In May 2018, Philadelphians celebrated the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with a lavish party at the Rittenhouse Hotel, replete with fascinators, champagne toasts, and hopes that the historic union would bring a breath of fresh air into a famously stuffy monarchy.
More than a year and a half later, the couple — now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — have, in a fashion, followed through, dropping a bombshell announcement that they plan to step back as senior members of the royal family and become financially independent.
The British tabloids have spent the last week in a state of precipitated meltdown, and on this side of the pond, news of the Sussexes’ move feels almost as ubiquitous as was news of their fairy-tale wedding. But no one is feting the familial struggles of a thousand-year-old monarchy with a high tea in Rittenhouse Square.
But many Philadelphians said they supported the decision.
“From what I know, I’m for it,” Emmet Roache, 22, said. Standing outside of the Christ Church Burial Ground on Sunday afternoon with friend Sofia DiPietro, also 22, the pair said they hadn’t read much about the royal family, though DiPietro advocated for the royal couple’s desire to be more independent.
"Children of [U.S.] presidents have forged their own paths and that's never been seen as a bad thing," she said.
At his souvenir shop near the burial ground, Steve Watson, a self-described Anglophile, lauded the couple.
"Good for them," he said. "All you have to do is listen to Harry talk about his mother, and you realize why they're doing what they're doing. They had an opportunity to go elsewhere. They're not abandoning the family, not speaking ill of the whole family."
He referenced the family’s tortured history with British tabloids that influenced the duke to become intensely guarded about privacy, particularly as he started his own family.
Harry has said his wife, who is biracial, has been the target of racist abuse in the media, and has filed lawsuits against several newspapers. He’s also spoken of the way the media frenzy was ruthlessly directed at his mother, Princess Diana, and his desire to avoid the same fate for his family.
“He was so protective of her, of Meghan, and understood what she was going through because he had seen the same thing go along with his mother and how hard that was,” Watson said. “We all saw those images when she [Princess Diana] died, and Harry and William walking behind the casket. Two little boys basically were in a spotlight they didn’t choose.”
At Fado, an Irish bar in Rittenhouse Square that’s a weekend watering hole for fans of English Premier League soccer, other Anglophiles were glued to the Aston Villa-Manchester City match — and not much else.
Ashton Evetts, the Torontonian son of an Englishman, said his knowledge of the royal family extends only to their soccer fandom. (He acknowledges a slight preference for Prince William, mostly because he cheers for Aston Villa.)
As for Meghan and Harry's decision to step back from the family?
“Too much is made about them — just let them live,” Evetts said. His English family feels similarly: “We can’t be bothered.”
Elsewhere in the bar, Emily Briggs, of Point Pleasant, and her father, Andy, in town from Hershey, said they’d been following the saga somewhat.
“[The British press] have given Meghan a hard time,” Emily said.
“It’s really funny they’re making such a big deal of it,” Andy quipped. “[The royals'] PR people — what are they doing?” He’d been especially off-put, he said, by a quote from William in this weekend’s Sunday Times: “I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives, and I can’t do that anymore.”
At the iconic Fergie’s Pub at 12th and Sansom Streets, owner Fergus Carey, who was born and raised in Dublin, said he had followed the news largely through memes on Facebook.
“The royal family and the Irish, you know …” he began. “Some of my very Republican Irish friends are like, let’s sit back and watch the royal family fall apart.”
There's Megxit, he said. Then there's actual Brexit, and continuing fallout over Prince Andrew's friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — which Carey and others suggested was a far more noteworthy scandal.
Carey did poll a few of his English regulars at a reporter’s request. “There seems to be a pattern emerging — British royalty meets American lady equals big stink,” contributed a Brit called Clive, who declined to give his last name. He was referring to King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson — one that eventually led to Edward abdicating his throne on the eve of World War II.
Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, doesn’t appear to be abdicating — and the exact details of his stepping back from royal duties haven’t even been worked out. The queen, the Prince of Wales, William, and Harry are set to convene a “crisis summit” Monday to discuss the matter. (Meghan, in Canada with the couple’s infant son Archie, will likely conference-call in.)