Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

The House of Windsor: A history of royal rifts

Prince Harry and Meghan are not the first royals to take a step back from public duties

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Reuters
Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Reuters

Prince Harry and Meghan’s bombshell announcement that they will be leaving their roles as senior members of the royal family has sent shockwaves running through the British monarchy.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not tell Queen Elizabeth about their decision before releasing the statement to the public, resulting in palace sources reporting hurt feelings among senior royals.

While the circumstances around the Sussexes announcement are unprecedented, a rift between two factions of the House of Windsor is nothing new. Over the decades, the House of Windsor has been forced to weather the storm surrounding royals unexpectedly stepping back from royal duties.

Edward VIII’s abdication - 1936

Harry and Meghan’s announcement has drawn comparisons with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Edward, who after his abdication became the Duke of Windsor, famously left the throne so he would be able to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson at the Chateau de Conde, France. Getty Images
Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson at the Chateau de Conde, France. Getty Images

The abdication had a big impact on then Princess Elizabeth, who became heir to throne after her father King George VI succeeded Edward. Relations between the Duke of Windsor, who settled in France with his wife, and the rest of the royal family were strained for years. The popular Netflix series The Crown examines Queen Elizabeth’s resentment of her uncle, who she is believed to have blamed for causing her father’s death at the age of 56.

The Queen’s Annus Horriblis – 1992

The Queen famously referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis”, which is Latin for “horrible year”. It was the year in which it became public knowledge that three of her four children’s marriages had failed. Both Harry’s parents Prince Charles and Princess Diana were revealed to have had extra-marital affairs, resulting in their separation at the end of 1992.

Sarah, Duchess of York, was ousted from royal family occasions following her separation from Prince Andrew. AFP
Sarah, Duchess of York, was ousted from royal family occasions following her separation from Prince Andrew. AFP

While intimate photographs published of Sarah, Duchess of York, with an American businessman led to a longstanding family feud between the Duchess and her father-in-law Prince Philip. Sarah was ousted from many of the royal family’s events and was notably not invited to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

Prince and Princess of Wales divorce – 1996

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales on their wedding day in 1981. They divocredin 1996. Getty
Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales on their wedding day in 1981. They divocredin 1996. Getty

When her divorce from Charles was finalised in August 1996, Diana announced she was splitting from more than 50 charities as royal patron.

She was also stripped of her title as Her Royal Highness.

Prince Andrew embroiled in Epstein scandal– 2019

The Queen’s third child Prince Andrew, ex-husband of the Duchess of York, announced he would be stepping back from royal duties for the “foreseeable future” in November last year.

Prince Andrew stepped back from royal duties last year. AFP
Prince Andrew stepped back from royal duties last year. AFP

His withdrawal from public life came after an appearance by the Duke of York on a BBC programme in which he said he did not regret his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew was accused of showing a lack of empathy towards the financier’s victims.

Updated: January 9, 2020 08:54 PM

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