“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” You know this already if you are a reader of William Shakespeare, who slips this cogent observation into “Henry IV, Part I” in which he explores the challenges facing both the man at the top of the royal food chain and the son who is next in line for the throne.
You also know this if you are a viewer of “The Crown,” Netflix’s ongoing dramatic series chronicling the risks and rewards of being on the throne and the lifetime balancing act that comes with being throne-adjacent. Now in its third season, the series from creator Peter Morgan focuses on the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II (still on the throne at the age of 93) and the very long shadow her position casts over every member of her family tree. Including the modern-day apples who are doing their best to fall as far away from that old tree as possible.
That would be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known to most of us as Prince Harry and his American-born wife, actress Meghan Markle. Or as they are now known in the U.K., the architects behind the national outrage known as “Megxit.”
Less than two yearsafter their star-studded, gospel-fueled royal wedding, Prince Harry and Meghan announced last week that they are “stepping back” as senior members of the royal family. They plan to split their time between the United Kingdom and North America and work to become financially independent, while also honoring their “duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.”
Judging by the headlines, the couple’s desire to reshape their royal duties to fit their actual lives came as quite a shock to the members of the U.K. media, who were apparently too busy giving Meghan grief for every move she makes and every fashion/parenting/lifestyle step she takes to watch “The Crown.” Because if they were watching “The Crown,” they might have seen this plot twist coming.
From the beginning, “The Crown” has portrayed Queen Elizabeth, her husband, Prince Philip, and the other members of the royal family as dutiful fish trapped in a large, public fishbowl. With the possible exception of the flamboyant (and therefore totally unsuitable) Princess Margaret, the members of the royal family never seem at home in their roles. And who can blame them? No one seems to know what, exactly, the jobs of the royal family should entail, but everyone is happy to point out when those jobs are being done wrong.
True, “The Crown” is not a documentary. But while Morgan and his writers play with timelines and invent plenty of fictional dialogue, the characters’ emotional lives spring logically from the history that we do know. And one of the things we do know is that the uneasiness starts at the top.
As a member of the royal family, you are beside the point, until you aren’t. And woe to the kingdom if you make a wrong move.
It’s an impossible position to be in, regardless of the many creature comforts and perks that come with the territory. So it is no surprise that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — the prince whose service with the British Army included two tours of Afghanistan and the outspoken biracial American actress — came to the conclusion that the royal life they inherited from multiple generations of uneasy rulers was not for them.
It certainly didn’t help that Meghan has been the subject of racial slurs and media bullying from the moment she was on the royal watchers’ radar. But even if the Duchess of Sussex had been treated with the same respect extended to Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, it’s clear that this unconventional couple wasn’t being served by that same old story.
Morgan and “The Crown” are still many seasons away from this part of the royal saga, but Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are more than capable of changing the narrative on their own.
Throwing away that hand-me-down script was a great way to start.