Prince Harry and Meghan step back from royal duties: Here's what to know
(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, delivered a huge surprise Wednesday when they announced their plans to "step back as senior members" of Britain's royal family.
The announcement left royal watchers -- and reportedly even members of Britain's royal family -- stunned and wondering what could be ahead for both the royal family and Harry and Meghan.
The couple, along with their 7-month-old son Archie, had recently returned to the U.K. from an extended holiday break in Canada when they announced their plans to, in part, become financially independent and split their time between the U.K. and North America.
Harry and Meghan's Instagram post and subsequent launch of their new SussexRoyal.com website sparked many questions about their family's future.
Here are all the details of Harry and Meghan's massive 2020 announcement.
1. Did Harry and Meghan get approval from Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth before announcing?
ABC News understands that none of the other members of the royal family were made aware of the contents of Harry and Meghan's statement before it was released.
Shortly after Harry and Meghan's announcement was posted, Buckingham Palace issued a statement of its own.
"Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage," the statement read. "We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."
2. Has this ever happened before with the British royal family?
In short, not exactly.
"This is an unprecedented situation we are in," said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. "We've not seen anything like this before and their statement raises so many questions about how this new model will work."
3. Will Harry and Meghan retain their titles?
Yes, Prince Harry and Meghan will still be known as Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
4. Will Harry and Meghan keep their Frogmore Cottage home?
Yes, Harry and Meghan plan to keep Frogmore Cottage, located in Windsor, as their official U.K. residence, with the permission of Queen Elizabeth, who will continue to own the property, according to SussexRoyal.com.
5. Why is this change happening?
Only Harry and Meghan can answer definitively why they chose to move forward with new roles after marrying nearly two years ago.
The couple was very honest at the end of 2019 about their struggles under the spotlight of the royal family.
"It's hard," Meghan told ITV News at Ten anchor Tom Bradby for the documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey. "I don't think anybody could understand that."
"And I think the grass is always greener," Meghan said later in the interview. "You have no idea. It's really hard to understand what it's like. I know what it seems like it should be. It's a very different thing. That's OK. The good thing is, I've got my baby and I've got my husband, and they're the best."
Prince Harry spoke honestly about the grief he still feels over the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a 1996 car crash in Paris, describing it as a "wound that festers" and one that motivates his actions today.
The youngest son of Prince Charles and Diana also did not deny rumors of a rift between him and his only sibling, Prince William.
"We're certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him and as I know he'll always be there for me," Harry said. "We don't see each other as much as we used to because we're so busy, but I love him dearly."
Harry and Meghan, a former actress who was active in charitable work before meeting Harry, may have also seen this model as a way to accomplish bigger charitable and activism goals.
"These are two workaholics who want to be able to contribute in the way that they want," said ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie. "They have grand plans to change the world and to see the world outside of the parameters of the royal family."
6. How long have Harry and Meghan been discussing a change?
The couple has been discussing their future roles since the end of last summer, according to Scobie.
"This solution that they've announced today is the best they could find," he said. "It allows them to perform their duties on behalf of the queen, but also to focus on their work in a way that a senior member of the royal family hasn't before."
7. Have Prince William and Kate commented on Harry and Meghan's move?
No, Kensington Palace has not yet issued a statement on behalf of William and Kate in response to Harry and Meghan's new roles moving forward.
8. Where will Harry, Meghan and Archie live abroad?
Harry and Meghan have so far said only that they plan to "balance" their time between the U.K. and North America.
Meghan was born and raised in Los Angeles, but spent several years living in Toronto, where she filmed the TV drama Suits. Harry and Meghan returned to Canada last month for their extended holiday break.
9. What does it mean for Harry and Meghan to be 'financially independent'?
Harry and Meghan confirmed on SussexRoyal.com that they will no longer accept a percentage of the Sovereign Grant, which is paid annually from the U.K. government to the monarchy to fund official duties.
According to the couple, the contribution they received from the grant covered 5 percent of their official office expenses, with the rest being paid through income from Prince Charles' Duchy of Cornwall estate.
10. What will be the focus of their new charity?
Harry and Meghan plan to roll out their Sussex Royal Foundation this year.
"Essentially they are now free to work in exactly the style they want," said Scobie of the new model. "When they launch the Sussex Royal Foundation they can fundraise in any way they want. It lessens the pressures of being a member of the royal family.”
They shared on their new website that they plan to focus on "community action" and "progressive change" with their charitable work.
"Through local and global community action, progressive change can be achieved far quicker than ever before," they wrote. "In 2020, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to shape their charitable entity to respond to these pressing needs."
"After carefully considering a number of foundation models, and having researched the incredible work of many well known and lesser known foundations, The Duke and Duchess are actively working to create something different -- a charitable entity that will not only help complement these efforts, but also advance the solutions the world needs most. They look forward to sharing more with you in due course."
11. Will they continue to work on their patronages?
Yes, Harry and Meghan will remain as royal patrons for a number of U.K.-based charities.
Harry's patronages focus on issues important to him, including the environment, mental health and supporting veterans.
Meghan's patronages are described on SussexRoyal.com as focusing on "advancing gender equity, empowering women and girls, and working within the community on a grassroots level to encourage women to recognize their inherent value."
12. Will they stay on social media?
Yes, the couple says they plan to become even more active on social media.
Harry and Meghan say they will no longer participate in the Royal Rota system, which gives U.K. print and broadcast outlets exclusive access to the royal family's official engagements. Instead, they will focus on more direct engagement with their fans.
"They look forward to continuing their use of social media and believe that their updated media approach will enable them to share more, with you, directly," reads a statement on SussexRoyal.com.
13. Will Harry and Meghan still attend royal family events?
Yes, the expectation is that the couple will continue to participate in official royal family engagements and family events.
14. Could Meghan ever go back into acting? Politics?
Stepping back from duties as a "senior member" of the royal family does give more freedom to Meghan, but it seems likely the duchess will remain focused on her charitable work with Harry.
15. Will this new model give Meghan more time with her mom?
Meghan, an only child, is known to be very close with her mom, Doria Ragland.
Ragland, who lives in Los Angeles, stayed with the couple after Archie's birth and, more recently, spent Christmas with them.
Spending more time in North America would put Meghan closer to her mom.
16. What is the biggest takeaway from Harry and Meghan's decision?
"We knew that the couple weren't happy but this decision makes it abundantly clear just how unhappy they have been," said Murphy. "This is a huge decision but they obviously felt a big change was needed."
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