Earlier this year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided to cease being working royals who carry out official engagements on behalf of the crown, and work to become financially independent. It was, surely, not a decision easy to make; the employment choices for royals are often dogged by criticism from the media and politicians, as many past and present royals have discovered. But Harry and Meghan are far from the only members of the British royal family who have taken a step outside the palace and worked for a salary. Here are five more royals who have attempted to make it on their own…
Alexander Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Carisbrooke (1886–1960)
The Sussexes’ decision attracted its fair share of criticism from today’s tabloids, but the press of the early 20th century was seemingly loathe to criticise the Marquess of Carisbrooke, a first cousin of King George V, when he made the decision to earn a living in the business world. Alexander Mountbatten was, according to his obituary in the Guardian, “the first royal to take up an ordinary commercial life”.
Prince Alexander of Battenberg was born on 23 November 1886, to Princess Beatrice (Queen Victoria’s youngest child) and Prince Henry of Battenberg. Created the Marquess of Carisbrooke, Earl of Berkhamsted and Viscount Launceston in 1917, Alexander was often invited to royal events and was occasionally asked to represent the king. As the child of a princess, however, Alexander was never an official working royal and had neither great wealth nor a vast estate to go with his peerage.
He began his career as a clerk in the offices of Lazard Brothers, a London banking house. As might be expected, his title helped open doors to new opportunities, and in 1922, Alexander became a director of Lever Brothers Ltd (Unilever), a position he held until 1938. Always on the lookout for “promising men”, the founder of Lever Brothers invited Alexander to join the Lever Brothers board. One profile of Alexander noted: “We realise that democracy has travelled far when we see a grandson of Queen Victoria on the directorate of Lever Bros.”
On his 47th birthday in November 1933, the Evening Telegraph published a profile of the Marquess, commenting that he was a director of several companies, and “like all members of the royal family, he is a hard worker”. The report noted that he had been working eight hours a day in a Hanover Square office, preparing to take charge of social work with the Metropolitan Housing Corporation.
He did, however, reap some of the benefits of family connections. After the Second World War, he and his wife were given a ‘grace-and-favour’ home by Queen Elizabeth II, King’s Cottage in Kew, which overlooked Kew Gardens.
Princess Arthur of Connaught (1891–1959)
Princess Arthur of Connaught was very much a traditional member of the royal family, quite reserved, with one exception: her passion for nursing. In her privately printed memoirs, A Nurse’s Story (1955), she wrote about her “unconventional upbringing” and how she was taught to “make myself useful, to help other people, not to expect to be waited on and to find my own interests”.
The princess was born Lady Alexandra Duff in 1891. She was the first child of Princess Louise (eldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife. At the time of her birth, she was fifth in line to the British throne. She succeeded her father in January 1912 and became the 2nd Duchess of Fife. In 1913, she married Prince Arthur of Connaught, her mother’s first cousin. Their wedding at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace was one of the last major royal events before the start of the First World War.
Britain’s entry into the war saw Princess Arthur, as she was styled after her marriage, taking on new challenges. She wanted to do more than perfunctory visits to hospitals. “Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a nurse… but I never thought there would be the remotest possibility of my dream coming true,” she wrote. “When I married, my dream of being a nurse was further off than ever. Then the war came, and opportunity beckoned.”
Using the name Sister Marjorie and with the support of her husband, Alexandra trained at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where she passed her exams and worked for the duration of the war. When Prince Arthur was named Governor General of South Africa in 1920, Alexandra’s nursing career was put on hold, though she was able to put her “exceptional knowledge of hospital administration” to good use during visits to hospitals during her three years in South Africa. Once back in London, the princess resumed her nursing career, taking positions at University College Hospital, Charing Cross Hospital, and at St Thomas’s.
After Prince Arthur died of stomach cancer in 1938, Alexandra put all of her energies into the purchase of a nursing home, which she ran for nearly ten years. She also spoke out in support of mental health; in March 1943, she urged early treatment of mental health patients. She also believed that “precious time was lost” by not understanding the early signs of a mental disorder.
Prince Richard of Gloucester (1944–present)
Neither Prince Richard of Gloucester nor Prince Michael of Kent, first cousins of the Queen, were expected to become working royals. They were younger sons of the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent respectively. As heirs to the dukedoms, their older brothers – Prince William and Prince Edward – were expected to take on the mantle of royal duties.
Richard was born on 26 August 1944, fifth in line to the throne, behind Princesses Elizabeth, Margaret, his father (Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester), and his older brother (Prince William).
He was educated at Eton College in Berkshire, and later attended Magdalen College, Cambridge, where he studied architecture and fine arts. After leaving university, Richard worked for a year to gain practical experience and qualified as an architect in June 1969. He quickly found a job with a London firm and also took the photos for two books: On Public View, a “lavish picture book” about London’s monuments and statues, and Oxford & Cambridge, on the architecture of the two universities.
