By Daniel Gaffney
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex caused controversy in recent weeks by declaring that they were stepping back from their royal duties.
The Sussex’s decision to notify the public of their decision to step back via social media was unconventional in itself, but the couple also made the decision without consulting the rest of the royal family.
The rate and manner in which events unfolded was bizarre. Often, the British Royal Family have put on a united front in the face of adversity; note how Prince Andrew has been removed from the public eye following his association with the Epstein scandal.
Since then, Buckingham Palace has announced that the couple will stop using their HRH titles, no longer carry out royal duties or military appointments; and no longer formally represent the Queen. The new arrangement was unveiled on Saturday, following days of talks with the Queen and other senior royals, including Harry’s older brother, the Duke of Cambridge.
Nevertheless, Harry and Meghan are not the first royals to step back (voluntarily or not) from their royal roles. The Duke of Edinburgh retired from royal duties at the age of 96 in 2017, while his son, Prince Andrew, stepped back for the foreseeable future, last year.
But Harry and Meghan aren’t the first British royals to step back even in the past century, and there are more examples of both successful and unsuccessful wantaway royals across Europe. We have delved into the history books, and searched the other royal houses of Europe, in hope of finding more runaway royals.
In the wake of the greatest constitutional crisis to rock the UK in centuries, King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, leaving the throne for his younger brother George VI; changing the life of the young Princess Elizabeth forever.
Edward wanted to marry the American two-time divorcée Wallis Simpson, triggering a constitutional crisis when announced his marital intentions to the world. As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the King of Great Britain could not marry a woman who had two living husbands, and thus Edward VIII gave up the crown to ‘marry the woman I love’. Romantic, but it left the country in a right pickle.
Upon his succession, George VI made the then newly married couple the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, meaning that Edward could not stand as an MP, or speak on political subjects in the House of Lords. George VI also bought the Balmoral and Sandringham Estates from his brother (George did not automatically inherit these as they were Edward’s private property inherited from their father), as well as offering his elder brother a ‘modest’ allowance.
The couple would live out the rest of their days in Paris, away from the public eye, and the rest of the royal family. The couple developed a reputation in Paris for entertaining, while the current Queen Elizabeth still referred to Edward as her ‘favourite uncle.’ The Duke of Windsor passed away on the 28th May 1972, and is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
The Dutch ‘Working Model’
In its current form, the monarchy in the Netherlands dates back to 1815, yet the Dutch royal family provides an example of senior royals successfully holding down jobs.
The King’s brother, Prince Constantijn, and his wife, Princess Laurentien work part time for a global policy think tank, and part time for the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs.
“They previously agreed… with first taking a life away from the throne but with the condition that you be available when the crown needs you, you might need to put everything aside. And when you do a job, please get in touch with government, with the king, with the monarch to say what your plan is,” Dutch royal reporter Rick Evers said.
Prince Constantijn’s older brother, Prince Friso, also worked. After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering, he was employed by a uranium enrichment company. He died in 2012 after being buried under an avalanche during a skiing holiday in the Austrian Alps.
On a lighter note, King Willem-Alexander also works. On the odd occasion the monarch still serves as a commercial pilot for KLM; something he describes as a hobby rather than a job.
It’s a working model which seems to satisfy both the royals – and public interest. No member of the royal family with a private paid job receives a constitutional allowance, something that the Sussexes have also given up.
The First Member of the Spanish Royal Family to Hold a Salaried Job
Spain’s Princess Cristina became Duchess of Palma de Mallorca upon her marriage in 1997 to former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin. However, her brother, King Felipe VI stripped her of the title of Duchess in 2015 after she was charged with embezzlement alongside her husband.
Cristina was stripped of all charges but Urdangarin was found guilty of using his not-for-profit Nóos Institute sports foundation to siphon off millions of euros for private use, becoming the first member of a Spanish monarch’s family to go to jail.
Princess Cristina has since relocated to Geneva (probably due to Switzerland’s favourable tax policies for the super-rich) and also runs several charities. She does not perform royal duties and never appears in public with the royal family.
Princess Martha Louise of Norway
The eldest child of King Harald V, Princess Martha Louise relinquished her royal titles after her wedding in 2002, in order to focus on a career. Respectful, go her!
However, she has since faced accusations of exploiting her title for profit, after running a seminar with her husband (Shaman Durek Verret) titled ‘The Princess and the Shaman.’ Not so good.
She has since publicly apologised, and promised not to use her title in any future business adventures. As part of the move, she deleted and created new social media accounts without including any of her titles.
Sweden’s Mr LinkedIn
Cristopher O’Neill, the husband of the King of Sweden’s youngest daughter opted not to accept a title after their marriage.
O’Neill, a British-American national, continues to work as a financier, while his wife performs royal duties and works with non-profit foundations. He appears alongside the royal family at major occasions.
The children of Princess Madeleine and Mr O’Neill will also be expected to work for a living in future after the Swedish king last year removed five of his grandchildren from the royal house.
The move to slim down the monarchy saw the children stripped of the title of royal highness, meaning they are no longer required to perform royal duties. Analysts, however, noted that the children – who remained princes and princesses – still retained a “theoretical claim to the throne” and would likely continue to appear at social gatherings through their titles.
Back to Britain now, Princess Diana- Harry’s mother- was stripped of her HRH title after completing her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996; although she retained her title as Princess of Wales.
Similarly to her son, Diana faced the issue of creating a new, functional relationship with the royal family. She still had a huge role as the mother of the future King of England, and was regarded privately and publicly as a formal part of the royal family- yet she had also just finalised a messy divorce from the heir to the throne.
Diana tragically lost her life in a car accident in Paris in August 1997.
Princess Patricia of Connaught
In 1919, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Patricia, shook the establishment by relinquishing her royal title upon her marriage to British naval officer, Alexander Ramsay. As the daughter of the Queen’s third son, Princess Patricia’s place in the royal family was not as significant as Harry’s today, however the royal family in 1919 was far more of a closed circle.
Somewhat conveniently, Princess Patricia had a special relationship with Canada given that her father was Governor-General there for a number of years. ‘Princess Pat’ was something of a popular figure, even going on to appear on the Canadian one dollar bill.
Despite her relinquishment of her royal title, Lady Patricia remained a member of the British royal family, remained in the line of succession, and attended all major royal events, including weddings, funerals, and the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II in 1937 and 1953 respectively. She rode in the carriage processions with other members of the Royal Family at the funerals of George V in 1936 and of King George VI.
Lady Patricia died in 1974 aged 88, fifteen months after the death of her husband. the time of her death, she was the younger of only two surviving grandchildren of Queen Victoria (the other was Princess Alice).
Featured Image Credit: Metro