Daniela Elser: Meghan’s blunt reaction to name change exposes palace flaw
There are various mysteries associated with the royal family that have never been solved such as, why did Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (AKA the Queen Mother) only say yes to husband Prince Albert (later King George VI) on his third proposal of marriage?
Or, what exactly is in the 3600 files on the royal family currently being held at the British national archives in Kew that are inexplicably locked away?
The birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor in May 2019 is another one. The entire handling of the seventh-in-line to the throne’s arrival was all quite befuddling.
While ahead of his arrival his parents, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had made it patently clear they wanted nothing to do with the media dog-and-pony show that is usually part and parcel of the arrival of any wee relation of the Queen, the handling of the actual day was baffling.
It was later revealed that, when Kensington Palace put out a statement just before 2pm on May 6 saying the Duchess had gone into labour, Meghan in fact had already given birth to her son, hours before.
Whether this snafu was a simple mistake or an intentionally misleading sleight of hand, we still don’t know. Either way, the end result was the same: A slightly sour, miffed British press.
Now, this particular confusing chapter is back in the news after The Sun reported that Harry and Meghan had “secretly erased her first names” from his birth certificate with the revised document calling her “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex”. (Harry’s entry was also edited to add the title “Prince”.)
According to the UK paper, “the unprecedented move could be seen as a snub to the Cambridges who have included Kate’s names on her children’s certificates. It may also be viewed as Harry aligning his wife with mum Diana, who always used “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales”.
The whole odd birth certificate episode might have ended there, just another story about the Sussexes who still dominate royal coverage, until early this morning when Meghan went public and dropped the blame for the cryptic name change right at the palace gates.
“The change of name on public documents in 2019 was dictated by The Palace, as confirmed by documents from senior Palace officials. This was not requested by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex nor by The Duke of Sussex,” the statement, given to the New York Post’s Page Six column, read.
(A slightly longer statement which was first given to Finding Freedom co-author and veteran Sussex cheerleader Omid Scobie also accused the Fleet Street title of choosing “to deceptively whip this into a calculated family ‘snub’.” Ouch indeed.)
So, what to make of all this?
Firstly, it is significant that faced with a relatively minor, tabloid eruption, Meghan and Harry bluntly refused to wordlessly cop this latest accusation on their photogenic chins and instead chose to point the finger at the palace.
Their decision to lob this particular grenade right back onto the royal family seems unlikely to improve the trans-Atlantic relations and could have wider repercussions given that both sides have been experiencing a certain détente of late.
Over Christmas it was reported that Sussex and Cambridge families had sent each other presents and that the California-based royals would be Zooming up a storm with various Windsors back in the UK. The message was simple: After a difficult year, rifts were slowly healing and family ties were mending. Group hug and virtual eggnog anyone?
However, today’s birth certificate hullabaloo could put paid to that thawing of hostilities.
(This all comes hot on the heels of the Daily Mail also reporting over the weekend it was “unlikely” that Meghan would be making the trip back to the UK with Harry later this year for a series of landmark family events including Prince Philip’s 100th birthday in June and the unveiling of a commemorative sculpture in honour of Diana on July 1, which would have been the princess’ 60th birthday.)
Beyond that, this episode has shone a spotlight on a much more troubling aspect of Windsor life, which is the sheer lack of power Meghan had over her own existence and son when she was a senior member of the royal family.
As an HRH, Meghan had zero say over her job, her name, her religion, her right to exercise any sort of political agency, and even, back when she and Harry fell under the auspices of the Kensington Palace press office, her own Instagram account.
That is an inordinate amount to expect any person to happily give up in the name of marriage.
If Meghan and Megxit have achieved one thing, it is to make the world take a long, hard look at the brutal bargain that entree into the royal inner circle demands and for that deal to be found profoundly and deeply wanting.
What the Duchess has inadvertently revealed to the world is that while being a member of the Queen’s family might come with wealth, privilege and access to all the finger sandwiches you fancy, it also demands ceding control over one’s life to a creaky institution hellbent on survival.
Is the occasional chance to wear a tiara and get a good ticket to Wimbledon really adequate compensation for the wholesale surrender of what amounts to a number basic human rights?
And more broadly, what sort of institution expects a certain mute obedience even when segments of the press are having a field day at your expense? Which coldly wants to edit a mother out of her own child’s birth for some inexplicable reason?
Friends of both Megan and Kate have previously (and separately) made the point that the women married their husbands not because they were royal but despite the fact and today’s drama only adds serious credence to that.
None of this however, offers even a skerrick of an answer though to the bewildering question of why the palace would have demanded the Meghan change given that birth certificates for the Cambridge kids all carry Kate’s given names.
What is worth noting in all of this is that names are a very sensitive business in the house of Windsor.
Remember those 3600 files in Kew that remain under lock and key?
Many of those documents are believed to be correspondence between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street over the highly controversial decision to change the royal family’s official surname in 1960.
Up until that point, both Prince Charles and Princess Anne carried their mother’s surname, about which Philip infamously bemoaned, “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his children – I’m nothing but a bloody amoeba.”
With the impending arrival of their third baby, the Queen finally acceded to her husband and pressed the government of the day to allow an amendment to the surname that future royal babies would carry.
Ultimately it was decided that any grandchildren who were not entitled to be styled as His/Her Royal Highness would be known as Mountbatten-Windsor and it was only with the arrival of Prince Edward’s daughter Lady Louise born in 2003 that this was first put into effect.
Whether we see ‘royal sources’ and the usual anonymous aides talking to the British press in the coming hours and days, that is something of a palace fightback, peddling a different take on this situation remains to be seen.
What the events of the last 36 hours however have demonstrated is that now that she and Harry are free from having to support someone else’s agenda, they no longer seem willing to meekly wear the blame for events over which they have no control and will speak out wherever and whenever they see fit.
Sixty years on from the to-do over the change of the royal family’s surname, the Sussexes now seem to be trying something new: being open and upfront.
Those 1960 documents might stay locked away from prying eyes for centuries to come but in 2021, it looks like candour could become the order of the day.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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