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A commoner's guide to Harry and Meghan's complicated divorce from the monarchy

Last Updated Jan 22, 2020 at 11:46 am EDT

The figures of Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, left, are moved from their original positions next to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, at Madame Tussauds in London, Thursday Jan. 9, 2020. Madame Tussauds moved its figures of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex from its Royal Family set to elsewhere in the attraction. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Let’s be honest — most of us know jack about kings and queens.

And when it comes to princes and princesses, tabloid magazines and salacious gossip sites have become the dubious source of information for drooling commoners.

But with Harry and Meghan’s startling decision to step back from their royal duties and live part-time in Canada, legitimate questions about the Royal Family are suddenly swirling around our heads like jeweled tiaras.

We asked University of Toronto history professor, Dr. Carolyn Harris, to help make sense of the couple’s jarring bid for independence. Harris is a noted expert on the Royal Family, and she’s written several books on the topic, including her latest, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting.

Here’s her take on some of the burning questions surrounding Harry and Meghan’s complicated divorce from the monarchy.

Once you’re out of the Royal Family, can you get back in?

The recent announcement from Buckingham Palace announced a period of transition in the spring of 2020, which suggests that Harry and Meghan are being provided with options in case they decide to return to royal duties in the future. The general trend in the Royal Family is toward fewer people performing full time royal duties … so it is unlikely that Harry and Meghan will return to roles as senior members of the Royal Family.

Is this the first time a member of the Royal Family has voluntarily stepped away from their duties?

Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Patricia stopped using the title of Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess when she married Alexander Ramsay in 1919, becoming Lady Patricia Ramsay and stepping away from most royal duties (though she remained honourary Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment). The Duchess of Kent, the wife of the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent stepped back from royal duties a few decades ago and instead pursued a career as a music teacher.

What security are Harry and Meghan entitled to from the Canadian government? Who will pay for it?

Senior members of the Royal Family receive security during their official tours of Canada. If Harry and Meghan decide to live privately in Canada, it remains to be determined how their security will be funded. Harry and Meghan have announced their intention to be financially independent and this goal may influence their decisions concerning security.

How much did they get paid for their Royal duties? Was Harry’s stint in the Royal Marines part of his duties or did he get paid for his military service?

Harry received a salary during his time in the military. In 2012, it was reported that he received the equivalent of $60,000 per year as a Captain in the British Army. Members of the Royal Family receive income from the Sovereign Grant, for their public engagements. The Queen has a private income from the Duchy of Lancaster and Prince Charles has a private income as Duke of Cornwall.

Is Harry still in line for the throne?

Harry remains 6th in line to the throne. Archie is 7th in line to the throne.

What is Archie’s royal status?

Archie is the Queen’s great-grandson but he does not have a title. When Charles becomes king, Archie would be entitled to become His Royal Highness Prince Archie as the grandson of the monarch but it is unlikely that he will use this title. The next reign will probably see a further restriction in royal titles to only those senior members of the Royal Family undertaking royal duties. Archie will eventually inherit the title of Duke of Sussex from Prince Harry.

Will they still get money from Prince Charles?

Harry and Meghan have declared their intention to financially independent. It remains to be seen whether that statement refers to the Sovereign Grant alone or the money they receive from Prince Charles.

How do you foresee them earning a living?

There are a number of possibilities. Harry could return to work that draws upon the skills he developed during his military career, such as flying helicopters. Meghan may return to some kind of role connected with the media. They may also make use of their own savings and inheritances. Harry has inherited substantial funds from both his mother Diana, Princess of Wales and his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother.

If you met Harry and Meghan on the street, what is the appropriate way to greet them now that terms like “Royal Highness” are no longer applicable?

Harry and Meghan will now be known as Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex without the title of HRH. In the United Kingdom, non-royal Dukes are addressed as “Your Grace.”

Who are the “senior royals” and what’s the difference between them and the next rung down?

The senior members of the Royal Family who undertake full time royal duties are Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales (Charles), the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla), the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Catherine), the Princess Royal (Anne) and the Earl and Countess of Wessex (Edward and Sophie). The Queen’s cousins, the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester also perform royal duties. The other members of the Queen’s family do not undertake public engagements where they represent the Queen but attend family events such as weddings and Trooping the Colour.

What restrictions are on Harry and Meghan from using their names and likenesses to make money? Can Harry do the speaking circuit?

The recent announcement from Buckingham Palace stated that Harry and Meghan will make decisions going forward that reflect the Queen’s values and that may influence their decisions regarding commercial partnerships. Harry’s cousin, Princess Beatrice, briefly marketed herself as a speaker at professional events in 2016. Her profile was taken down following press coverage that was critical of the princess for “cashing in” on her royal connections. Another one of Harry’s cousins, Peter Phillips, has recently been criticized for appearing in a Chinese milk advertisement.