The Duke and the Duchess of Sussex, commonly known as “Harry and Meghan,” announced Wednesday they will step back from “senior royal” duties. This is a great relief because representing the Royal Family of the United Kingdom is a lofty responsibility, and it seems the duchess, at least, is not up to the task. As an American, a frequent commentator on the British-American relationship, and a fellow alumnus of Meghan MarkleMeghan MarklePrince Harry and Meghan treat Atlanta's King Center to Black-owned food trucks for MLK Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Meghan getting confidential sum from UK news outlet for copyright infringement MORE’s Northwestern University, I was cheering for her to succeed … alas!
Before any petulant American readers ask “Who cares?” recall that the U.K. is our mother country, our staunchest ally and most important trade, intelligence and cultural partner, and that Queen Elizabeth is perhaps the most respected head of state and iconic world leader. And of course, Markle, whom the royals welcomed against all odds, is American. Recall, too, that the last time an American entered royal territory — Wallis Simpson — it caused a British constitutional crisis and a king’s abdication.
That is not to say that there aren’t dutiful Americans who could do the job and make us proud — but perhaps not an opinionated social media personality and actress.
Setting the gold standard for a life of royal service, on her 21st birthday in 1947, then-Princess Elizabeth pledged her life of service to the British Commonwealth with the words: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Happily, no one is holding Meghan Markle to that standard. She was miles away from ever becoming queen, and those ahead of her — Camilla Parker-Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall, and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge — do exhibit the grace and commitment that seems to elude Harry’s wife. As a duchess, Markle essentially had to show up to functions, give speeches, christen a ship or two, and keep her opinions to herself. Sadly, this proved too much for her.
Senior members of the royal family receive financial support from a mechanism called the Sovereign Grant. Additionally, the Sussexes enjoyed $3.05 million of taxpayer-funded renovations to their Frogmore Cottage residence. Normally, most of the British public do not begrudge such support, because hardworking royals represent the Crown/head of state as ambassadors of the nation, domestically and abroad.
It seems that Markle never processed that the monarch, and by extension, the royal family, undertake “constitutional and representational duties which have developed over 1,000 years of history. In addition to these state duties, the monarch has a less formal role as 'head of nation.' The sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognizes success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service."
In 2019, Princess Anne, the queen’s daughter, was declared “hardest-working royal” for at least the third year in a row, putting in a total of 167 days. Official functions can be grueling with long hours, travel, endless hand-shaking, speeches and the ever-present media scrutiny. Charles, Prince of Wales, who will be the next king, clocked 125 days of royal duties in 2019. Markle logged a paltry 31 days — not a great record for a hardly ambitious first year, even taking into account maternity leave.
But, beyond not putting in the hours, Markle stands out for her un-duchess-like lack of discretion. While she might have been advised to be more circumspect in her actress days, when she called President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE “divisive” and “misogynistic,” everything should have changed when she married Harry and became a royal highness. Yet she hardly rose to the level of her duties as an ambassador of the nation, or even a gracious family member; she refused to meet the Trumps — the “first family” of the nation of her birth — on any of their three official visits to the U.K.
Moreover, Markle’s strong and public opinions on causes such as gender equality, poverty and women’s issues rankle a British people more used to their female royals championing the arts, animal welfare and treatments for childhood diseases.
Then there is her maternal odyssey. Her baby shower in Los Angeles rivaled a Golden Globes after-party. Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, commented: “The problem was that the event didn’t know whether it was a public event or a private event.” By contrast, Kate Middleton’s baby shower was so private that Burrell didn’t know about it. Markle’s “played out on the world’s stage.” Another particularly painful moment came when Markle, in defiance of everything that seems British, lamented in an interview about her motherhood experience: “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
With moments like these, perhaps it is best all around if the royal couple retreat. One is reminded of the spookily prescient warning of Queen Victoria, Harry’s great-great-great-great grandmother, who quipped: “I would venture to warn against too great intimacy with artists, as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.”
Lee Cohen is a writer, commentator and fellow of the Danube Institute. He was adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.