Five royals who stepped back from their duties before Harry and Meghan, from Edward VIII to Prince Andrew

Sarah Young
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle watch a performance by a Welsh choir in the banqueting hall during a visit to Cardiff Castle on 18 January 2018: Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shocked the world by announcing they are stepping back from their roles as senior members of the royal family.

On Wednesday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle issued a statement on Instagram declaring: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.

“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.“

The couple continued by thanking their followers for their support, which they said helped them feel "prepared" to make the adjustment.

While the announcement took everyone by surprise, including Buckingham Palace, Harry and Meghan are not alone in their decision to step back from royal duties.

From Princess Diana, who sought to live a more independent life, to the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew, read on for a roundup of other members of the family who have removed themselves from the royal fold.

Edward VIII

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII were married in June 1937 (Getty Images)

Harry's great-great-uncle, the former King Edward VIII, famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson.

The royal first met Simpson when she was still married to her second husband, Ernest, in 1931 and they soon began an affair.

After the royal court, government and church refused to accept the twice-divorced American as queen, Edward stepped down from his position as King, and his brother, the Duke of York, succeeded to the throne as George VI.

Edward went on to become the Duke of Windsor and finally married Simpson while in exile in France in 1937, but none of the royal family attended.

Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor but was never permitted to adopt the style of Her Royal Highness.

Princess Diana

Princess Diana was stripped of the HRH title following her divorce from Prince Charles (Ian Waldie/Reuters)

In 1993 Harry’s late mother, Diana, announced that she was reducing her official engagements to live a more private life following her separation from Prince Charles.

Diana was stripped of her royal styling as Her Royal Highness after completing the divorce from Prince Charles in 1996. However, she retained the title Princess of Wales.

Following the split, Diana resigned as patron or president from almost 100 charities, some of which said they had not been informed of the decision prior to the public announcement.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Princess said the decision was made “with regret” but that she wanted her former charities to be free to seek another royal patron, as she was technically no longer a member of the royal family.

Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew relinquished his role as patron of more than 230 groups (Getty)

Harry's uncle, the Duke of York, announced he was withdrawing from public duties "for the foreseeable future" in November 2019, following an interview on BBC's Newsnight about his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The royal was publicly criticised for showing a lack of empathy towards Epstein’s victims and a lack of remorse over his friendship with the disgraced financier.

During the interview, Andrew also denied an alleged sexual encounter with Virginia Giuffre, who claimed she was trafficked by Epstein, saying he had no recollection of meeting her and had been at a Pizza Express in Woking instead.

In a statement, the duke said: "It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family's work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support."

Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson became known as the Duchess of York following her divorce from Prince Andrew (Getty)

Six years after marring Prince Andrew, it was announced that the royal and his wife, Sarah Ferguson, were to separate.

Following their divorce in 1996, Ferguson became known as the Duchess of York but no longer held any royal privileges.

Despite the royal couple's separation, they have remained close friends, with Sarah having once described herself and the duke as being “the happiest divorced couple in the world”.

In November 2019, Ferguson tweeted in defence of her former husband, calling him a “true and real gentleman” after he was heavily criticised following the controversial BBC interview.

Since leaving the royal family, the Duchess of York briefly hosted her own talk show, became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and a children’s author.

Prince Philip

Since his retirement, Duke has reportedly remained active despite his health (REUTERS)

In 2017, the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, officially retired from royal duties due to his age.

At the time, the Duke of Edinburgh was 96-years-old and had been an active member of the royal family for more than 70 years.

Prince Philip made 637 solo overseas trips since marrying Queen Elizabeth in 1947, as well as giving 5,493 speeches and authoring 14 books.

Buckingham Palace said at the time he had taken the decision with the “full support” of the Queen.