Richard eschewed the use of his title in his profession, preferring to be known as Richard Gloucester. He had a “steely determination” to forge a career as an architect, and enjoyed the anonymity of being able to ride his motorcycle through the streets of London. This anonymity came to an end in August 1972 when his older brother, Prince William, died in a plane crash while taking part in a flying race.
With the Prince of Wales away on naval duties, Queen Elizabeth had been relying on Prince William and his mother, Alice, to assist in royal engagements, including taking part in an upcoming state visit of the president of West Germany. Now that role fell to Prince and Princess Richard of Gloucester. Richard made the decision to put duty first as he stepped away from his architectural career.
Richard succeeded his father as Duke of Gloucester in 1974. The new duke and duchess became firmly entrenched in their positions as full-time royals, taking on more patronages and engagements, and the Queen also provided them with a new home, Apartment 1, at Kensington Palace.
In a 1979 profile in the American weekly magazine, People, the duke spoke about giving up his career to take on royal duties. “I sometimes wonder, whatever am I doing this for, all those apparently contrived events,” he said. “It sounds almost absurdly dramatic, but one reason is national unity. People in places like Ipswich are entitled to recognition for their achievements.”
Prince Michael of Kent (1942–present)
Prince Michael of Kent never knew his father, Prince George, Duke of Kent, as he was only six weeks old when the duke was killed in a plane crash in Scotland while on active service. Michael’s older brother, Prince Edward, then only six years old, inherited his father’s dukedom, and when he reached adulthood, he combined his royal duties with a full-time military career.
Michael attended Eton and Sandhurst before receiving a commission with the 11th Hussars in West Germany in 1963. After a promotion to captain, he joined the Defence Intelligence staff, remaining in this position until 1981, when he made the decision to go into business. For many years, Michael has run his own consulting firm, Cantium Services and is the founder patron of the Genesis Initiative, which supports small to medium businesses.
Unfortunately for Prince Michael and his wife – the former Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz – the couple has often been criticised by the press for their business decisions. The tabloid media tapped them as the ‘Rent-a-Kents’ following a controversy that resulted in the Queen agreeing to pay for their £120k-a-year rent at Kensington Palace.
In 1994, Prince Michael became involved with the House of Windsor Collection catalogue, a commercial venture where 80 per cent of the items for sale were from firms with royal warrants. He was invited to appear on CNN’s Larry King Live, where he subsequently gave the appearance of hawking the catalogue’s merchandise. King said the programme made Michael look like a “home shopping network host”.
Michael was set to earn a percentage of the profits from the collection, but within weeks of his television appearance, Michael severed all ties with the company. It was suggested that the Queen was dismayed with her cousin’s promotional work and he was forced to step away from the firm.
Two years later, the Sunday Times reported that the American public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller represented the catalogue company and had hired Prince Michael to “sell his services for a handsome profit”. These services included hosting lunches on behalf of the American firm. A company memo stated: “Through his office he can invite some of the most important figures from public and private life, and from government to the public sector, in the world.” Michael’s equerry at the time, Sir Christopher Thompson, told the press that the prince was doing “nothing wrong” when he accepted money to help the firm to attract new clients: “Prince Michael is a businessman who happens to have HRH in front of his name, he gets nothing from the Civil List, but he has to live.”
Prince Michael was not fazed by the criticism. “It seems quite clear to me that if anyone has something to offer, one offers it. And if people want it, then that is fine, and one is paid for it. I don’t see anything reprehensible in that and I am certainly not ashamed of it.”
In 2001, he was at the centre of further controversy as he had been promoting Selectamark Consultancy, which wanted to sell CS gas to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Michael also used his position to persuade British firms to invest in Russia. This was largely due to his own family connections, as his maternal grandmother was a Russian Grand Duchess, and his fluency in Russian. As his overseas travels were not official visits, Michael was treated as a private citizen by the Foreign Office.
Michael’s financial situation was at its lowest in 1997, when it was alleged that he was in debt for more than £2 million. Later, there was also criticism of their peppercorn rent (£69 per week) for their apartment in Kensington Palace. The apartment had been a wedding present from the Queen. When asked if he would pay the fair market value for his home, he told The Telegraph: “Again, that is for the Queen to say, and it hasn’t come up.” In December 2002, an “amicable compromise” was reached when Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen would pay about £125,000 per year to allow Prince and Princess Michael to remain in their home. The agreement was for seven years. Starting in 2010, the burden of paying the rent fell to the Kents.
Prince Edward (1964–present)
When Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son, Prince Edward, left the Marines in January 1987 because he did not want a military career, many pondered what would come next. The prince decided that he wanted to work in entertainment.
