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What Does the Royal Foundation Split Mean?

Friday, June 21, 2019


On Wednesday, William and Harry met at Kensington Palace for a board meeting of the Royal Foundation at which they formally agreed to break it apart. The Royal Foundation was launched in 2009 as an umbrella organization for Princes William and Harry to better pursue their charitable endeavors. When Kate married William in 2011, she was added, and when Meghan joined the family last year, she, too, was added, making it The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Heads Together and the Invictus Games are just a few of the projects that the Royal Foundation has driven. Harry and Meghan will split away, leaving it The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge only. Yesterday, the Royal Foundation made the official announcement to the press. 

Remember, though, that this isn't breaking news. It is great to have it confirmed, but Emily Andrews scooped this story on the last day of May. Despite the skeptics, she has been proved right...unsurprisingly. I wrote most of my thoughts at that time, and the lawyer in me will just say that that earlier blog post is herein incorporated by reference. I haven't changed my mind on anything written there, but I have, perhaps, a few thoughts to add. 

From what I can see, the Palace is spinning this split as a natural progression, and one for which, as Richard Palmer phrased it, neither couple provided the impetus. Palmer thinks that smells fishy, and so do I. I already read elsewhere that the Cambridges initiated the split, and that the Sussexes would have stuck together longer, which makes sense. Despite their own popularity, the Sussexes do benefit from the prestige of the Cambridges' position and the Cams' international popularity, and that boosts the Sussexes' overall charitable work.

I think we can see simply from observation that this split is not a natural progression. No one denies that at some point the Royal Foundation was going to split. That is so obvious it doesn't need to be stated. What I am saying is that although it would have been perfectly reasonable to split the Foundation when Harry married, they didn't, and it does not make sense to split it a mere year afterward. The actions of the four make clear that when Meghan married Harry the two couples determined to forge ahead as a unit of four. They added Meghan's name to the Foundation and they hosted a big, splashy forum to discuss their work moving forward as a group. They even dove into new initiatives as a team. That is not the behavior of people who plan to split up within 18 months. This choice to part ways is a change of course that comes earlier than originally planned, even if not earlier than possible.

So, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? I understand and appreciate that some people feel very sad over the sooner than expected demise of the four royals' partnership. Given how badly the relationships had deteriorated, I think the split is for the best. Good fences make good neighbors, and this professional divorce might provide the relief from friction necessary to repair their personal connections.

Splitting the Royal Foundation, though, might not be enough to ease the tension. The issue is very simple. Harry and Meghan appear to be attempting to forge a path that isn't proper to their role. Meghan was an actress who was working very hard to become a star when she met Harry. The problem is, she took a part in a lifelong drama of which she can never be the leading lady. She chose that, and kudos to her. If she loved Harry, I am glad she didn't let anything stand in her way. People and relationships are the most important things in life. Meghan didn't have to marry into the Firm. Chelsy Davy, who clearly loved Harry, couldn't take the plunge. She didn't want to live her life in a fishbowl, so she walked away. Meghan's problem is the opposite. She is very comfortable with the fishbowl; in fact, she has actively sought it for the entirety of her adult life. Her problem is on the other end of the spectrum, and that is she can't advance beyond the role she has chosen. As I mentioned in my earlier post, a global Sussex brand isn't what the monarchy is about. There is no global York brand, or global Princess Anne brand. The royals who aren't in direct line play supporting roles...forever. Meghan is the Duchess of Sussex, her spouse is a popular prince, but his position in the BRF will drop, and his star will inevitably fade as the years roll on. See, e.g. Prince Andrew. The tug-of-war between the Cambridges and the Sussexes comes down to a power struggle--the outcome of which has already been decided: William and Kate are the winners. But, how Meghan and Harry finish has yet to be determined.

That is why I am skeptical this split will solve the BRF's problems. When Archie was born, Harry and Meghan not only duped the media, but from what we could gather, it looked like they left Buckingham Palace in the dark, too. If they did, their PR snafu not only alienated the media, but likely raised hackles at the Palace, too. Again, it has been reported that the Cambridges initiated the split of the Royal Foundation, which was likely precipitated by a decision on William's part that he was unable to work with Harry, and a decision by the Queen that it was time for William to step more solidly into his role as a king-in-waiting. The way Harry and Meghan handled Archie's arrival is almost certainly not the way William wants the monarchy to run, which is very obviously the right reaction. So long as the Sussexes are running the ball without direction or input, we are going to be in for a bumpy ride. I hope sincerely that they take a breath and reevaluate. They will be happier and more successful in the long run if they stick to the age-old royal playbook.