Fans of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, were thrilled earlier this year to hear the news that the former actress, philanthropist and member of the royal family is releasing a children's book, called The Bench. Naturally, her critics couldn't wait to slam her for daring to add a string to her bow. But the announcement also caused some confusion, for her supporters and detractors in equal measure, thanks to one question posed by her author's credit: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. How is she still the Duchess of Sussex even though she and Harry have left the royal family? Why is she not writing the book under the name Meghan Markle? Well, buckle up, and let's take a quick ride through the twisted rules of the royal family.
When Harry and Meghan decided to take a step back from their senior royal roles, they did not lose their Duke and Duchess titles. Opting to move to the US, cut fewer ribbons and wear fewer tiaras does not mean that they cease to be members of the family, and they are still entitled to be known by Duke and Duchess. These titles were given to them by the Queen on their wedding day, and she's not going to take them away: it would require an Act of Parliament, with a statute passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Royal sources say that it's 'unlikely' that this would ever happen: the last time individuals lost peerages in this manner was in 1917, and this was for actual treason (in that case, bearing arms against the UK). Besides, would you ask your married friends to return the bread bin you bought them as a wedding gift just because you wouldn't see them around anymore? Of course not.
What they have lost, however, is the right to use their former HRH titles.
Those confused by the continuing use of the Duke and Duchess titles might do well to look back at Sarah, Duchess of York. She still goes by that title, despite divorcing Prince Andrew decades ago, and has published books under that name (without the mass hysteria we've seen this time around). Indeed, Diana remained Princess of Wales until her death: she did not lose her title nor revert to Diana Spencer. But Diana and Sarah would have lost their titles if they had remarried. A new union before the eyes of God would be enough to sever a woman's link to the family.
Still confused? Well, let's turn to reality TV to help. Remember how Luann de Lesseps of The Real Housewives franchise used to be known as The Countess? This wasn't an affectation: she was actually married to a French count. But she lost that right and title when she remarried in 2016. So, hypothetically, if Harry and Meghan split up, Meghan would retain her right to be known as The Duchess of Sussex until the day she remarried, if she ever decided to do so.
The loss of the HRH title follows the February 2021 announcement that 'following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service..The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family.'
Will Harry and Meghan always be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex? It is not impossible that the Queen, her successor Charles and his successor William might one day decree that they must relinquish them, taking back that gift like the aforementioned proverbial bread bin. If so, they may be advised to do the same for other members of the family who have stood accused of far worse things than Harry and Meghan. But, for now, it seems unlikely, despite the occasional radio show opinion poll or Piers Morgan rage session.
To paraphrase the Chronicles of Narnia: once a Duke or a Duchess, always a Duke or a Duchess. Now, anyone else hoping Luann de Lesseps and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex might end up lunching one of these days? Just us?