DOMINIC LAWSON: The bombshell? How little Harry grasped about monarchy
DOMINIC LAWSON: The real bombshell? How little Harry, not Meghan, grasped about the monarchy
How depressingly predictable that the authorised-but-not-authorised account of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s rupture with the Royal Family (and with this country) should rest on the charge of ‘snobbery’.
The authors of Finding Freedom — though Nelson Mandela this ain’t — claim that Prince Harry never got over the impression that his brother had behaved ‘like a snob’ when Prince William cautioned him against a speedy decision to become betrothed to Meghan Markle.
Such a charge against William is, I believe, deeply unfair. If he were truly such a snob, he would never have married someone from a middle-class background in preference to the Royal Family’s traditional marital hunting ground of the stately homes of England.
From what I have been able to glean from those who have had personal dealings with them, she is much the more level-headed of the couple, and wonderful at calming down Harry, trying to make sure he does not act hastily, or purely out of rage
Indeed, the snobbish slights against Kate Middleton — with endless jibes about the fact that her mother had been (the horror!) an air hostess — persisted for years during their long on-and-off pre-marital relationship.
But what does seem believable, from the extracts of the book published over the weekend, is that Prince Harry, for all his apparent modernity and undoubted gifts of empathy for the plight of those less privileged, is himself obsessed with royal rank and status: not least in how it appears to thwart the ambitions that he and his wife should have played a starring role in the development of the Royal Family as a ‘global brand’.
There are references to him calling William ‘the important one’ and complaints about how his own initiatives were repeatedly blocked if they were seen to pre-empt something that either William or Prince Charles were planning.
Moreover, Harry was furious when (after their break from the monarchy was announced) he and Meghan were not asked to be part of the official procession in the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey: it was to be just the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge alongside the Queen.
Obviously, that decision reflected changed circumstances. But even before that rupture, it seems that Harry found it difficult to accept that he was simply less central to the future of the Royal Family, because of the time-honoured precepts of precedence and succession.
Harry was furious when (after their break from the monarchy was announced) he and Meghan were not asked to be part of the official procession in the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey in March
The word ‘monarchy’, after all, means ‘rule of one’ — although ‘reign’ rather than ‘rule’ is the more appropriate word in the democratic era.
The monarch is the sun and every other member of the family is a mere satellite, whose official status is only as a representative of the person who wears the crown. And with each successive child produced by William and Kate, Prince Harry’s position in the order of precedence was demoted.
The same applied, in an earlier generation, to Prince Andrew: he was a more glamorous and (back then) more popular figure than his elder brother. But this, and the fact that he is as much the son of the Queen as is the Prince of Wales, was irrelevant: and ever more so as Charles produced his own heirs.
According to the authors of Finding Freedom (who claim to have sourced everything impeccably), Harry and Meghan believed that their undoubted charisma could ‘take the Royal Family to a new level’.
But leaving aside the presumption, it is simply not the case that the pecking order in the Royal Family can be based on something like the Hollywood star system, in which the most dazzling talent gets top billing. The Royal Family is not a meritocracy. How could it be?
Nor is membership of the Royal Family about ‘self-realisation’ or personal ambitions (even if that ambition is nothing more than a desire to ‘make the world a better place’, which many Hollywood actors profess as their true aim in life).
If this sounds as though I am putting the blame for this debacle on Meghan Markle, that is far from the case. First of all, from what I have been able to glean from those who have had personal dealings with them, she is much the more level-headed of the couple, and wonderful at calming down Harry, trying to make sure he does not act hastily, or purely out of rage (irascibility is a characteristic of Windsor males, down the generations).
Also I think it unreasonable to have expected Meghan to understand the peculiarities and practices of the British monarchy. Nothing in her life could have prepared her for it. Someone who has, in the best American way, achieved what she did by striving mightily in a brutally competitive system, might well be perplexed by an institution in which inherited status counts for much more than who delivers the lines most flawlessly, or even who best looks the part.
But Prince Harry can claim no such puzzlement. He was born and brought up in it. Indeed, it is the only reason for his eminence or public status. And he is, in fact, as sensitive to its various gradations (invisible to those outside the court) as any more supposedly traditional member of the Royal Family. For example, he was put out by the fact that at his wedding to Meghan Markle, Prince William was wearing the ‘aiguillette over the right shoulder and chest’ which is the insignia of a personal aide-de-camp to the monarch. For Harry had not got that rank.
Less central: Harry and Meghan are relegated to background players as the Royals gather on the Buckingham Palace balcony during last year’s Trooping the Colour
Anyway, if the Duke of Sussex was indeed thus annoyed, this matter of status was quickly resolved to his satisfaction. Within months, Harry too was appointed a ‘personal aide-de-camp’ to the Queen.
That was a request to which her Majesty could happily and easily accede. Not so Harry’s demands — as if you could ever ‘demand’ of the monarch — for him and Meghan both to be full members of the Royal Family with all the status connected with that, and also run what amounted to a personal promotional enterprise under the ‘Sussex Royal’ brand.
Again, I don’t blame Meghan Markle for — to put it politely — that misunderstanding. From her point of view, it probably didn’t seem odd at all, or at least no odder than the Royal Family must already have seemed to her. That Prince Harry didn’t appear to understand is, however, extraordinary.
But she will get the bulk of the public blame for the debacle, not least because Harry — especially in the wake of the tragic loss of his mother — had a special place in the hearts of much of the British people, whereas Meghan Markle was not even known to them until she came into his life.
This conforms to an insidiously insistent prejudice — it goes back, after all, to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — of a fundamentally innocent man being manipulated by a woman (with the implicit suggestion that he has been seduced by lust to act stupidly in a way he would never otherwise have done).
It is an all-too-convenient tale, often deeply unfair to what is a partnership of mutual interest — rather than a hapless booby being ordered about by a monstrous female.
What is abundantly clear is that Harry believed the woman he chose for his wife had not been given the respect he felt she deserved, both from his brother and the court as a whole.
Well, I would never criticise a man for standing up for his wife — I feel positively murderous if I sense that my own wife has been treated disrespectfully by anyone. But the more one delves into this, the more it seems that Harry’s rage at the alleged lack of proper respect shown to Meghan (and the charge in Finding Freedom that he thought William had behaved ‘like a snob’ in his initial reaction to ‘this girl’) stemmed from a long-standing resentment at the way in which he felt he was always being put second to his elder brother.
That elder brother is also the one who will, in the end, become the person to whom Harry must bow, as his King.
It is an old, old story. And Harry should have known it all along.
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