World·Royal Fascinator

Who will step up for Harry and Meghan?

Prince Harry and Meghan's departure from the upper echelons of the Royal Family leaves a big gap in any plan for a streamlined monarchy, which has long been thought to be a focus for heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.

Decision to step back from senior ranks of Royal Family leaves gap in plan for monarchy's future

When the balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 was limited to just the monarch, her heir Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, his sons Prince William and Harry, and William's wife, Kate, it was widely seen as a signal of a more streamlined monarchy in the future. (Lefteris Pitarakis/The Associated Press)

Hello, royal watchers. This is your biweekly dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every other Friday.

It was a striking image that day in June of 2012 — just six people on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, sending a signal widely interpreted to foreshadow a slimmed-down future for the House of Windsor.

It was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee marking her 60 years as monarch, and joining her on the balcony were her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles; his wife, Camilla; Charles's two sons, Princes William and Harry; and William's wife, Kate. (The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, was in hospital at the time and it would be four years before Harry met his wife, Meghan.)

Charles has long been thought to favour a core group of senior family members to carry the House of Windsor forward in the next reign.

But Harry and Meghan's departure from the upper echelons of the family leaves a big hole in that plan.

"I think [Charles] envisaged having Harry as part of that," Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, said via email.

Seward said that along with William and Kate, Charles saw his sister, Princess Anne, and his brother, Prince Edward, as part of the plan.

Prince Harry, left, Prince Charles and Prince William arrive at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference at Lancaster House on Feb. 13, 2014 in London. (John Stillwell/Getty Images)

Harry's departure "really blows a hole into Charles's well-thought-out plan for a slimmed-down monarchy based on the core family," royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith told Vanity Fair.

Even though Harry is now down to sixth in the line of succession, he would still have been expected to carry out more senior duties for several years because numbers three, four and five in the succession (William and Kate's young children, George, Charlotte and Louis) are up to two decades away from being active royals.

"So Charles and William have been counting on Harry to be, in effect, third in line to the throne and that's all out the window, too," said Bedell Smith.

Harry and Meghan had been staying out of public sight for the past couple of weeks, although reports surfaced Friday citing royal and palace sources that they had attended an event in Miami organized by American bank JP Morgan. They are thought to be based on Vancouver Island, where they were over Christmas before making their seismic departure announcement. 

In the meantime in the U.K., it's been royal business as usual for everyone from the Queen on down. Elizabeth was out and about twice this week — and reminisced about her father and his corgis — as her regular winter stay at her Sandringham estate, north of London, draws to a close. 

Queen Elizabeth listens as she is shown around Wolferton Pumping Station on Feb. 5, 2020, in Wolferton, England. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Charles and Camilla were at a reception for the British Asian Trust and other engagements. William, who has a new role as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Kate were at the British version of the Oscars and did a day trip to Wales.

Observers have been trying to figure out whether there's any evidence of Harry and Meghan's departure affecting what other senior members of the family are doing.

But in many ways, that seems to be a stretch — at least for now.

"As official engagements are usually fixed some months in advance and Harry and Meghan's official departure is not until the spring, I don't think we have yet seen much direct evidence," Seward said. 

"The crux will come on family occasions and none are scheduled in the immediate future. The future of Harry's military appointments is obviously under consideration and will be announced as soon as it is decided."

Still, it all leaves many open questions about how other members of the family may step up their roles. One person seen by many as likely to gain more prominence is Edward's wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex.

"I think Sophie will take on a lot more royal duties and patronages," said Seward.

And then there are Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, daughters of Prince Andrew, who has stepped down from public duties in the wake of fallout from his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and a disastrous BBC interview related to that.

"I am not sure about Beatrice and Eugenie," Seward said. "Before all this happened, I know Andrew was keen for them both to have royal roles, but Charles was not."

Another spring wedding

Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi will marry on May 29 in the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

One thing that is sure for Beatrice — she has a confirmed wedding date and venue.

Buckingham Palace said Friday morning she and fiancé Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi will marry May 29 at the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace in central London. The Queen will host a reception just down the road, in the gardens behind Buckingham Palace.

After a flurry of royal weddings in Windsor over the past couple of years, this promises to be a lower-profile, smaller and more intimate affair — perhaps not surprising given the controversy surrounding Beatrice's father, Andrew.

St. James's Palace does, however, have a rich royal history. Other weddings that have taken place there include that of Queen Victoria in 1840. It's also been the scene of several christenings, including Beatrice herself in December 1988, and more recently Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018.

Andrew and the FBI — what's going on?

