I admit it. I watched the entire “Harry and Meghan” docu-series, understanding I listened to only one side of a painful family rift in a real-world soap opera. I fear the consequences for the monarchy now headed by King Charles II, Harry’s father.
Past grievances. Obsessive protection of the monarchy. Rampant jealousy. Excessive sensitivity to perceived media attention-getting. Difference in personality styles. Racism.
This story has the best and worst of family squabbles, magnified in the rare bubble of privilege, wealth, tradition and power. A rebellious nature—or at least a heightened sense of self—can destine a family member to ridicule and personal assassination if we are to believe one version.
Attractive people surrounded by all the accoutrements of abundant money, castle-like homes and ever-present courtiers look ugly and petty at the expense of a couple (H and M) who somehow—and supposedly– overstepped the stringent, often unspoken rules of royal public behavior.
If it were not enticing human drama, it would be shameful, hurtful and wasteful for people paid handsomely to serve British citizens. In fact, the saga reflects poorly on the Windsor family and their competence in serving as royalty when some question its future and utility.
Is it worthwhile for the British citizens to continue subsidizing the antics of a privileged few? That question is one that should trouble the Royal Family.
Is the undercurrent of racism addressed repeatedly in the six-episode series a valid theme in the move by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Montecito, California? Prince Harry opted not to offer specific comments allegedly made by family members.
What is the other side? King Charles and Prince William will likely retreat to the rhetorical defenses of their communication teams. They will decline to participate in a family feud publicized by Harry and Meghan. I hope they will undertake a reconciliation.
For better or worse, British royalty draws astounding attention. While I doubt that the public views family members as moral exemplars, they do attract microscopic focus throughout the world. Their stage, however, has become wobbly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
I cannot deny that the Windsors have become part of worldwide pop culture. They thrive and suffer simultaneously at the altar of British media. The tabloids are downright nasty and obtrusive; accuracy is secondary to sensationalism.
One can easily subscribe to a blasé attitude. I question my own fascination. Harry and Megan live elegant, monied lives as celebrities on a lovely California coastal estate. British media coverage of the Sussexes is brutal: living lives that many would envy, they are capitalizing on their grievances.
I remind myself that Britain’s monarchy is the only functional one in the world. When family members travel to former member-nations of the Commonwealth, they bring goodwill and sophisticated diplomatic skill. Though they have no political agenda, they can be important assets to prime ministers seeking international approval. Just by nature of their celebrity and history, they can direct public attention to a country and its needs. They support hundreds of philanthropies.
Readers know about my love of England and my respect for the role played in the British culture by royalty. It represents stability in an uncertain, unsettling world. It is committed to the country it serves. It views duty as a God-given responsibility. It seeks to represent the attributes of the British people. Through the media, which it has cultivated reluctantly and sometimes recklessly, it is on constant public display. It tries to hide behind its majestic opulence, failing, however, to avoid the classless glare of the British tabloids. There seems to be an unholy alliance.
If cinematic portrayal of the Royal Family is even partially accurate, cruelty is part of the DNA—aimed at errant family members. Devotion to the “institution” (the Crown) supersedes loyalty to family members. Family business is preeminent.
We in the United States may perceive members of the upper-classes as American royalty. That conception would be a stretch, an unfavorable comparison to British royalty, however flawed. We are fortunate that royalty is a foreign term in our country, a former British colony.
Family schisms are unsightly and hurtful. The catalyst is usually money, but not always. Angry words spoken or written recklessly can cause irreparable damage. Reconciliation seems impossible.
King Charles II might inaugurate a new tradition and reclaim a loving relationship with his son and family. A joint venture infused by restorative warmth might succeed. The tabloids would have to look elsewhere for dirt.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.