Harry and Meghan, after taking a six-week break from their royal duties, made the unprecedented decision to "step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family," according to a statement issued by the couple. It is thought that the couple did not consult the queen or other members of the royal family before issuing their statement.
Although "senior" is not an official designation for members of the royal family, this grouping includes Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince William, Kate Middleton, and — as it still stands as of this writing — Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle. Despite the couple expressing their intent to step down, it’s not set in stone. Buckingham Palace issued its own statement following the big announcement: "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."
If Harry and Meghan do relinquish their roles in the royal family, though, it would mean radical changes to their lives. These are all the things Harry and Meghan won’t be able to do if they step down.
Harry and Meghan can’t use the Sovereign Grant once they step down
There is a lot of confusion surrounding Harry and Meghan’s January 2020 announcement — and for good reason. In the same statement in which Harry and Meghan expressed their intention to "step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family," they also said they’ve "chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution." All the while, the couple shared they have plans to "work to become financially independent."
Thankfully, Harry and Meghan’s site spelled out more of the details behind the financial portion of their plan. "As they step back as senior members of the Royal Family and no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant," SussexRoyal.com explains, "they will become members of the Royal Family with financial independence which is something they look forward to."
According to the couple, they’ve been prohibited from earning a professional income. As such, they "prefer to release" their "financial tie" to the Sovereign Grant. That’s all well and good, but the site further reveals that the grant "covers just five percent" of the couple’s costs.
Harry and Meghan may not be able to access Princes Charles’ estate once they step down
Per SussexRoyal.com, Harry and Meghan want to have "the future financial autonomy to work externally." Willfully cutting themselves off from the Sovereign Grant — which David McClure, an expert on royal finances, likened to "chicken feed" — may sound noble, but it will not have much of an effect on their bottom line.
Harry and Meghan do stand to lose much more, though. Prince Charles and his two sons, Princes William and Harry, and their wives, Kate and Meghan, respectively, are funded by the Duchy of Cornwall. According to a financial report, the Duchy of Cornwall received £21.7 million (about $28.3 million) of distributable surplus between March 2017 and March 2018. A huge percentage of Charles’ income — and thus his children’s incomes — reportedly come from that estate.
Although there’s no mention of cutting their ties with the Duchy of Cornwall in neither Harry and Meghan’s statement nor on their site, royal sources alleged to The Telegraph that the couple is not guaranteed that income once they step down as senior royals. And, if they can’t access those funds, they stand to lose much more than "chicken feed."
Harry and Meghan may not be able to get jobs once they step down
Without funding from the Sovereign Grant and the Duchy of Cornwall, working for a living sounds pretty necessary. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have made it clear that they want to work, of course, but that may not be as easy as it sounds.
"There is a problem for members of the Royal Family — relatively senior ones, even if they say they’re no longer senior — getting jobs, because they are seen to monetize their brand and you run into a whole host of questions about conflict of interest," BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond told BBC News.
If Harry and Meghan are unable to work, they do have money to fall back on. Prince Harry is thought to have inherited $10 million after his mother Princess Diana‘s death, according to Forbes. He also earned a salary of around $50,000 when he was working as a helicopter pilot for the Army Air Corps. Meghan herself has a reported net worth of $5 million. And while that perhaps qualifies them as financially independent, that may not be what the couple has in mind.
Harry and Meghan may not be able to live rent-free once they step down
Harry and Meghan may not only lose a lot of money once they step down, but their expenses may also go up. As "senior" members of the royal family, Harry and Meghan live without cost at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor. Prior to moving in, the home underwent significant (read: expensive) renovations. The refurbishment was funded by the Sovereign Grant, SussexRoyal.com explains.
So, what happens now? According to Harry and Meghan, the cottage remains the queen’s property. However, Harry and Meghan plan to stay. "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will continue to use Frogmore Cottage — with the permission of Her Majesty The Queen — as their official residence…," their site details.
This may be their desire, but it’s not up to them. Royal Household sources revealed to The Telegraph that Queen Elizabeth may rescind her permission or may begin charging Harry and Meghan rent. It wouldn’t be the first time the queen has demanded rent be paid. As non-working royals, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were expected to pay for their apartment at St James’s Palace.
Harry and Meghan can’t carry out as many official duties once they step down
The royal family has experienced abdications, retirements, and the relinquishing of royal duties, but Harry and Meghan’s decision to step down as senior members — all the while "fully [supporting] Her Majesty The Queen" — is unheard of. "We are in unprecedented waters," royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told USA Today. "It is extraordinary. What the hell is going on? What do they want to do?"
"What it seems to me what they’re planning to do is give themselves more freedom, more flexibility, outside of what is certainly known as ‘the firm’ within royal circles," royal commentator Eloise Parker told CNBC. "They’re saying, ‘OK, we’re not quitting, but we want to do our own thing too.’"
We do know that Harry and Meghan plan to split their time between the U.K. and North America. That automatically means they won’t be able to perform nearly as many royal engagements. But, if they end up taking on similar roles to non-working royals, they actually won’t even be able to carry out any official engagements on the queen’s behalf as those are reserved for working members of the royal family.
Harry and Meghan may not engage with the mainstream media much once they step down
All of what Harry and Meghan’s new role entails is "really anyone’s guess at the moment," royal commentator Eloise Parker told CNBC. "I am not even sure that they’ve figured out exactly how this new role is going to play out."
However, Harry and Meghan did make clear how they plan to handle their media relations. Unlike the other members of the royal family, SussexRoyal.com states, the couple will "no longer participate in the Royal Rota system." This system, per the royals’ site, allows select publications to have "exclusive inside access to the official engagements of members of the Royal Family." According to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, this "enables these select publications to profit by publishing these images on their websites/front pages."
By the terms set out by Harry and Meghan, they can’t — or won’t — engage with the Royal Rota any longer. However, royal expert and biographer Sally Bedell Smith told USA Today that "it’s a delusion that they can escape the media (in North America)," noting, "There’s even less protection in this new hybrid existence."
Harry and Meghan may not be able to keep their royal titles once they step down
Not every royal is given the title of His or Her Royal Highness, or HRH. Upon Harry and Meghan’s marriage, though, Queen Elizabeth bestowed her granddaughter-in-law with the title "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex" and her grandson "His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex." These aren’t just simply titles, though. As The Telegraph explained, the HRH designation comes with certain obligations when it comes to royal duties.
Now that Harry and Meghan wish to step down as senior members of the royal family and, thus, fulfill fewer duties for the royal family, their titles have been called into question — and not just by members of the public. Given the couple’s surprise announcement, Palace insiders told The Telegraph that both the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s titles are "up for debate." It wouldn’t be farfetched for this royal couple to be stripped of their HRH titles.