LONDON - In a year of gut punches to Britain's royal family, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, delivered a jarring blow of their own on Wednesday (Jan 8), announcing that they would "step back" from their official duties.
Following a six-week holiday in Canada with their son Archie, the couple's announcement came as a surprise to the royal family. How Prince Harry and Meghan will extricate themselves from the intense scrutiny that has driven them to this point is unclear - but the split comes after months of steadily deteriorating circumstances for the prince and his American wife.
In early 2019, before Archie was born, the pair moved out of Kensington Palace to a cottage on the grounds of Windsor Palace.
Then in the summer, Prince Harry and Meghan announced they were leaving the charity they shared with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to form their own foundation.
Prince Harry admitted that he and his brother Prince William were on "different paths".
In a 2019 interview, Meghan admitted that motherhood was a "struggle" due to intense media interest, and Prince Harry complained of a "massive press onslaught" after Archie's birth.
"I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces," Prince Harry said as he sued several UK tabloids over phone-hacking and the publishing of one of Meghan's private letters.
The couple's announcement comes two months after the Duke of York withdrew from public life after a BBC interview about his ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in August.
The royal couple's quitting of their "senior royal" roles is preceded by King Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 in order to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.
HOW WILL IT ALL WORK?
Royal watchers say the mechanics of the split have yet to be made clear. The couple have significant savings, including Prince Harry's inheritance from his mother Princess Diana's estate and the money Meghan earned as an actress.
Given their pledge to become "financially independent", Prince Harry will perhaps one day reject the allowance he gets from the Royal Family.
Whether or not they will be able to work after royal life is unclear - conflicts of interest and security issues abound. Who will cover the cost of the required 24/7 security detail?
Royal author Penny Junor said she "can't quite see how it's going to work", adding: "I don't think it's been properly thought through."
Buckingham Palace issued a terse two-line statement on Wednesday evening, suggesting that the couple's announcement had caught the royal family off guard, if not totally blindsided it.
"Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage," the statement said. "We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."
Sources: BBC, Reuters, Express