Prince Andrew leaves St. Mary the Virgin church in Hillington, near the Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, north of London. (Chris Radburn/Reuters)

Prince Andrew was the focus of more attention recently after the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York told a news conference held outside Epstein's former mansion that Andrew had given "zero co-operation" to the inquiry into the convicted sex offender.

Immediately after that, sources close to Andrew were reported as saying he was angry and "bewildered" by the claims he had been unco-operative, and that he hadn't received any request to speak to the FBI.

A lawyer for a victim of Epstein also urged Andrew to co-operate with the FBI.

Seward said until an approach is made by the FBI through official channels, "nothing will happen."

"This doesn't lessen the potential wrong, but he can't answer anything until his lawyers are contacted, and then they don't have to answer straight away," Seward said. 

"I think he will help the investigation, but has probably been advised to wait until such time as all the necessary evidence as to where he was and what he was doing has been gathered."

Andrew has said he did not see or suspect any sex crimes during the time he spent with Epstein. He has also denied any inappropriate relations with a woman who has said she was forced to have sex with him three times between 1999 and 2002. Andrew has said he has no recollection of meeting her.

Royal angst — beyond the House of Windsor

Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and his wife Maria Teresa, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, prepare to leave a ceremony in Paris to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War on Nov. 11, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/The Associated Press)

Other royal families have also seen their share of controversy and high-profile headlines in the last little while.

The public prosecutor in Luxembourg has launched a probe after reports of physical violence toward staff who work for the tiny European country's royal family.

It was only the latest headline there, coming about a week after Grand Duke Henri issued a statement to defend his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, against allegations of a "hostile working environment" at the palace.

"Why attack a woman? A woman who speaks up for other women? A woman who is not even being given the right to defend herself?" Henri said in his statement.

Next door, in Belgium, former King Albert II admitted he fathered a child during an extramarital affair half a century ago.

The acknowledgement came after a court-ordered DNA test found that the 85-year-old, who abdicated in 2013, is Delphine Boël's biological father.

Boël had been engaged in a longstanding court fight to prove that she is his biological daughter.

Not so much of The Crown

Imelda Staunton left, has as been tapped to be the last actor to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix series The Crown. (The Associated Press)

Fans of the Netflix drama The Crown will have to content themselves with just five seasons, rather than the six everyone had been expecting.

Creator Peter Morgan had said he'd planned on six seasons of the show focusing on Queen Elizabeth's reign, but the other day he nixed that idea and said five seems like the "perfect time and place to stop."

The way the series is going, that should take viewers up to around the year 2000.

Given some of the higher-profile royal controversies of late, perhaps it's understandable why Morgan is content to stop at that point.

"I think there's concerns the closer you get to the present day, in terms of how much dramatic licence can you ethically take about events that are unfolding," said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. 

"And also, the show would become more controversial if it was speaking about events that are in many ways still unfolding at this time, and imagining conversations behind palace doors."

Season 5 will see another actor take on the role of Elizabeth. Imelda Staunton, who'd long been rumoured for the part, will follow Claire Foy (seasons 1 and 2) and Olivia Colman (seasons 3 and 4).

Royally quotable

Prince William speaks with best actress winner Renee Zellweger at the British Academy Film Awards on Feb. 2, 2020, in London. (Jeff Gilbert/Getty Images)

"Yet in 2020, and not for the first time in the last few years, we find ourselves talking again about the need to do more to ensure diversity in the sector and in the awards process – [a lack of diversity] simply cannot be right in this day and age."

— Prince William speaks during the British Academy Film Awards.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Andrew has asked to defer a military promotion honour he would have received when he turns 60 later this month. [BBC]

  2. A century before Harry and Meghan, an Italian noble family sought refuge in B.C. — and stayed. [CBC] 

  3. The RCMP and U.K. security officials are discussing how best to protect Harry and Meghan while they are in Canada, and who will ultimately pay for their security. [CBC] 

  4. Harry lost a press complaint he filed against a newspaper over a story it published about photos of African wildlife he has posted on Instagram. [BBC] 

  5. To mark the 200th anniversary of King George III's death, his massive collection of military maps has been made available online, offering insight into global conflicts from the 16th to 18th centuries. Also going back in time, a vest worn by Charles I at his execution is going on display.  [The Guardian, BBC]

Sign up here to have The Royal Fascinator newsletter land in your inbox every other Friday.

I'm always happy to hear from you. Send your ideas, comments, feedback and notes to Problems with the newsletter? Please let me know about any typos, errors or glitches.


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