The 8th of January 2020 is a day that will not be forgotten in royal history. In an Instagram post, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they would “step back as ‘senior’ members” of the British Royal Family. The announcement came with many questions. Where would the couple live? Would they chose the United Kingdom or move to North America to be closer to the Duchess’s roots? What did this mean for their son Archie, who was nearly a year old at the time? And, how did other members of the Royal Family feel?
A year later, Royal Central is looking back on the Sussex exit or as some tabloids refer to it as, “Megxit.”
On Wednesday 8 January, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made an Instagram announcement many didn’t see coming. Featuring a photo from their engagement announcement in November 2017, the post touched on their goals for their new independent lives but also their goals to still honour the work of Her Majesty The Queen and The Commonwealth.
The post came as the couple ended a private six-week holiday on Vancouver Island, Canada. A spokesperson to the Sussexes had said in November 2019:
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are looking forward to extended family time towards the end of this month. Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, Their Royal Highnesses will spend the holiday this year, as a new family, with the Duchess’ mother Doria Ragland. This decision is in line with precedent set previously by other members of the Royal Family, and has the support of Her Majesty The Queen.”
Initial reactions to the exit
Immediately after the announcement, speculation began on whether or not other members of the Royal Family had approved, or had prior knowledge of the announcement. A statement was issued by Palace that said:
“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.”
According to an article in the Independent, ITV news anchor Tom Bradby said Harry and Meghan were made aware, during their holiday break, that the Royal Household’s focus in the future would be on those at the top of the line of succession. Prince Harry is currently sixth in line while the Sussexes’ son, Archie is seventh. Bradby, who spent time with the Sussexes during their October 2019 tour to Africa, went on to comment:
“It had been made clear to them in their absence there was going to be a slimmed-down monarchy, and they weren’t really a part of it. Certainly, the rest of the family find Harry and Meghan very difficult and, from Harry and Meghan’s point of view, they’re just being driven out as they see it.”
Perhaps an indication of the impending announcement came during the 2019 African tour when Bradby asked the Duchess “if she was alright.” She famously responded, “Not many people have asked if I’m ok … it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
On 9 January, the event was famously dubbed “Megxit” by The Sun – a play on words of the Duchess’ first name and the word “Brexit” (the latter of which is the name for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union). British media used the term as some sources believed the Duchess was the driver of the announcement. The New York Times described the term as the New Brexit, a Britain split by age and politics. Meera Selva, director of the Reuters Journalism Fellowship Program at Oxford University, told The Times:
“With Brexit, Britain is choosing to leave the European Union, and yet with Megxit, there is this outrage that someone is choosing to leave Britain.”
By 15 January, the term became so widespread that merchandisers turned into a moneymaker who made clothing and other souvenirs with the term. The term also had a negative impact when it came to internet abuse. Vanity Fair reported: “Though ‘Megxit’ is now being widely used as a clever catch-all for the Sussexes’ next step, it was, in fact, hatched by online trolls who have long used #Megxit as a rallying cry for a campaign of hate against the Duchess.”
On 11 January, reports came that Her Majesty The Queen, the Duke’s grandmother, was not consulted on the decision. His father, Prince Charles, was reportedly “furious.” It was then reported by ITV that The Queen arranged for “urgent talks” with senior royals. The meeting on 13 January was dubbed the “Sandringham Summit.”
After the meeting, The Queen issued a rare, first-person statement:
“Today my family had very constructive decisions on the future of my grandson and his family.
“My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.
“Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives.
“It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK.
“These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days.'”
The Final Agreement
The final decisions did come in the coming days. On 18 January, the Palace announced a statement on behalf of Her Majesty noting the further changes made in the exit. The Duke and Duchess would no longer use the “Royal Highness” styles, no longer receive taxpayer funds and they would base themselves in North America.
The statement read:
“Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.
“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.
“I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.
“I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.
“It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
The couple would be given 12 months for the transition, with a review of the exit scheduled for March 2021.
The next day, 19 January, it was reported the Prince of Wales would provide the couple with “private financial support” for a full year so they could establish themselves. It was noted the funds would not come from the Duchy of Cornwall, also known as the Prince’s Council. The Council is a non-executive body providing advice to the Duke with regard to the management of the Duchy. The Council also covers certain legal rights and privileges across Cornwall.
A day later, the Duke spoke publicly on the split at a dinner for AIDS and HIV charity in Sentebale marking the first time the exit would be acknowledged after the statement on final agreements from the palace.
