The Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, made it known in her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir that she was doing exactly that: “She won’t go quietly, that’s the problem. I’ll fight to the end, because I believe that I have a role to fulfil.” Now, 26 years later, her son Prince Harry is following in her footsteps.
Breaking protocol, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, revealed private details on the Royal Family in their exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey. Meghan claimed that she has “advocated for so long for women to use their voice and then I was silent” as a result of the institution.
Dr Kate Murphy, an academic historian with expertise on women in history, explains how “being private and not showing your personal life in public” is a part of that sort of class. “They [the Royal Family] represent and epitomise the British stiff upper lip.”
This reserved way of life comes easier to some members of the Royal Family than others. Royal figures such as Princess Anne and Kate Middleton welcome keeping their opinions private, and shy away from controversy. Meghan Markle however, is known for her powerful speeches and campaigning about women’s rights and education, long before her marriage to the Queen’s grandson.
Not long after Meghan and Harry’s union in 2018 Robert Jobson, a royal commentator, expressed in the Daily Mirror that “such strident opinions would have to be muted as she embraces her life as a member of the Royal Family.” Thus, predicting that the Duchess of Sussex would not be silenced so easily.
Unlike her daughter-in-law, Princess Diana found her voice after her marriage to the Prince of Wales, and even more so after their divorce. The Princess claimed that she was not “a political figure” but instead was “a humanitarian figure and always will be.”
Speaking out gave her a human side.
Nevertheless, Diana’s work was influential, and Dr Murphy explains how “speaking out gave her a human side” that is not commonly seen within the institution. After their divorce “she found her voice and she spoke”, which is evident in her BBC interview. When questioned on why the monarchy would silence her, she describes: “I think it was out of fear, because here was a strong woman doing her bit.” And now a generation later, history is repeating itself.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made a significant statement by choosing to remove themselves from the Royal Family, but Dr Murphy believes that there was no malice in this decision. “She just wants a life to live, where she feels safe and she feels happy” and that “was becoming unattainable in Britain.”
These events ultimately make the public question aspects of the Royal Family. Should there be changes within the monarchy? Should this historical institution become more modern?
Dr Kate Murphy believes that the Duchess of Sussex and the Princess of Wales never expected the monarchy to change for them, but for them to show more humanity. She expressed how “you get the sense from Meghan’s interview that they [the institution] didn’t know how to help her.”
The Royal Family have become accustomed to hiding their emotions and opinions in order to block out their fears of republicanism. Kate Murphy explains how in the 1970s Prince Phillip was “seen as a great modernizer of the monarchy” but believes that now they are not interested in “modernising but just trying to stay in step with public opinion” for the survival of the monarchy. “They want to be seen as with us not separate from us.”
Princess Diana epitomised this idea of being among the public: “I would like a monarchy that has more contact with its people.”
Despite this, it is also argued that it is the old-fashioned traditions in the Royal Family that keeps the monarchy interesting and a part of British culture. “The monarchy works partly because it is seen as different” according to Dr Murphy. This difference and the mystique are “part of their success.”
It is shown to be the duty of each member of the Royal Family to uphold dignity, the same way the Queen has. And this means to keep all opinions to yourself. Dr Kate Murphy explains how the Queen is very careful on voicing her opinions, but she had once hinted that she was pro Brexit and “it was dynamite” in the press. “It’s a tightrope they have to walk” trying to appear modern but remaining detached.
This is evident in the modern media coverage of Meghan Markle, as well as how the press covered every aspect of Princess Diana’s life. Both individuals have been victim of the media, and have been torn apart for trying to talk out against the press.
Silenced by the monarchy and scrutinised by the media, Diana and Meghan maybe have too many things in common for both institutions to handle.