One year ago, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced their decision to step away from royal duty — a departure that would change the royal family forever.
“Meghan and Harry took a huge leap of faith to embark on their new life,” a source close to the couple tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.
It was a leap that would reshape not just the royal family but the monarchy too.
Harry, 36, who long felt marginalized by the role of “spare” in the line of succession—an issue that has plagued generations of royal siblings, including Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret — “finally found a solution,” says royal historian Robert Lacey, “which is essentially to get out and start a new life. To stay in the royal system is to go along with subservience to those more senior than you. He has asserted his own identity.”
This “progressive new role,” as the couple described it in their previous statement outlining the change — including earning their own income — offered a fresh start. “It was always their dream to be financially independent and pay their own way,” says the source close to the couple. With that dream finally realized, “The year started out with a lot of excitement and anticipation,” says a source close to the prince. “Harry was finally doing what he’d wanted to do for years, and to have Meghan and [19-month-old son] Archie with him was all he could have asked for.”
But as the world would soon learn, nothing about 2020 went according to the plan. The couple’s scheduled launch of their charitable Archewell Foundation and their intention to “balance” their time between the U.S. and the U.K. would soon be disrupted by the unforeseen chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic hit just as the details of the so-called “Sandringham Summit” agreement took effect in March, it soon became clear that much of the compromise the couple had hoped to attain was not to be. But if they didn’t leave the U.K. with everything they wanted, they did walk away with the biggest prize: The freedom to set their own course.
“Despite everything that has been going on this year, they don’t regret their move to the U.S.,” says an insider. “They love that they are able to focus on projects and causes that are important to them.”
Robert Lacey is the author of Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.