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Royal Court v. a Household: Splitting Households & What the Sussexes Wanted

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace, Feb. 17, 2016

A number of you have reached out to me via social media expressing confusion about the Sussexes having a separate household, but also being denied independence, so a quick post to (hopefully) clear this all up. The key is that it all comes down to autonomy. 

A royal court, as it is used in this context, denotes an “autonomous” royal household based at a physical location. When William and Kate moved to Kensington Palace, much was made of the fact they were establishing a new court. Before William’s marriage, the brothers had operated out of Clarence House—Charles’s staff took care of all W&H’s charitable activity. After their marriage, and once William and Kate ended their Anglesey hiatus, the Cambridges established a separate household at Kensington Palace in 2013, where Harry joined them. This shift was significant. They no longer used Charles’s Clarence House staff, and they operated independently—I remember some royal reporters were excited to start heading to Kensington Palace for briefings! A new royal court had been formed. 

Back to the present, when the Cambridges and the Sussexes announced their households would split, some people were confused and thought the royals would be portioning up drawing rooms at Kensington Palace, but it really referred to a split in staff (household). While both couples are now to have their own royal households, William and Kate have retained Kensington Palace as a separate “court.” Some people kicked around the idea that the Sussexes would establish an autonomous court, too, and perhaps call it Frogmore House. Indeed, the Times reported that Harry and Meghan wanted just that, and through it to develop a global Sussex brand highlighting their philanthropy and activism. Apparently (and logically), they wanted to base their staff at Windsor. As I noted in yesterday's entry, the Queen said 'no' to that plan. She did not permit Harry and Meghan to establish a “Frogmore House,” aka their own court, like C&C’s Clarence House or W&K’s Kensington Palace. 

Instead, although Harry and Meghan have their own household, the household of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, their staff have joined the Buckingham Palace communications team, and report to the Queen’s communications secretary. Harry and Meghan's operation is, therefore, a subset of Buckingham Palace, like Prince Andrew or the Earl and Countess of Wessex. This limits, although by no means eliminates, their ability to set their own program and create a brand. By contrast, Clarence House (Charles & Camilla) and Kensington Palace (William & Kate) do not report to the Queen’s staff. They are their own autonomous entities—little royal courts—and have more ability to create their own direction and initiatives. 

This is obviously a disappointment to Meghan and Harry. They probably felt and argued that it is a new modern world, and that given how William and Harry (Diana’s boys) have seemed co-equal partners, it would make sense and be appropriate to permit Harry and Meghan to have their autonomy, just like William and Kate. Since there really isn’t precedent for a situation like this, I can understand why they made their play for independence. You all know that I think the Queen and senior courtiers are likely worried about the balance between the Cambridges and the Sussexes, as well as the direction the Sussexes may want to take. But this isn’t as massive a rebuff as it might seem (or it might be peddled as in some magazines). Even if I am right that the Sussexes have caused some consternation, it really is simply a matter of the royal hierarchy, and in the long-run, it doesn’t make sense to establish a separate court for the Sussexes. Even if there were no rockiness at all, it is appropriate for the direct heirs to operate independently, and better for everyone else to function with more central oversight. Because, at the end of the day, the Sussexes (or any other secondary royals, for that matter) should not be creating an overly robust and individualized brand. The entire royal family supports the monarch and the monarchy as an institution. So, this doesn’t have to be personal, it really is just an arrangement that flows from the inherent nature of royalty today. 

Ok all y'all.

Have a nice night,