Actions have consequences. It’s a lesson we endeavour to teach our children from the earliest age. And words have consequences too.
King Charles’s reported decision to evict Harry and Meghan from their UK base, Frogmore Cottage, a house they have chosen to live in for barely six months is entirely logical and perhaps inevitable. The timing, in the immediate aftermath of Harry’s devastating memoir, Spare, is pointedly punitive.
In interviews to promote his book, Harry made it clear that he now regards the United States as home. His father has taken him at his word. Harry and Meghan obviously have no need of a beautifully renovated Crown Estate house in the grounds of Windsor Castle when they have a luxurious mansion in California.
To add a generous pinch of salt to the wound, the Prince and his wife reluctantly shelled out a reported £2.4 million for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage (but only after a public row about the bill being pushed onto taxpayers). Will they now demand that money back? It would presumably have to come from the Sovereign Grant, which would open up another can of worms. So, it may well be that Haz and Meg have to suck it up and take the financial hit.
Actions matter. Words matter. And so do optics. King Charles is aware that, as most of the population struggle with staggering costs and sky high bills, a Royal Family wallowing in excess properties looks profligate. And it is.
As monarch, Charles himself now has more homes than he can possibly occupy. There have been suggestions that he might make the late Queen’s much loved Scottish castle, Balmoral, a memorial to her, with permanent exhibitions about her life and reign. He prefers to stay at nearby Birkhall when he is in Scotland.
The late Queen Mother’s Caithness home, the Castle of Mey, already functions as a successful tourist venue, run by a Trust. Perhaps this is the pattern of things to come.
The King is equally sensitive to public opinion about his brother, Andrew. He has agreed to pay Andrew’s security bill — an estimated £2 million a year — after public funding was withdrawn because the Prince was stripped of his official role. But he now seems intent on persuading his brother to downsize from the grand 30 room Royal Lodge, in Windsor Park, with nearly 100 acres of land and re-locate to Frogmore Cottage. It’s a fairly brutal move (the Lodge has been Andrew’s family home for 20 years) but most people would undoubtedly applaud the re-shuffle. And life for a single man in a newly decorated, five en-suite bedroomed so-called “cottage” with 30 acres of garden doesn’t seem any too shabby to me.
Of course the question then arises of what happens to Royal Lodge? Again, it is a house full of history. It was the Queen Mother’s beloved country home from the 1930’s until her death, and the grounds house a miniature cottage, Y Bwthyn Bach, which was given to the then Princess Elizabeth by the people of Wales when she was six years old. It could probably attract more than enough visitors to pay for its very substantial upkeep. Or perhaps these vast mansions could be used as temporary accommodation for refugees and the homeless? A radical idea, indeed, but it would certainly win public support.
Whatever happens, it is clear that King Charles is intent on carrying out his plan to present a slimmed down monarchy to the world, with fewer lavish trappings. He has also shown that he is prepared to wade into troubled family waters in a way the Queen simply was not.
The King will not be the flavour of the month with his brother at the moment. Nor will his younger son appreciate being told to get out of Frogmore Cottage. Harry and Meghan are reported to be “stunned” by the decision. And it certainly won’t help persuade them to attend the Coronation. But there’s always a silver lining, and perhaps they can console themselves with the thought that they could kill two birds with one stone: pack up their belongings and watch Dad get crowned.
Jennie Bond was the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years