While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leveled some serious allegations against the royal family in a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, it is thought that the Palace will be able to contain the damage.
While the British monarch has had very limited direct power for centuries, the institution’s status as a symbolic figurehead — uniting the nation at home and projecting influence abroad — remains perhaps the strongest argument for its continued existence in the 21st century.
Harry and Meghan’s portrayal of the royals as deeply out of touch, uncaring on mental health, and unsympathetic to — and even complicit in — the racism they say drove them out of the country could seriously dent this argument not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the United States and Britain’s other former colonies.
“Go back 100 years, and the royal family would probably have hoped that one of the justifications for their existence was that they were meant to represent the best of British life,” the royal author and historian Sarah Gristwood said. “That’s got pretty hard to believe over the past decades. And this interview sure doesn’t help.”
Queen Elizabeth II’s response did not address any of the couple’s claims specifically, but said she was “saddened” to hear how challenging their life had been.
The reaction did not appear to dampen the shock and anger the interview prompted in Britain, where the #abolishthemonarchy hashtag trended on Twitter. Still, reaction has varied, with plenty of criticism directed at Harry and Meghan. And there is little sign support for the monarchy will dip while the queen, 94, reigns.
Rather, “the greatest damage for the monarchy lies in what this has done to its international reputation, particularly when it comes to Prince Charles’ future,” Gristwood said.
Charles, 72, Harry’s father and the heir to the throne, is far less popular than the queen and anti-monarchists believe his coronation will lead to a shift in public opinion. During the interview, Harry hardly helped his case, saying he felt “let down,” and claiming his brother, Prince William, 38, and their father were “trapped in the system.”
Internationally, even the most diplomatic responses have been telling, straying far outside the usual reverential tone when discussing the royals.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that it took “courage” for Meghan to talk about her mental health — notable because the American, a former television actress, alleged the palace refused to help when she told them she was having suicidal thoughts.