A Brief Check-In on the Cambridges & Sussexes

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As we speak the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are carrying out a series of engagements in Cumbria, which I will wrap up in a separate post later today. In the meantime, though, I want to weigh in on a few narratives I’ve seen unfolding online following the U.S. state visit and Saturday’s Trooping the Colour. Some of this comes from the fact I fell down a royal Twitter wormhole last night (God help me), and some are just a few issues I’ve noticed and think are worth addressing. So, let’s get into it.

I want to start with the U.S. state visit, during which, you may remember, the Duke of Sussex attended a luncheon at Buckingham Palace and William and Kate attended the state banquet that evening. Much has been made about whether or not the younger members of the family were looking to snub the Queen’s American guests by attending/not attending certain events, and I can’t emphasize enough how much that wasn’t the case based on action alone.

There was quite literally nothing unusual about Harry going to the luncheon, but not the banquet. Nor was there anything amiss by William and Kate attending the state banquet, but not participating in a photo call. The visit followed the format of countless others, and given that the Queen is the official host and the Prince of Wales (with the Duchess of Cornwall supporting) shoulders most of the diplomatic burden alongside his mother, it’s very normal for the younger royals to just pop in here and there.

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Yes, there have been times when William and Kate, or Harry, have taken on more responsibility, but it’s not the standard, and there’s nothing to be read into them not having done so this round.

As for the Duchess of Sussex, I’m frankly surprised anyone thought that she would attend the luncheon with her husband. She’s on maternity leave. As we’ve seen with Kate, this pretty much means we won’t see her until she returns to work with the notable exception of Trooping the Colour. TTC is always an exception and a state visit isn’t an occasion that would warrant her coming back to work.

Now, Trooping the Colour, because I’ve read some analysis about how the royals were grouped in the carriages v. the balcony. As I mentioned in my post, this year Harry and Meghan joined Camilla and Kate in one carriage, which was different from last year when Harry and Meghan were given their own.

So, was that an insult to Harry and Meghan? Or, as I’ve read in some places, a warning from the Palace’s powers that be that the Sussexes need to get in line? Um, no. Last year was the exception coming on the heels of the royal wedding, but otherwise grouping Camilla with her husband’s son and daughter(s)-in-law is pretty standard.

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As for the balcony, yes, it’s a bit of hierarchy game. William and Kate are a future king and queen, so like Charles and Camilla they are given a prime spot with their children. So, too, are the Queen’s adult children (hence of the Duke of York’s placement). And then there’s the fact that couples with actual small children are usually given positions so that the kids can see what’s going on (hence Peter Phillips with his wife and daughters). Within that milieu, Harry and Meghan are a little bit of a second string, a fact which will change when Charles ascends the throne.

I don’t think there’s anything incendiary to read into the Cambridges and Sussexes standing apart on the balcony. We saw Kate and Meghan enjoying each other’s company during the carriage ride, and we’ve seen that Kate and Harry are on good terms, so while it’s possible the brothers are still feuding, there’s nothing to actually support this except for conjecture.

Which I suppose brings me to a larger point – we don’t actually know what’s going on, no matter how many times the “rift” is reported on in the news. All we really know is that the couples have decided to split up professionally, and it’s a relatively safe bet that there’s some fire with the smoke when it comes to William and Harry butting heads.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that a lot of the reporting around the “why” of the split, such as that Harry and Meghan want to be more outspoken, or take up engagements with more commercial ties, or position themselves as Angelina Jolie-esque global ambassadors is all unconfirmed. Even if true, it’s too great a leap to make that they are currently engaging in some battle royale with the institution of the Palace itself based on the information we have, and what we can see.

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 So, what I would say is this: this is the first bout of real familial drama to play out with this generation, and while that obviously drives interest, it also drives a lot of glorified conspiracy theories. I think all four of these individuals are basically decent people who respect the Queen and want to do a good job. They may disagree on how best to do that, but this isn’t 16th century Rome, and it’s not even 1990s London. There’s been a lot of change, and not all of it positive, but I do think a lot of this will shake out as everyone finds their footing.

I will also say this: one factor driving a lot of this is optics, and a reaction to how the Royal Family has been positioning itself over the past year. In other words, there has been an effort to position Camilla and Kate as future queen consorts and highlight the line of succession. It’s easy to tie all of that back to the Sussex marriage, but I would argue it actually goes a bit broader and deeper than that. The Queen is in the last years of her reign, and within the last two years two other (frankly more significant) changes occurred – the Duke of Edinburgh retired and the Cambridges became full-time royals.

William and Kate are being elevated and promoted more seriously because it’s time, and because the monarchy is preparing itself for a massive change. The Sussexes factor into that as Charles’s son and daughter-in-law, but the larger chessboard to keep in mind here isn’t about Instagram, carriages, or whether Kate and Meghan smiled at each other enough. It’s the succession.

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