When Meghan Markle referred to “The Firm” to describe the royal institution that let her and Prince Harry down, US viewers of her interview with Oprah Winfrey were undoubtedly perplexed. But the Firm has been the royal family’s name for itself for generations, an allusion to the greater apparatus that surrounds those who make up the royal family itself. It encompasses their staff, advisers, and allies; it also encompasses a given set of duties and traditions that royal family members are taught since birth to carry out. While the term had a practical application in their Oprah interview, royal expert Omid Scobie tells SheKnows exclusively that the difference between the Firm and royal family is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Harry and Meghan’s situation, and these terms signify more than we know. For the US viewer, the Firm and the royal family might be interchangeable: but for Harry and Meghan, they certainly aren’t.
“I went to pains to really describe in the book [Finding Freedom] the difference between the royal family and the institution of the monarchy, that institution being the machine that runs the establishment.” Scobie tells SheKnows of his Harry and Meghan bio Finding Freedom. “That is what we call the Firm. And that is very different to the royal family themselves, who are simply a family.”
From what we can tell, the royal institution is believed to be responsible not just for the failure to protect the Sussexes, but also — to an extent — for those actions that royal family members have undertaken in the belief that they are upholding the interests of the Firm. As such, the Firm becomes not just a way of differentiating between whether or not it was a relative who made a certain decision, but a way of separating out decisions made on behalf of the firm and decisions made as individuals. Take, for instance, how Harry describes his father Prince Charles and brother Prince William’s status in the family.
“My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave,” he told Oprah. “And I have huge compassion for that.”
In other words, Charles and William are trapped by the Firm. And the reason that Harry is able to feel compassion for it, instead of or in addition to feeling disappointed by it, is because he understands the engine of the royal institution behind it. He can understand it as a decision the Firm necessitated, even as he wishes his family would break with expectation.
“Sometimes people find it hard to believe that Harry and Meghan could feel so negatively towards the institution and so unhappy with the experiences they had within it, but still also have close relationships with the Queen and Prince Philip and other senior royals who they consider separate from this,” Scobie added — but that’s the way the royal family has always worked.
When Meghan heard that Prince Philip was going into the hospital, she was able to pick up the phone from Los Angeles, call the Queen, and express her sympathies directly. Whatever the Queen said on the phone to Meghan, that‘s Harry’s family in action. But the Buckingham Palace statement she released yesterday? That’s the Firm.
Harry may not like it, but he understands what Scobie articulates to us about the royal institution’s self-preserving nature: “Given the age that we’re in, where many people constantly question the relevancy of having a monarchy in this age, it is an institution that is constantly on the defense and ready to protect itself and prove itself.”
Meghan and Harry would never have expected the Firm to put out a statement validating all of their experiences — that would be
Before you go, watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s relationship timeline below.
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