His first foray into this world was producing the programme, It’s a Royal Knockout, televised in June 1987. Although the four teams, led by Princess Anne, the Duke and Duchess of York and Prince Edward, raised money for charity, Edward was chided for the undignified manner of the production. The Queen was reportedly not amused, and her views were made known to her youngest son.
The programme did catch the attention of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who offered Edward a job as a production assistant with the Really Useful Theatre Company. Edward started work in January 1988. This was a full-time position, although his employers agreed that Edward would also be able to carry out his royal duties. He would be “starting on the very bottom rung of the ladder,” said Biddy Hayward, the Really Useful Group’s executive director. “He’s got a lot to learn and will have to meet a lot of people. Until he’s done that we cannot expose him to a production.”
In 1990, Edward left the Really Useful Group to start his own production company and a later venture, Ardent Productions, commenced in 1993. Although he would be accused of using his royal status for financial gain, Edward did not use his title at Ardent; his business card read ‘Edward Windsor’. When asked why he dropped his title, he said: “I don’t feel it’s right to trade on my title. It would just attract unfair comment.”
Edward wished to make “serious arts, drama and documentary programmes” and provided the seed money for Ardent, but the company never made a profit. Only one of his programmes – Edward on Edward, a 12-part documentary about his great-uncle, the Duke of Windsor – received good reviews and sold worldwide.
In a 1995 interview, Edward was asked about his qualifications for the job. “My greatest strength and weakness is basically who I am. I can get my foot into the door – but after that I’ve got to be better than everybody else. There are people out there who are very nervous of commissioning me because of how it might reflect on them.”
Now styled the Earl and Countess of Wessex, Edward and his wife Sophie (whom he married in 1999) were supported by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh – but Edward’s brother Charles was their “fiercest critic” because he did not believe Edward and Sophie could mix business careers with being royal. He proved to be right. The Prince of Wales was reportedly furious with his brother after an Ardent crew was caught trying to film Prince William, only two days after he arrived at St Andrew’s University in September 2001 (thus violating the press’ agreement in respecting the prince’s privacy during his time at university). Edward was filming a series, The A to Z of Royalty (later shelved), he later privately apologised to the Queen and promised to stop making films about the royals.
Sophie later found herself in trouble when she fell for a sting concocted by News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood in April 2001, who had dressed as a sheikh and exposed that Sophie was using her royal position to build her client base. It didn’t take long for the Palace to respond. Within three months of Sophie’s discomfiture, the Palace issued new guidelines for members of the royal family who wanted to combine commercial work with official duties.
The guidelines were drawn up by the then Lord Chamberlain, Lord Luce, who told reporters: “Members of the royal family should in their own way, using their own skills, be able to make a contribution to their own finances. The Queen believes that the public respect this and understand the modern aspirations of some members of the royal family to do this.”
Lord Luce stressed that members of the royal family would be asked to make sure that their official engagements were separate from commercial activities.
Edward and Sophie were “bruised and battered” by all the criticism and in 2001, Buckingham Palace announced that the Earl and Countess of Wessex were giving up their careers to focus entirely on royal duties.
What does all this mean for Harry and Meghan?
The guidelines set up in 2001 will not apply to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they have chosen to step away from royal duties and become financially independent outside the United Kingdom. The couple had hoped to “carve out a progressive new role” within the monarchy as they discussed their transition from senior members of the British royal family but still “fully support Her Majesty the Queen”.
The Queen released a statement in January, where she stated that “my family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family”. She made it clear that her preference was for the duke and duchess to “remain Members of the Royal Family,” but she respected their wishes to live “a more independent life”.
The Queen emphasised that Harry, Meghan and their son, Archie, remained a “valued part of my life”.
This was followed by a second statement, where it was announced that the couple would “step back” from official duties. The couple would no longer use their HRH titles, and they agreed to pay back £2.4m for the renovations of their home, Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their home as they divide their time between the United Kingdom and North America. They will continue with their patronages, but Harry was required to give up his military appointments.
The work of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is currently funded by the Duchy of Cornwall (95 per cent) and the Sovereign Grant (5 per cent). The latter funding will end at the end of March, when the new funding year begins for the Royal Household.
It is understood that the Prince of Wales will continue private funding for the Sussexes in their year of transition, but a further announcement is expected in early spring that will probably provide further clarity on funding and security costs.
Although they will no “longer formally represent” the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex “have made it clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty”.
Marlene A Eilers Koenig is an internationally recognised expert on British and European royalty. She is an academic librarian and author of Queen Victoria’s Descendants (Rosvall Royal Books, 1997 & 2004). To find out more, visit royalmusingsblogspotcom.blogspot.com or follow Marlene on Twitter @royalmusing