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 - Jasmijn Groot -

In 2016, the global press turned its lenses towards a remarkable young woman, who had somehow managed to remain under their radar up until that point. The woman in question was an actress, a feminist, African American, even a divorcee. And she just happened to have entered into a relationship with the world's favourite redhead, the younger half of the most famous brother duo on the planet, and, at the time, the most eligible single royal in the world. While the people of the British Commonwealth reacted positively to the addition of mixed blood to the British royal family, the tabloid papers quickly showed just how conservative they could get. Their abuse continued to take on such outrageous proportions, even after a fairytale wedding and the birth of a healthy baby prince, that the prince and the American girl decided to resign their royal duties and to emigrate. In vain, or so it would seem. As one user on Instagram put it, it's mind-boggling how quickly we've forgotten that Prince Andrew was involved with a child smuggler and serial rapist, yet we keep following this couple that simply wants to have some privacy.

This particular couple, whom we know as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, or the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – for now at least - have since then added their own particular brand of drama to the mix. Soon after moving to the U S of A, the couple did a candid interview with Oprah Winfrey, our very own fairy godmother of sentimental television. And at the beginning of the year, Harry released his scandalous book Spare, in which he not only tells about his relationship with Meghan and their problems with the house of Windsor and the media, but also about his life as second in line behind his brother William. However, just before we started to eagerly await the release of that book, Netflix released its documentary series Harry & Meghan, which follows the couple from their early courtship, past the decision to step back as senior royals, all the way to their present-day activities in North America. The series holds the record for the biggest Netflix debut of all time, but it has divided the people even further.

In telling their story, Harry and Meghan address some important points of criticism they have for the British monarchy and the press. Above all, they indicate that both The Firm, as well as British journalism as a whole, are permeated with institutional racism. Magazines such as The Sun and The Daily Mirror have written considerably more negatively in their coverage on Meghan in comparison to her sister-in-law, Princess Catherine of Wales. The royal family, who according to Harry perceives the press intrusion into the lives of their princes' girlfriends as a kind of rite of passage, did not intervene. Not even when the prince specifically asked for it. Or when he pointed out to them that journalists allowed themselves to make racist statements about Meghan's skin colour. On the contrary, according to Harry, the separate press offices of the various family members leak information about each other to the so-called Royal Rota, the media outlets that are allowed to write about the royal family, to divert negative media attention to themselves. Even though they had promised each other as young boys never to do that, Harry gives the impression that Prince William of Wales has played this dirty game too.

Since the release of the series, people close to the royals have naturally responded to Harry and Meghan's allegations. And that's a good reminder of the nature of this release. Whether or not the documentary series has achieved the aim of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry & Meghan is a unique historical document. Never before has such source released so much information about the workings of the British monarchy through the eyes of one of its most prominent members. But as with all other historical documents, the rules of true historical source criticism must also be observed here. Because this one too is marked by subjectivity.

In any case, the British aren’t done talking about Harry and Meghan's statements. At the moment, the national press is being dominated by a common thread, which has been laid out through the episodes of Harry & Meghan, as if it had been done by Ariadne herself. Journalists are tired of Harry's comparisons between his wife and his mother. As the general opinion is much divided on this subject, I will put aside the point that he’s trying to make with it, namely that his family has learned nothing from the past. However, there is another remarkable similarity between Diana and her youngest son, which is remarkably evident in the series, but has not been mentioned by anyone else. And that is their naivety. Harry and Meghan make it apparent throughout the episodes, that with this series they want to tell the objective truth about what has happened in recent years, so that it is clear to everyone once and for all. After that, they’re over and done with it and they want to be left alone. We won't hear anything from their mouths about their history after that, and with the truth out, they seem to expect that the press will finally be done with them.

For a more realistic lesson in dealing with the media, they should have looked to another family. The Kardashians would have been a far better example. Because if they have taught us anything while honouring our television screens with their presence over the last 15 years, it's that once you let the press into your life, they never leave. As tired as most of us are of the whole Harry and Meghan circus, historians, myself included, will thank them in time for the historical sources they are leaving behind on the current British royal family .


Image: Netflix (2023) Harry & Meghan.


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