There’s a column by Victoria Murphy in Town & Country which is getting some hype among British royal commentators. It’s a simple piece which is mostly an explainer about why the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did what they did: they wanted financial independence so they could remove themselves from the racist bullies in the British media and establish their own independence on many different levels. Most of Murphy’s column is what we already know, but she just spells it out and says it flatly: the fact that the Sussexes paid back the Frogmore Cottage costs and have financial independence means that the royal family (and the British media) can’t control the Sussexes anymore.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s announcement that they have paid back all the public money for the renovations to Frogmore Cottage marks a significant milestone as they shape their new lives. Following confirmation that they are no longer taking funds from Prince Charles, they have now, it seems, achieved complete financial independence from “The Firm” and, crucially, from the British public purse. Immediately, of course, this announcement shuts down criticism the couple received over paying back the funds in full since they announced their apparently very financially lucrative production deal with Netflix. But the move also has symbolic significance in releasing their ties to a system they have come to so despise.
To understand the Sussexes’ thinking in this regard you only have to look at the, now dormant but still online, Sussex Royal website they launched when they decided to step back as working royals in January. Lengthy sections entitled “Media” and “Funding” outline their frustration with the fact, as publicly-funded royals, they had no control over their own media relations policy. Central to their desire for the future was to “live a more independent life as a family, by removing the supposed ‘public interest’ justification for media intrusion into their lives.” Seething at what they saw as unfair criticism and intrusion, their view was clear; shut down public funding and remove the right to control or criticize.
…The Sussexes’ initial hopes for a half-in, half-out arrangement with the monarchy when they decided to step back led to accusations of them wanting have their cake and eat it. But with every move they have taken since, it is clear that independence is their overriding goal.
There are those who have suggested that Harry and Meghan have struggled since leaving behind royal life or that Harry has questioned their decision to break free. But nothing about the production deal they have just signed or their decision to pay back this lump sum suggests they are looking back.
Instead, you could say it is the monarchy who is left looking over its shoulder. Family members will be hoping that Harry and Meghan stick to the pledge that they made to “continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty” in “everything they do.” Because, while they have no way of controlling the Sussexes, the actions of this couple will inevitably still reflect on the institution. Harry and Meghan may no longer have to engage with or answer to their critics. But the monarchy does not have the same freedom.
Again, nothing here is new, it’s just the kind of clear-eyed analysis which has been so lacking in the coverage in the British media. The British media see themselves as gatekeepers on many different levels, and so much of what Harry and Meghan have done this year has been aimed at removing themselves from that gatekeeping and the British media’s narrative. For the Windsors as a “firm,” all of this was always about control, not money. Prince William, Prince Charles and the Queen all wanted to strike a balance where they could still control and dictate and “manage” the Sussexes. But the Firm went too far and the Sussexes called their bluff and walked away. It’s been a huge tantrum from the Windsors and the media all year.
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