Obviously, being a member of the British royals isn’t like being in a normal family. Generally, whatever the Queen wants, she gets, and you need to fall in line. Recently, she unveiled some big changes for the royal family, and chances are not everyone is going to be happy with it. But it’s their duty to follow through anyway.
The news of the Queen’s shake-up might not have come as a surprise to many in the royal inner circle. After all, there have already been shake-ups: ones the Queen had no control over. There was the Prince Andrew removal of course. And in January of 2020 Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they would be stepping down from the royal family.
It turned out that Harry and Meghan might not have given the Queen a heads-up about their plans. And reportedly as soon as they made their statement there was absolute chaos at the Palace. Insiders seemed to practically fall over themselves to update the media about what was happening behind closed doors.
One person told U.K. tabloid The Sun, “There is fury over how they’ve done this without any thought for the implications for the institution. The Queen is deeply upset. The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge are incandescent with rage. Courtiers can’t believe it.” If that was true, it was a pretty big deal.
The trouble was, Harry and Meghan’s decision had serious implications for the all-important line of succession. Once the Queen passes away, her eldest son Prince Charles will inherit the throne of the United Kingdom – well, probably. But it seemed the “Megxit” situation had made her demand some changes to royal protocol.
According to The Daily Telegraph newspaper, the Queen asked her staff to “turn a crisis into an opportunity” and set out plans for if anyone else in the royal family one day wanted to leave. And since then, there have been more plans. Keeping the royal line safe is of utmost importance to the Queen.
The Queen’s been well aware of this from a very early age. Some say that her devotion to royal lineage affected her relationship with Prince Charles. From the moment he was born, she did after all know that he was being groomed for the highest duty in the country. And of course he would only be able to fulfil his potential once she herself was dead.
When Charles was a youngster, his parents spent plenty of time separated from him. The Queen placed her duties above all: she was a monarch first, not a mother. This sounds like a very archaic view of parenthood and duty, and well, that’s what a lot of the British people think too. They prefer the younger, more accessible royals.
Recent polls about the royals have shown exactly what the British public think. One was conducted in 2020 by British newspaper the Daily Mirror and Kate Middleton was named the most popular royal. The Queen was in second place, Prince William in third, and Prince Harry in fourth, even though he’d stepped down by then.
You’ll note Prince Charles didn’t make the top four. The fact that his sons are so much more popular has led people to wonder – will Charles even bother with the crown when it passes to him? He’ll be quite an old man when his mother passes away, so perhaps he should abdicate and hand the throne to the younger, more beloved William?
There’s also the issue of the woman Charles chose to marry. He wed Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, and she was of course his second wife – the first being Princess Diana. And as everybody knows, Camilla was also Charles’s mistress while he was still married to Diana. For a long time, the public has expressed opposition to her ever becoming queen.
But despite everything it seems Charles isn’t planning to give up his shot at being ruler – far from it in fact. He hasn’t said anything himself, but in 2020 royal expert Robert Lacey told the British TV show Good Morning Britain, “I myself don’t think [Charles] would willingly step down from the destiny he has waited for so long.”
And Charles has been making plans for a long time. Back in 2018 an anonymous source told the Daily Express newspaper that the prince was “determined to push the boundaries to prepare for a new style of monarchy.” Of course, plenty of things have changed for the royal family since then.
Harry and Meghan’s 2020 departure threw a major spanner in the works. One thing of note is that their original “deal” with their family was supposed to be reviewed after 12 months. But the now California-based royals reportedly want an extension to that 12 months.
It seems that with so many potential changes up in the air, the senior royals might have just decided to go ahead with their own before anything else happens. Their new plan for the family has meant some interesting moves. For a start, two very well-known princesses appear to have been told to sit on the sidelines.
It seems that both Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, granddaughters of the Queen, are not part of the new royal plans for the future. This might be surprising to some, because it’s been speculated for some time that they might be asked to become working royals in Harry and Meghan’s place.
To be fair though, both women seem pretty busy with their own lives. Both are married now and also both have “normal” jobs: Beatrice is the vice president of partnerships and strategy at the software company Afiniti, and Eugenie directs a London art gallery. They’re rarely out of newspaper headlines too.
For example, it was noted in 2020 that Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank were given the keys to royal residence Frogmore Cottage by Harry and Meghan once they vacated it. But in the end they spent only six weeks there. Did someone in the royal family wonder if the princesses had a little too much in common with their wayward cousin?
You won’t have seen much of Beatrice and Eugenie recently, though – or any of the royals. There’s one simple reason for this: the pandemic and the following lockdown. For a family that knows they must stay visible to stay relevant, this has been a pretty problematic situation. After all, they can’t break the rules and mix households.
The royals had to find new ways to keep themselves available to their subjects. And in some ways this actually helped them considerably. Camilla, one of the least beloved royals, saw her popularity rise as she attended virtual meeting after virtual meeting. Majesty magazine editor Joe Little told The Guardian newspaper in 2021, “She has been more visible and more audible than she has ever been before.”
