After months of “will they/won’t they” speculation, it was confirmed yesterday that The Duke of Sussex will in fact attend his father’s coronation on Saturday, May 6. The Duchess of Sussex, on the other hand, will remain behind in California with the couple’s two children, Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet.
We don’t know much about what haggling went on behind the scenes, but here’s what we do know:
- Harry was non-committal about his attendance during media interviews surrounding Spare. He noted separately that while he was interested in rebuilding relationships with his family, believed he and his wife (but especially his wife) deserved an apology and anything else was impossible without that.
- The Sussexes had not confirmed acceptance or rejection of the invitation well past the RSVP due date.
- Not knowing whether the couple would be there has caused frustration from those involved in the planning. Whatever his status as a working royal, Harry is, of course, King Charles’s son and his presence will need to be accommodated.
- The date of the coronation coincides with Archie’s fourth birthday.
We also know, albeit unofficially, that at least some of the angst going on was over what role the Sussex family would have. The short answer is that it would have been a limited one. The guidance we’ve received is that Archie and Lili would not have participated in the procession, and Harry and Meghan would not have taken a spot on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Beyond that, their attendance would have most likely mirrored that of when they were in town for the Jubilee last year – in other words, sidelined.
We’ve been told that Harry will come to London for the actual ceremony, but leave England shortly thereafter. As such, both camps avoid the optics – and subsequent media narrative – of Harry being in town and not in view.
Omid Scobie (the Sussexes’ favorite “royal” reporter) reported that the couple’s decision was informed, in part, by Archie’s birthday.
Ok, so those are the facts – as far as we have “facts” about this situation…or really any royal situation lately. Now, let’s unpack this a bit.
In my opinion, this end result reminds me a bit of the Sandringham Summit on a much smaller scale. Harry and Meghan didn’t receive their apology, no overtures were made from the Royal Family to see them in any personal capacity, and no opportunities for photographs or big “royal” moments like the BP balcony or wearing a tiara were provided. If the Sussexes accepted these terms and attended then they’re in England at a pretty low point in their popularity with the British public, they look hypocritical after the Netflix doc and Spare, and their “losses” in ongoing negotiations with the RF are highlighted.
As such, Meghan appearing to maintain a hard line and stay home underscores the Sussexes’ message that they put family relationships before the firm and preserves her stance that she was mistreated by the British press and the RF. Harry’s attendance of only the ceremony, meanwhile, allows him to look as as though he’s taking the high road, if begrudgingly, and still sticking up for his wife.
Much like the Sandringham Summit, the Royal Family “won” the negotiation and the Sussexes are left trying to save face…while still very much wanting portions of the royal puzzle. To be clear, I don’t think this is what the Sussexes wanted. I’d bet good money that if they’d been offered a prime time seat on the public stage, they would have been there, even without an apology and even on Archie’s birthday.
I’ve seen some conversation that this was a missed opportunity from the Royal Family to welcome them back into the fold. Elizabeth Holmes, a well-known commentator on royal fashion and author whose work I do respect, went so far as to say on Instagram that she thinks this is what King Charles’s coronation will be remembered for – the absence of two of his grandchildren, Meghan, and Harry’s minimal participation.
And I just think if that’s the road you’re going down mentally, you’ve lost sight of the forest through the trees. King Charles’s coronation will be remembered as the first of the 21st century. It will set a template for how modern monarchy operates in Britain in a very different climate than that of his mother in 1953. And it will be a showcase for a blended royal family that included two future kings – The Prince of Wales and Prince George.
The Sussexes will always be a part of royal conversation from this era, but no, they are not going to set the tone for how King Charles’s reign is remembered in British history. In the same ways that Diana, Princess of Wales’s charitable work, fashion, and media attention are not how Queen Elizabeth II’s reign is remembered. (To be fair, her death is a slightly different animal, but is so specific to that tragedy that there’s just no comparison to the Sussexes’ exit from the firm.)
To put it more distinctly, there was drama in 1953 over whether the former King Edward VIII would attend. He didn’t. It’s not a large share of the conversation when we reflect back on what that day symbolized to the British public then or now.
That point is key, and it’s one not understood by the Sussexes or their fans.
The Royal Family, in my view, essentially got what they wanted. Harry is attending and they don’t have to deal with the media storm that would follow Meghan. There’s been a some additional conversation that The Princess of Wales is “relieved,” following the release of a book excerpt that the Windsor walkabout after Queen Elizabeth’s death was the “hardest” thing she’s ever had to do. Naturally, she’s being pilloried on social media for leading such a charmed life. And yes, she does, but she also didn’t say that. It was a second-hand quote in yet another royal book. And I’m sure she is relieved Meghan isn’t coming – in the same way the rest of the senior royals are, and in the same way I’m sure Meghan is relieved not to have to deal with them all again.
Likewise, there’s a lot of drama over public opinion polls saying people aren’t excited for the coronation and musical artists turning down invitations to (or simply putting out there that they don’t want to) perform during the festivities. This is being used to underscore King Charles’s lack of popularity in comparison to his mother. Let’s be very clear: every opinion poll before a major royal event says this, and yet the public turns out and the media coverage is usually positive. This is a tired routine. It may be proven true, and if it does, we’ll dive into it then.
But then again, this coronation is taking place in 2023, not 1953. It was always going to look and feel differently. Queen Elizabeth’s popularity in the 1950s as a young woman is never going to be replicated by a monarch in any of our lifetimes. King Charles is controversial, yes…somewhat. But I think even if you swapped him for William in this scenario you’d be seeing similar coverage. It’s just the nature of the beast.
With that, I will try to get another post up soon on what to expect from May 6. Happy Thursday!