For most of us, ‘the Firm’ and its goings-on are a form of soap opera, but for the players these things are hugely significant. They determine hierarchy, and hierarchy matters. It affects the smallest of details. Until Meghan told us, we probably didn’t know that members of the Royal Family must curtsy to the Queen at an informal Sunday lunch; even Prince Philip must bow when Her Majesty enters the room.
There are dozens of rules which determine who is more important than whom, and they’re complicated. For example, in 2005 the Queen created a new category known as ‘Blood Princesses’, females born into the royal family who are considered to be a higher rank than someone who marries in. This means that the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, doesn’t have to curtsy to Camilla Parker-Bowles when she isn’t accompanied by Charles owing to her blood princess status. However, if Camilla and Charles are together, Anne must curtsy to her because Charles is of a higher rank. In this ancient institution, wives take their husband’s rank when a couple is together; the husband’s presence validates the wife’s royal status.
To most ordinary people, this seems complicated, irrelevant and utterly archaic, but it is easy to forget the beast of constant scrutiny that the Royal Family lives with. From tell-all interviews given by Royals over the years, this scrutiny comes from both within the Institution and outside it, from the press; the latter, particularly the tabloid press, can be unbearable. Meghan found herself driven to suicide by vicious falsehoods she couldn’t refute because the Royals rarely stoop to acknowledge accusations. Yet she went out into the limelight and was ‘on’ whenever her role demanded, and very few knew about her struggling mental health. Her warning that we shouldn’t be duped by glossy exteriors has never been more relevant, and if antiquated rules of precedence are necessary to ensure that the Windsors aren’t terrified of vilification, we must have an urgent conversation about the power wielded by the press.
It’s sobering to remember the vicious trolling comments left on Royal websites about both Kate and Meghan; we all know that social media can be ugly, but at least the general public has the option to respond. If the reward for living in this gilded cage is a title or the right to be greeted by a curtsy, perhaps we should have more sympathy for Meghan and Harry’s anger at the snub.