Despite being a technophobe, Camilla got to work anyway, which people admired. Little told The Guardian, “The benefit of all this is people have gotten to know her, and appreciate her qualities, far more than ever before, though she has been a member of the royal family now coming up for 16 years. She has that little twinkle in her eye and is completely relatable.”
It’s absolutely vital to the royal family that they remain relatable. So that was probably foremost on everyone’s mind when Kate and William embarked on a U.K tour for three days over Christmas 2020. They visited hospitals and met volunteers and children, all while rocking face masks that matched their clothes.
And then at the end of William and Kate’s tour, there was a sudden surprise for royal family fans. Eight of the senior royals posed for a photograph together on the Quadrangle steps of Windsor Castle – while all socially distanced, of course. This group was forming the “New Firm,” or the new most visible working royals.
So who was in the group of eight? First there were the no-brainers: the Queen, William, Kate and Charles. But Camilla was also included, as was the Queen’s daughter Princess Anne. And perhaps the most surprising addition – for some, at least – was that of Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
This all fits in with Charles’ idea for a slimmed-down royal family. In fact, just a month before the “New Firm” debuted, the concept was being mentioned in the press again. Former royal butler Paul Burrell told Us magazine, “Charles has made it quite clear that he intends to slim down the monarchy and reduce the number of full-time working members of the family to those in the immediate line of succession.”
But though Charles may have taken the lead on this one, the Queen was very much involved as well, it seems. According to British tabloid newspaper The Sun, it was her idea to have the eight royals pose for the press outside Windsor Castle. That’s where she and Prince Philip were living at the time.
Speaking of the late Philip, he wasn’t included in the plans even before his death in 2021. That’s because he had retired from public duties in 2017. Back then, the Palace released a statement saying, “The duke will not be accepting new invitations for visits and engagements, although he may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time.”
Prince Edward and Sophie’s appearance might be more of a surprise. They’re not as famous as the others. But ever since Harry and Meghan stepped down from the royal family, they’ve been touted as possible “replacements” for them. And Sophie is in fact allegedly the Queen’s favorite of all her daughters-in-law.
According to an anonymous person who spoke to The Sun in 2019, the Queen found Sophie “soothing” and would often ride with her during trips to church. And another insider said, “She is trusted and relied on by the Queen in a way I couldn’t say applied to the Duchess of Cambridge or the Duchess of Cornwall. She is like another daughter to Her Majesty; they are that close.”
Another anonymous source spoke to the Daily Mirror in December 2020 after the new photo was taken. They said, “The family are united in exploring the possibilities in working with each other to highlight the causes dear to their hearts, helping each other and the country at the same time.”
The insider went on, referring to the lockdown, “They are working on opportunities for next year and beyond already. As soon as they are able it will be all hands on deck to make up for lost time.” However, the royals have been doing as much as possible even with restrictions in place.
Perhaps the first hint about the “New Firm” actually came back in May 2020. That month, the combination of William, Kate, Charles, Camilla, Edward, Sophie and Anne all joined together on a video call to give tribute to healthcare workers. But they’ve all been doing important work separately, as well.
The Queen’s reported mantra is “one must be seen to be believed,” and the whole royal family follow it. During lockdown they’ve continued to work. Camilla for example went to unveil a plaque at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in December 2020 – and she brought her own dog, Beth, with her. That’s the sort of thing that very much increases relatability.
William and Kate have taken their kids out to important events as well. In December 2020 they took Louis, Charlotte and George to a special pantomime at the London Palladium to pay tribute to key workers. While there, William made a speech thanking members of the public for their “remarkable sacrifices.”
At the same time, Prince Charles paid a visit to London’s famous Ritz hotel. According to the official royal Instagram, Charles thanked the staff for their “tireless efforts, especially at this time of year,” and made sure to tell them, “I have been so worried about the devastation being caused by this pandemic – we really are so glad you are getting back to business.”
And Sophie has been very visible throughout the lockdown, perhaps more so than she was previously. In June 2020 she volunteered on the shop floor of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices’ Weybridge charity shop, which boosted her profile even more. Some who’d watched her work have compared her to the famously charitable Princess Diana.
Speaking to British newspaper Daily Express, body-language expert Judi James said of the Countess, “Sophie bridges the royal generations in a way that late-comer Camilla will never do, and although there is something William Cambridge-style modern in some of her informal, hands-on video appearances baking scones or picking up rubbish from the beach, she still looks like the keeper of the flame in terms of royal protocols.”
This is all very good news for Sophie… but what about Meghan and Harry? Well, they’re apparently now living in a very fancy house in Santa Barbara. And they’ve also allegedly quit social media, which they weren’t allowed to use the word “royal” on anyway. Do they care about being excluded? We may not find out for a while.
Will Harry and Meghan ever rejoin the family as working royals? Well, it’s not completely impossible. One good sign is that reportedly Harry is back on good terms with his brother after the rift his leaving caused. Apparently they exchanged presents over Christmas, plus talked to each other on video phone.
No matter what happens it’s shaping up to be an interesting year for the royal family. There are signs of big changes happening. For a start, the Queen is expected to scale back her public appearances. But Kate’s been given a direct line to her household – a huge honor – so she can contact her at all times. Slowly and carefully, the younger royals are being trained to take over.