovations unfolded," said Harris.

Harris said she thinks they are eager to keep Frogmore Cottage as their residence when they are in the United Kingdom.

"There would likely have been calls for it to be reassigned if they were continuing living there, and the money was not repaid," she said.

There is also a sense that there may have been some attempt to further manage the public chatter around Harry and Meghan, given the timing of announcement, coming early Saturday evening in the U.K.

"There may be efforts to minimize the attention on it," said Harris.

Still, how this all works out for Harry and Meghan remains a big question. The Queen said the couple and their son, Archie, will "always be much-loved members of my family."

Will Harry and Meghan undertake public appearances while they are in Canada? Harry was front and centre during the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

But while they have gained more freedom, said Harris, the door has also been closed "to having an expanded role in the Royal Family if their new course does not unfold as they expect."

And there remains much uncertainty about how the public will respond to all this.

"I think sympathy for Harry and Meghan going forward will depend on what they decide to do," said Harris.

If they move toward a more celebrity lifestyle, Harris suggested, they may lose some sympathy. "If they devote their time to charitable work … that will likely attract more popular support."

Putting down royal roots

The Prince's Lodge rotunda on the Bedford Highway in Halifax was built by Prince Edward — the Duke of Kent — when he lived in Halifax in the 1790s. (CBC)

Wherever Harry and Meghan end up living while they are in Canada, they won't be the first members of the Royal Family to put down roots on this side of the Atlantic Ocean — even temporarily.

The first royal resident of any significant duration arrived long before Canada's Confederation.

WATCH | Why Harry and Meghan are stepping back from royal roles

Why Harry and Meghan are stepping back from royal roles

4 years ago
Duration 6:06
There were signs from the start that Prince Harry and Meghan would do things differently. CBC News’ Thomas Daigle looks at those signs and why the Sussexes are now stepping back.

Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria, lived in and near Quebec City and in Halifax in the 1790s. 

But the experienced military man wasn't thinking in terms of a permanent residency.

"He had an extended time here, but he always knew that time would come to an end even if he reached the rank of commander in chief of the British North American forces," said Harris.

Still, there is the sense he enjoyed his time here.

"He found the social life was much more informal and he was able to appear in public with his mistress, Julie de St. Laurent," said Harris.

"He found it to be quite a change when he returned to Britain and there were clear social barriers to Julie de St. Laurent being his partner in a public manner in the way she had been during his time in Canada, where she was clearly acting as a hostess."

Edward, Prince of Wales, centre, helps with the roundup at the Bar U Ranch near High River, Alta., in September 1919. After his visit there, he bought his own ranch nearby. (National Archives of Canada/The Canadian Press)

More than a century later, another Prince Edward — the one who went on to become King Edward VIII before his abdication — bought a ranch in Alberta. And it seems he had a great fondness for the property he purchased south of Calgary in 1919, especially in the early years of his ownership.

"He wrote to his mother that this was real life and he started describing himself in his speeches as a westerner when he was in the West, and as a Canadian," said Harris. "That was pioneering in many ways for a member of the Royal Family to describe themselves as a Canadian when they were in Canada."

WATCH | Could Harry and Meghan make B.C. their home?

Meghan Markle hideout? This B.C. property believed to be where royals are

4 years ago
Duration 0:36
Mille Fleurs, a mansion in North Saanich, B.C., is believed to be where Prince Harry and Meghan vacationed and where the duchess is currently staying

Still, Edward's ranch caused some worry back home with his father, King George V, Harris said. His concerns focused on the possibility that it might seem one dominion — Canada — was being singled out and Edward could face pressure to buy land elsewhere, such as a farm in the Australian outback or a house in South Africa.

A similar pressure might arise for Harry and Meghan, Harris suggested, "pressure not necessarily to purchase property, but to spend more time in other Commonwealth realms."

What about the media?

The cameras were ready and waiting for Prince Harry and Meghan on the grounds of Kensington Palace after the announcement of their engagement on Nov. 27, 2017. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Amid the speculation about the reasons behind Harry and Meghan's decision to step back, much has been said about the coverage they have received in the British media, particularly from the tabloids.

Can living part-time in Canada really insulate them from that?

Not necessarily, or perhaps not completely, even if their media experience while they've been in Canada has been relatively tame in comparison. 

Harry and Meghan were front page news in the U.K. on Jan. 9, 2020, after announcing their plans to step back from their role as senior members of the Royal Family. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

The British tabloid press has a unique history, said Borkowski. 

"It won't take long for an ambitious freelance unit to be set up [in Canada] … feeding not just the British press but the international press. Someone's going to make a lot of money from them moving to North America."

Readers share their views

Several Royal Fascinator readers say they would welcome Harry, Meghan and Archie spending some time in Canada, but they don't want taxpayers to foot the bill for their security. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

Readers of The Royal Fascinator were eager to share a wide range of views on the events of the past week. Several were willing to welcome Harry and Meghan to Canada, but not to see their tax dollars pay for their security. 

Here is a brief selection of comments and edited excerpts from messages readers sent. 

"Although I can understand Harry and Meghan not wanting to live under old world rules, would the Canadian taxpayer really have to pay for their security? They are financially very well off. And as much as they seem to be a lovely young couple with an adorable baby boy, they should be paying for their own security. We have enough going on in Canada without having to pay for wealthy runaways who supposedly want anonymity!" — Pat King, Toronto.

"I do believe, being a royal fan/follower since I was a little girl, that Harry and Meg should be able to decide on their own how their lives should be lived and where. I understand the monarchy protocols, but Harry is so far down the line now that if he wants to gain financial independence with his wife and child, then so be it. One would hope that the monarchy will work out the plan that works well for all. Being a Canadian, I can't help but be biased.... We would love to see them move here — the land of nice!" — Tina Forbes, Hamilton-Niagara area

"I am probably in the minority but it was wonderful not seeing Meghan and Harry for six weeks. When you put someone like Harry together with a strong, narcissistic personality like Meghan, it is a matter of time before the less strong person is dominated. Meghan comes from the liberal state of California who firmly believe their opinions are the only right ones…. If William was level-headed and sincere in his talk with Harry about rushing to marry Meghan and Harry went on a tirade of silence, shame on immature Harry. I firmly believe Meghan is the catalyst of the entire bad feelings, damaged brother relations, etc. Harry, William and Catherine made an awesome team." —  Kathleen Norris

"I do hope they can have a wonderful life and continue their good work." — Pam Harrison

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

With a file from The Associated Press