Who really controls the royal family

 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's explosive Oprah Winfrey interview has raised questions about who the power players are behind the scenes of "The Firm".

The couple referred several times during the tell-all to "The Institution" or "The Firm" as separate from the royal family.

The Duchess of Sussex explained to Oprah: "There's the family and then there's the people that are running the institution.

"Those are two separate things and it's important to be able to compartmentalise that. Because the Queen has always been wonderful to me."

Prince Harry also referred to the advisers surrounding the royals when he told Oprah about having a meeting cancelled with the Queen at the last minute.

"I didn't want to push because I kind of knew what was going on," he said.

"Doesn't the Queen get to do what the Queen wants to do?" Oprah asked.

"No, when you are head of The Firm there's people around you that give you advice and what has also made me really sad is that some of that advice has been really bad."

It's not clear who Prince Harry and Meghan were specifically talking about when making their comments.

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter told Vox that the term "The Firm" was coined by the Queen's father George VI to refer to the family business, so historically it includes senior working members of the royal family.

Ms Arbiter believes the couple's use of the phrase "The Firm" was not referring to senior members of the family but rather the staff who handle the business of monarchy, referred to as "The Institution".

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Little is known about how the power structures within "The Firm" or "The Institution" work. This may be because people who work for the royal family have to sign strict nondisclosure agreements, but many of the high-flying staff surrounding the family have worked at the highest levels of government.

Here is what we could find out.

FIVE DEPARTMENTS OF THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD

The royal household is broken up into five main departments that have responsibility for things like finance, government activities, event management and the care of its precious artworks and property.

The Private Secretary's Office supports the Queen in her constitutional, governmental and political duties as Head of State. This includes advising on constitutional matters and responsibility for her speeches and correspondence.

The Privy Purse and Treasurer's Office enables the household to operate as a business. This includes professionals responsible for finance, HR, IT and property services.

The Master of the Household's Department handles everything involved in the official and private entertaining across all the royal residences. It includes catering and housekeeping and positions include florists, upholsterers, caterers and specialist craftspeople.

The Lord Chamberlain's Office is responsible for organising parts of the Queen's duties that involve ceremonial activity or public facing events. These range from garden parties and state visits, to royal weddings and the state opening of parliament. They handle the Royal Mews, as well as the biannual awarding of honours.

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Royal Collection Trust is responsible for the care and presentation of the Royal Collection, the largest private art collection in the world. It also manages the public opening of the official residences of the Queen and Prince of Wales.

THE COURTIERS

Each of these departments are led by palace aides including private secretaries and other staff.

The Lord Chamberlain is essentially the head of the Queen's household and he is considered one of the three Great Officers of the household, along with the Lord Steward and the Master of Horse. The Lord Chamberlain holds the only executive role as the other two are ceremonial.

The current Lord Chamberlain is the Earl Peel, who is the great-great-grandson of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel and has held the position since 2006.

He is due to leave this position on April 1, to be replaced by Andrew Parker, Lord Parker of Minsmere and a former British Intelligence Officer who served as director general of the UK's counterintelligence service MI5 between 2013 and 2020.

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Former head of MI5 Andrew Parker will take over as Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s household in April.
Former head of MI5 Andrew Parker will take over as Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s household in April.

But possibly the most influential position among the Queen's household as well as other households, is that of private secretary.

The royals consider their private secretaries to be "their man on Earth" according to The Telegraph.

In the Queen's case, the private secretary manages the private secretary's office, and she has been served by eight different people in this role over the years.

Her most trusted was reportedly a former Scots Guard, Sir Christopher Geidt, who left four years ago. Some believe his absence has contributed to the turmoil in recent years.

He was replaced by Sir Edward Young, a former Barclays Bank executive and adviser to British conservative politician William Hague. He is reportedly liked but said to lack Sir Geidt's strength of personality.

Although private secretaries wield considerable power, lower-profile aides may actually have more influence.

The Queen's long-serving personal assistant and dresser is said to be her closest confidante.

RELATED: Real reason Piers Morgan walked away from TV role

 

INFLUENTIAL POWER PLAYERS

Other members of the royal family also have their own staff of advisers including private secretaries, masters of the household, treasurers, equerries and communications secretaries.

Some of these staff members have impressive resumes working at the highest levels of government in the UK.

Prince William's private secretary Jean-Christophe Gray, who took on the role this year, was previously the official spokesman for former Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Prince's previous private secretaries have also included Simon Case, who was employed between 2018 and 2020, and was reportedly one of four top aides present at the Sandringham summit last year to discuss Prince Harry and Meghan's future.

Mr Case was eventually poached by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and is currently the Cabinet Secretary - the most senior civil servant in the UK - who acts as a senior policy adviser to the PM and Cabinet. He is also responsible to all ministers for the efficient running of government. Previously, Mr Case had also worked for prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

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Prince Charles's principal private secretary since 2015 has been Clive Alderton, a former diplomat who has been posted to Poland, Belgium (European Union), Singapore and France. He was also a former ambassador to Morocco.

COMPETING HOUSES

With each member of the royal family managing their own staff and priorities, there has been a historical tendency for them to operate in silos.

"If one household is in trouble," one insider told The Telegraph, "the others think, 'Thank God it's not us.'"

This has changed in recent years with more efforts made to work together and for joint briefings between representatives from each household.

However, Prince Harry and Meghan's interview has again highlighted the separation that can exist between the different households, and how staff may have played a role in exacerbating the crisis between the royal family members.

The world is now watching as the family tries to heal grievances involving not just family members but also seemingly close staffers, and which is being played out in a very public manner.

 

Originally published as Who really controls the royal family


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