Just 20 months after their fairy-tale wedding, the couple make the decision to 'step back' from royal life, stunning1
the world —and the Queen
Outside the Queen' s Sandringham House on Jan. 13, wintry winds whipped across the fields as the first major storm of the New Year passed through.
Inside, a very different kind of storm was unfolding: an unprecedented2
meeting ordered by Queen Elizabeth in the wake of her grandson Prince Harry3
's stunning decision to "step back" from royal life with wife Meghan Markle.
With two fires roaring in the salon4
, key members of the royal family—the 93-year-old Queen, her son and heir Prince Charles, 71, and his sons Prince William, 37, and Prince Harry, 35—convened in the nearby "long library" to hash out an agreement on Meghan and Harry's departure.
"The rooms at Sandringham are quite gloomy, particularly on a winter's afternoon," says someone who has spent time there. "It is a somber5
An hour after the 90-minute summit ended, the palace released an extraordinary statement from Elizabeth herself, in which she addressed the couple by their first names but pointedly6
did not use their titles.
"My family and I are entirely7
supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family," she said.
"Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time8
working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family."
personal statement—issued by the woman with the world's stiffest upper lip— was just the latest breathtaking development in a crisis unlike any other the royal family has encountered in modern history.
"We've never seen a statement like that from the Queen," says royal biographer Ingrid Seward. "But we've never had a situation like this."
For the first time, a prominent royal family member and his spouse10
have chosen to walk away not amid scandal but rather out of a desire for a different life, or "to carve out a progressive new role,"
as the couple stated on Jan. 8 in announcing their decision to divide their time between the U.K. and North America and become "financially independent."
move came just 20 months after the couple were anointed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day— and marked a dramatic U-turn from the hope and promise they expressed in their engagement interview in November 2017.