“The decision that I have made, for my wife and I to step back, is not one I made lightly. It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven’t always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away, and we certainly aren’t walking away from you. Our hope was to continue serving The Queen, the Commonwealth and my military associations but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.“
On 21 January, at a press conference in Winnipeg, the Canadian Prime Minister addressed the Duke and Duchess’s move to North America. The Prime Minister refused to reveal who would pay the security costs for Harry’s return after the Sandringham Summit. A month later, Bill Blair, the Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced security for the couple would cease on 31 March. At the same time, it was confirmed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had provided security on an “as-needed basis” since the Sussexes arrival to Canada in November 2019.
February 2020 was a month of transitioning for the Sussexes. On 14 February, it was announced they would close their office at Buckingham Palace, leading to the suspension of at least 15 employees. A few days later, it was announced they would continue their royal duties until 31 March. After that date, they would step back officially and no longer take on engagements on behalf of Her Majesty.
The couple would continue to work with organisations they were involved with including the 2020 London Marathon and the Invictus Games, although both events were postponed due to COVID-19. After this date, the couple would stop using their styles of HRH, but the Duke did retain his military ranks.
The agreement to stop using the HRH styles caused some trouble with their “Sussex Royal” brand. The venture was put under review and, on 21 February, the couple confirmed they would not use the “Sussex Royal” brand in “any territory” after their withdrawal from public life. Any applications for trademarking the name were removed. A spokesperson confirmed the couple would work with their existing patronages and work on establishing a non-profit organisation.
March 2020, the last appearances as senior royalsEmbed from Getty Images
In March 2020, the couple made their final appearances as senior royals. On 5 March, the couple attended The Endeavour Fund Awards at Mansion House. A few days later, they attended the Mountbatten Festival of Music at Royal Albert Hall, a concert put on by military musicians.Embed from Getty Images
Other final appearances would include the Duchess speaking at a Robert Clark Upper School to mark International Women’s Day and a visit to the National Theatre of which the Duchess is Patron.
It was on 9 March when the couple made their final appearance as senior royals joining the annual Commonwealth Day celebration at Westminster Abbey. The event brings out nearly every member of the Royal Family and celebrates the 54 Commonwealth countries in service.Embed from Getty Images
Later in the month, the couple announced they would no longer use their “SussexRoyal” Instagram account or website. After closing their Buckingham Palace office, it was announced a new team would manage the couple’s public image and philanthropic interests. US President Donald Trump also commented on the royal exit just days before it was made official and noted that the US government would not pay for the couple’s security.
Archewell, British tabloids, and Finding Freedom
By April 2020, the couple started paperwork in the United States for a new non-profit organisation, Archewell. Archewell’s core purpose is to uplift and unite communities globally and to fuel systematic change. The name is a play on words for the ancient Greek word for a source of action, “Arche” and their son’s name Archie.
The same month, the Duke and Duchess cut ties with four English tabloids – the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Mirror, and the Express. The couple released a statement to the newspapers announcing they would not respond to any inquiries from journalists working for the outlets. Instead, a “zero engagement” policy was put in place, except when is necessary through the couple’s lawyers.
In May, two months after the couple officially stepped down, HarperCollins announced the publication of Finding Freedom: Harry, Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family. Authored by royal reporters Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie, the book details the events leading up to “Megxit.” Several media outlets reported the Sussexes gave an interview to the authors before their royal departure, a rumour that the couple’s representatives have denied. In November, Meghan’s legal team admitted the Duchess had permitted a close friend to speak with the authors of the book.
Royal Central spoke to author Omid Scobie about the book back in August.
Post-royal life and media ventures
In their post-royal life, the couple signed deals with several media outlets including the Harry Walker Agency, owned by the media company Endeavor; the couple will work with the agency on public speaking engagements. A private commercial deal with Netflix was also signed which is said to involved developing scripted and unscripted series, films, documentaries and children’s programming. The Duchess also narrated the DisneyNature film, Elephant, that was released exclusively on Disney+.
In July, the couple bought a home in Montecito, California andm a few months later, the Duke paid back the refurbishment costs (estimated to be £2.4 million) of Frogmore Cottage, the couple’s home in the grounds of Windsor Castle. At the end of the year, sources close to the Sussexes confirmed to Royal Central that the couple had lent the cottage to Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank.