What’s wrong with this picture?
There’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with their 2-month-old bouncing baby boy, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, who’s wearing the heirloom Honiton lace gown modeled on the original that Queen Victoria had made for her eldest daughter’s christening in 1841. There are grandparents Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mum, and Harry’s dad, Prince Charles, with Duchess Camilla. You’ve got Archie’s aunt and uncle, Kate Middleton and Prince William.
And in an unprecedentedly inclusive display of familial affection, indicative of Harry’s special relationship with his Spencer side, there are Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, the elder sisters of Archie’s late grandmother, Princess Diana.
On the surface, nothing to quibble with (a body language expert’s analysis that Kate was getting restless aside).
Archie’s christening on July 6 was a joyous occasion for the House of Windsor, and the public was treated to the first set of photos showing off Master Archie’s entire face and his childhood as his father’s mini-me has officially begun. So why did the sweet event, steeped in royal tradition, end up leaving a bitter aftertaste behind for some?
It starts with the proud new parents’ $3 million blind spot.
Harry and Meghan have been criticized in recent weeks for the cost of what was apparently an extensive renovation of Frogmore Cottage, their new 19th-century, four-bedroom-plus-nursery home located on the Frogmore Estate, part of the royal family’s Home Park in Windsor, that they moved into this past spring.
Home Park is a holding of the incorporated Crown Estate, so Frogmore is neither government property nor private property of the monarchy, and the queen does not oversee its management or maintenance. As the sovereign’s public estate, revenue collected goes to the Treasury, but then Parliament funds the monarchy’s official expenses via the Sovereign Grant. Meaning, part of that annual grant money appears to have been used to update Harry and Meghan’s house, just as it was used several years ago to help overhaul the four-story Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace, where Kate and William live with their three children.
“The property had not been the subject of work for some years and had already been earmarked for renovation in line with our responsibility to maintain the condition of the occupied royal palaces estate,” said Sir Michael Stevens, keeper of the Privy Purse, the royals’ private income. “The Sovereign Grant covered the work undertaken to turn the building into the official residence and home of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their new family.
“The building was returned to a single residence and outdated infrastructure was replaced to guarantee the long-term future of the property. Substantially all fixtures and fittings were paid for by Their Royal Highnesses.”
To complain that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s fancy-sounding upgrade was paid for entirely with taxpayer money (minus the “fixtures and fittings”) is an overly broad criticism, because the royal family does contribute to the national coffer in myriad ways, but their critics aren’t incorrect.
Annoyance at the royal family’s high running tab is nothing new, and just as every government has its detractors and assorted folks who want to dismantle the whole established system, so are there folks who think the crown has outlived its usefulness and is now just exploiting an archaic tradition.
“When you’re still taking millions of pounds worth of public money—money that could be spent in schools and hospitals—to upgrade and refurbish what is, you know, luxury palaces, you’ve got to ask yourself: what are the public getting in return?” Labor MP Luke Pollard told CNN.
Not that Pollard is anti-royal. “I don’t think the overall family will be overthrown here,” he added. “I think this is a chance to look at: Is the behavior of the royal family the right way forward? And at a time when there’s not a lot of money for our public services, is every penny they’re spending being spent well?”
Hence the perennial conundrum facing Prince William, and Harry too, to an extent: how to make the monarchy feel modern, vital and somehow necessary when grotesque economic inequality is a global problem and almost anyone could come up with a better use for $3 million than to give Frogmore Cottage an HGTV-ready makeover.
Especially when Harry and Meghan aren’t playing ball, as far as even the royal-appreciating public is concerned.
News of their big renovation bill came just as the couple were preparing a private christening.
As was the case with Archie’s birth, however, “private” is a bit of a misnomer, as there was still a statement alerting the world to its happening (inside the queen’s private 30-seat chapel at Windsor Castle, not at St. George’s Chapel, where Meghan and Harry married last year) and the release of official family portraits afterward (two, total). But TV cameras have never been let inside one of the royal baby christenings, and it’s not as if anyone was going to be able to follow along on Instagram Story, so how different was it, really, from the christenings of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis?
Well, the fact that it was held with no media access whatsoever was different enough for the media.
“I’ve covered five or six christenings during my royal career and I’ve never come across such secrecy,” Majesty magazine editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward said on Today.
The mainly-just-for-us approach that Harry and Meghan have been taking with their Archie milestones, as much as its their right to do so, hasn’t been sitting well with those who believe that the tacitly agreed-upon give-and-take between the royal family and the public should be respected. And, particularly right now, these two don’t seem to be giving as much as they’re taking.
“They can’t have it both ways,” royal biographer Penny Junor told the Sunday Times. “Either they are totally private, pay for their own house and disappear out of view, or play the game the way it is played.”
Harry and Meghan do have more leeway in that respect than, say, William and Kate—who have undergone their share of criticism for not trotting their children out like show ponies as much as some would like (though as any celebrity knows, it’s imperative to leave them wanting more). Being the so-called spare heir, Harry has always had more of a choice when it comes to how he’s going to live his life—within, of course, a certain parameter as set by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who’s been on the throne for 67 years.
He and Meghan decided to forgo a title for Archie for the time being (as well as the usual slew of names accorded most royal offspring), and it became evident when they opted to let speculation run wild, rather than confirm a few inside-the-box details about their son’s impending birth, that Harry’s place in the pecking order made all the difference in the world. Even though William and Kate are trying to give George, Charlotte and Louis as much of the “normal” childhood experience as possible, there will be certain hoops to jump through no matter what because William and George are future kings.
“Meghan and Harry want this to be a completely private moment, very much in keeping with how they’ve said they wanted to raise this baby,” Vanity Fair royals correspondent Katie Nicholl said on Today about Archie’s christening.
But with more information available than ever before about how the business of being royal works, that just means more people are paying attention to the bottom line and Harry—no longer the wild bachelor heartthrob or the nation’s lost little boy—may be in for a series of public slams should they feel that his account isn’t balanced at the end of the day.
Another move the public is crying foul on is the decision not to share who Archie’s godparents are—information that usually would have been released by now.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to share the happiness of this day, and would like to thank everyone around the world for their ongoing support,” the family said Saturday. “They feel so fortunate to have enjoyed this special moment with family and Archie’s godparents.”
On Thursday, Meghan and a couple of friends watched Serena Williams win her second-round singles match at Wimbledon. A reporter asked Williams, a longtime friend of the duchess, if she was in the mix and would be attending Archie’s christening on July 6. The tennis champ smiled and said, “No, I’m working on Saturday…and she understands work.”
“I knew she was there,” Serena, who welcomed her first child in 2017, added, “and it’s always exciting when she comes out to watch and support the tennis, so I was happy.”
So far, The Times in London has a source saying that Harry’s longtime friend Charlie van Straubenzee, who was an usher at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, is one of Master Archie’s godparents. Charlie’s older brother Thomas van Straubenzee is one of Princess Charlotte’s five godparents, and Charlie and Thomas joined William in acting out some sketches, ripped from their rambunctious boyhood, at Harry’s wedding reception that reportedly had the guests cracking up.
Charlie’s wedding last August also marked the first nuptials that Meghan attended as a member of the royal family. And, as tends to be the case with the royals’ tight inner circle, this bond is packed with poignant history.
In 2002, Charlie and Thomas’ brother Henry van Straubenzee, who had been one of Prince Harry’s closest friends, was killed in a car crash. Charlie was actually only 14, and Harry, who was 18, took him under his wing.
Henry and Harry’s friendship dated back to when they attended Ludgrove School in the 1990s. Harry and William were regularly invited to the Van Straubenzee family’s annual holiday in Cornwall, while the Van Straubenzee boys were regulars on Prince Charles’ yacht and at Princess Diana’s residence at Kensington Palace. The Spencers were also close to the Van Straubenzees: their mum, Claire, worked at Vogue with Harry and William’s aunt Sarah, and Diana was a dear friend of Claire’s sister—all ties that ensured an enduring closeness among the boys for decades.
In 2009, the same year they launched what would eventually be called the Royal Foundation, Harry and William became patrons of the Henry van Straubanzee Memorial Fund, benefiting schools in Uganda—where Henry had been planning to work during the gap year he never got to take.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Also said to be a good candidate for godmother is Harry’s former nanny Tiggy Pettifer (née Legge-Bourke), who was hired by Prince Charles when he and Diana separated and who played a significant role in the latter half of Harry and William’s upbringing. Famously she was among those who rushed to Balmoral to help comfort the boys when their mother died in 1997, and Harry, who was a few weeks shy of 13, is said to have not left her side for hours.
Harry remained especially close to her and is godfather to Tiggy and Charles Pettifer‘s son Fred.
Meanwhile, for each of Kate and William’s children, there was accompanying speculation that Harry would be named a godfather—and each time the same explanation was given for why he wasn’t: He’s already their uncle.
Press Association via AP Images
Of course there had to be the same speculation with regard to William and Kate being Archie’s godparents, and while this time there’s no definitive answer that they are not, the hypothetical reasoning is that they’re already his uncle and aunt, so why would they be? No additional titles needed. (It was also why Princess Diana and Prince Charles didn’t make his sister, Princess Anne, one of Harry’s godparents—they were simply already related by blood. Though goodness knows, it was rumored to have caused a stir.)
Ultimately, critics are none too pleased that, on top of this at least somewhat private lifestyle they’re planning to lead, Harry and Meghan are withholding the identity of Archie’s godparents as well.
As per tradition, though, Archie made his debut in the Court Circular, the official chronicle of royal events, with this entry under the heading “Kensington Palace”:
“The Baptism of the Infant Son of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex took place at 11.00 a.m. this morning in the Private Chapel, Windsor Castle. The Archbishop of Canterbury baptised the Baby who received the names Archie Harrison.”
So it’s hardly as if Harry and Meghan are shirking all royal duty while feeding off the government teat. Most everything they do outside of their own home will be photographed and dissected for parts—they’ve got a family tour of southern Africa coming up this fall, for starters, and they certainly are aware that by then 5-month-old Archie will be the star of those proceedings (with an assist from Meghan’s wardrobe).
For years royal experts and people close to William and Harry were musing about just how far off the beaten path Harry’s inclination to do his own thing would take him—whether it would be to Africa, where he likes to go as often as possible, or just in an increasingly different direction from his brother. Sure, the siblings made many a comment about the value of working together to advance their humanitarian causes, but it’s not as if they had been joined at the hip since 2009, when they started their foundation.
It was only when he got married and started to do more of his own thing with Meghan that Harry’s increased independence became a thing. Now—living in a different town, working out of a separate office and, as of a few weeks ago, head of a separate foundation-in-the-making—his lifestyle choices are once again a topic of conversation.
Which, ironically, isn’t exactly going to encourage him and Meghan to be more forthcoming.