Then and Now: How The Crown is Weighing the Royal Family Down 

Alexandra Wagner

No, not The Crown, the Netflix original series that is believed to be one of the most expensive television series in history. This crown, St. Edward’s Crown, is worth $39 million, nearly 200 times what it would cost to build Big Ben today. The headpiece has only been worn by monarchs after their coronation. At five pounds, Queen Elizabeth II only wore it for a few minutes after her ceremony.

“You can’t look down to read the [coronation] speech, you have to take the speech up,” she said. “Because if you did, your neck would break and it would fall off.”

The royal family, like St. Edward’s Crown, also seems to be breaking under pressure. On Sunday March 7th, over 17.1 million Americans tuned into Oprah Winfrey’s two-hour live interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, former members of the royal family. The two talked about the toxic environment , discrimination, and neglect within the palace walls, in addition to the false portrayal of the American actress in the British press.

Winfrey asked Markle, “Were you silent, or silenced?”

The Duchess of Cambridge, along with her husband, agreed they were silenced by the press as well as the royal family. This silencing, however, was not a new dynamic within the royal family.

In 1995, Markle’s late mother-in-law Diana Spencer, was interviewed by BBC. The Princess of Wales had separated from but not yet divorced her husband Prince Charles. Like Markle, her opinions were dismissed and replaced with rumors leaked to the press by palace insiders until she took it upon herself to correct the lies that had been told.

“When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen,” Spencer said in her 1995 interview.

She also reported that her father-in-law, Prince Phillip, said, “If you don’t behave, my girl, we’ll take your title away,” hoping to dampen her attempts to defend herself from the burning lies ignited by the institution.

Upon separating from Charles, Spencer took the earliest chance to advocate for herself and enlighten the commonwealth of the true happenings inside the palace walls. Spencer and her closest advisors snuck BBC journalists and their equipment disguised as Hi-Fi shipments into Kensington Palace for an interview that shook the monarchy from the inside out. However, the constant invasion of privacy by the press followed her long after she left the royal family and ultimately resulted in her death; Spencer was killed in a car accident being chased by paparazzi.

In the same way, Markle and her husband agreed that while the institution was willing to lie to protect the majority of the family, “they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect [them].”

Because of this, leaks the press received were not only disproportionate to the truth but were often completely inaccurate.

In one instance, the press reported Markle made Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, cry over bridesmaids dresses for the wedding, when really it was the other way around. In another, the tabloids claimed Markle and her husband were stepping back from their roles to upheave the traditions and the lives of the royal family. Conversely, the two said they had no intentions of hurting the family and were not even leaving the family itself so much as the institution. Their primary reasons for resigning from their roles were the false press, the rigidity of the royal duties, and the racism towards Markle, a biracial American.


From the day Spencer and Markle entered the royal family, specific duties were pressed upon them that became overwhelming.

“Unlike what you see in the movies, there’s no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal,” Markle said regarding the lack of support in her becoming of a royal.

Similarly, Markle described it as a “sink or swim” situation where “no one sat me down with a piece of paper and said: ‘This is what is expected of you.’ It was isolating, but it was also a situation where you couldn’t indulge in feeling sorry for yourself.”

Their attempts to fulfill duties and fit in with the royal family, persistent media coverage both were promised would dwindle, and personal attacks (Spencer for being a “royal reject” and Markle for her race) were likely primary factors of the two women’s diminished mental health.

When Spencer tried to address her struggles with bulimia nervosa inside the palace, the royal family frowned on her for wasting food. Her self-harm struggles stemming from depression were believed by the majority to be attention-seeking behaviors.

“Maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful. And obviously that was daunting, because if you’ve never seen it before how do you support it?” Spencer said.

Sadly, because of her struggles she was often depicted as unstable and mentally unbalanced.

But when Diana was given the chance to properly advocate for herself, she explained self-harm was her way of asking for help due to the underlying pressures of existing inside the royal family.

“Yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn’t like myself; I was ashamed because I couldn’t cope with the pressures. I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales,” Spencer said.

But those she cried out to never gave her the resources to recover.

After Spencer’s death, the royal family committed to publicly advocate for those struggling with mental health issues.

Markle voiced her mental health struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts derived from the pressure of royal duties. She sought professional help, but even after decades of public advocacy for mental health, The Firm denied her additional outside support because they believed it wouldn’t be “good for the institution.”

“Nothing was ever done. I couldn’t just call an Uber to the palace,” Markle said as she spoke of her request for hospitalization.

“For the family, they very much have this mentality of ‘This is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it,’” Markle’s husband said.

When carrying out specific traditions, perhaps this approach is acceptable, but it certainly should not be used to silence members of the family crying out for help.

“My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” the Prince later said.

And that it was. The press that ultimately cost Spencer her life nearly cost Markle hers. Numerous overwhelming duties took the two women’s attention away from their worsening mental state. The royal family’s dedication to publicly address mental health stigma after their ignorance of Spencer’s struggles is hypocritical after another woman married into the family had her mental health struggles hidden behind palace walls.

But unlike Spencer, Markle also experienced significant racial discrimination that she was shocked the institution did not make an effort to correct.

In the interview with Winfrey, Markle said that the royal family had “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Tabloids incorrectly portrayed Markle and her husband as the first royals to reject a title for their child; in reality, the royal family chose not to offer their child a title, thus providing him with no palace security since he would not be a prince.

The traditional picture at the hospital with the new family was portrayed by the press as a decision the two had made to preserve privacy, but, in reality, the opportunity for this photo was not offered to them. The institution didn’t want to be associated with a person of color, and that’s why, in addition to her son Archie, Markle fought discrimination in the tabloids as well.

Contrary to Spencer, Markle had the support of her husband in their decision to step down from their senior roles as members of the royal family. Though he was cut off of all financial support from the palace, Spencer did leave enough for her sons to start a family elsewhere.

“I think she saw it coming,” said Prince Harry about his late mother. “And I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process. I think she would feel very angry with how this has panned out, and very sad. But ultimately, all she’d ever want is for us to be happy.”

The Prince has defended his family by explaining their silence as a result of their fear of the tabloids. If something in the tabloids does not please the public, an uprising may go as far as to disband the monarchy. But this doesn’t justify the inappropriate actions of those inside and outside the palace. Serious damage within a role-model family has occurred and many British citizens are looking for the family to make amends.

  1. While many believe investing in the royal family’s exposé is unwarranted, it is important to recognize even the most picture perfect royals have human struggles underneath the crown. Plus, learning about the prejudice towards BIPOC even at the top tiers of the monarchy should motivate the public to further advocate for change. History need not be repeated simply because the royals are concealed and exempt from the evolving lifestyle of the commonwealth. The couple’s decision to step back from their roles is a start in the right direction to bridging those gaps.