LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain's Prince Harry will make his first public appearance on Thursday (Jan 16) since Queen Elizabeth acceded to the wishes of her grandson and his American wife Meghan to step back from their senior royal roles and seek a more independent future.
The prince, sixth in line to the throne, will host the draws for next year's Rugby League World Cup at Buckingham Palace in what is his last scheduled engagement before he and Meghan begin a "period of transition" to their new roles.
Last week, Harry, 35, and former actress Meghan, 38, sparked a crisis by announcing they wanted to reduce their royal duties and spend more time in North America, while also becoming financially independent.
The public announcement caught the rest of the royal family by surprise and left the Queen and other senior Windsors hurt and disappointed, according to royal sources. A friend of Harry and Meghan said the couple felt they had been driven out.
Following a family summit on Monday at her Sandringham estate attended by Elizabeth, Harry, his elder brother Prince William and his father and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, it was agreed that the couple would split their time between Britain and Canada.
"Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family," the 93-year-old monarch said in a rare, highly personal statement.
Meghan is currently in Canada with the couple's baby son Archie and Harry is expected to join her this week.
The couple have said they want a "progressive" new role for themselves and the ability to fund themselves. Currently, they are not allowed to seek private income and most of their money comes from the private estate of Harry's father.
As one of the world's most glamorous couples, they have struggled with intense media scrutiny, with Harry describing some coverage of Meghan as bullying, akin to the treatment his mother Princess Diana endured before her death in a 1997 car crash.
Some observers have criticised British media for racism in its coverage of Meghan, whose mother is African-American.
This week, the Mail on Sunday newspaper submitted its defence to court action by Meghan over the publication of a private letter she sent to her estranged father, Mr Thomas Markle.
The case could see Mr Markle testify against her.
"There is a huge and legitimate public interest in the royal family and the activities, conduct and standards of behaviour of its members," lawyers for the paper said in documents submitted to London's High Court.