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'It's Not Been A Good History': What Happens To Royals Who Don't Want To Be Royal

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shocked the world by announcing they would be 'stepping back' from their royal duties.

The announcement was made via Instagram, with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stating they had spent 'many months' contemplating their decision, which will see them split their time between the UK and North America.

"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 pair wrote in their statement.

It's news that has been met with surprise by the public, but it's also a decision that seems to have blindsided the British royal family too, namely the Queen.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Image: Getty

An official statement made by Buckingham palace, hours after the initial announcement read:

Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.

While the matter is no doubt a fraught one, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle certainly aren't the first royals to decide they no longer want to be royal, and they surely won't be the last.

But what exactly happens when you decide The Crown isn't for you?

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Prince Harry's story, in part, bears some resemblance to his great-great-uncle, Edward VIII, who was also called Prince Edward, the Duke of Windsor. He famously abdicated the throne in order to marry American socialite, Wallis Simpson, in December of 1936.

Royal expert and correspondent Gavin Grey told 10 daily that when you reflect on Edward VIII's past with a divorced American, "it’s not been a good history" for the royal family.

"The royal family have had nightmares about single divorcees from America. Let’s be clear, Harry of course is not King, but Edward VIII still had to receive millions of pounds a year from the royal estate," Grey said. 

Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson. Image: Getty

"Otherwise, how would he have been able to afford that privacy and lifestyle that he had got used to when he married Wallis Simpson? I think there are major questions to be answered about that."

Edward VIII was the only ever British sovereign to voluntarily give up the crown. He did so as both the government and church at the time would not accept Simpson, a twice-divorced American, as their Queen.

Despite his requests for a 'left-handed' marriage which would ensure his wife, who was of lower rank, didn't have any control over his rights, the government would not accept and it left him with no other choice but to abdicate if he was to be with Simpson.

Simpson and Edward VIII met in 1931, while she was still married to her second husband, Ernest. The pair engaged in an affair and when Edward VIII's father died on January 20 1936, he was officially announced King.

The Duke of and Duchess of Windsor lived much of their life in France. Image: Getty

On October 27, 1936, Simpson accessed a preliminary decree of divorce but it was still no use. On December 3 of the same year, the word 'abdication' appeared in British newspapers for the first time.

He submitted his formal abdication a week later and his brother, the Duke of York (the Queen's father) took over as George VI.

"I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love," Edward VIII said on radio at the time.

After Simpson's divorce was finalised, the pair where married in France on June 3, 1937, where they continued to live while travelling to other European countries.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to base themselves at their Frogmore Cottage home on the Windsor Estate when in the UK.

It was at this time Edward VIII's brother, now King, extended him the title of the Duke of Windsor. However, he wouldn't extend Simpson, who subsequently became the Duchess of Windsor -- the rank of 'royal highness', which was said to very much upset Edward VIII.

It wasn't until 1967 that the pair were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony in the UK, the unveiling of a plaque to Queen Mary at Marlborough House.

The Duke of Windsor and Simpson were buried next to each other at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore House, within the grounds of Windsor Castle, after they died.

It's the same location that has been frequented by Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, at their home of Frogmore Cottage, which contentiously underwent £2.4 million worth of taxpayer funded renovations last year.

Frogmore Cottage, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex live with baby Archie. Image: Getty

But as the family of three face a new life abroad, Grey noted that the royals are treading new ground when it comes to Prince Harry.

"Obviously Harry at the moment is not down to be monarch but you could say he is abdicating his responsibilities in a sense because he is basically saying to the royals in his statement: 'Look, I will support the Queen, I will carry out my role, and I will support the Commonwealth'," he said. 

"But how much can you do from a few thousand kilometres away in Canada or California? How often can you be a good patron to all the charities that you promised to help here in the UK?"

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When Meghan Markle made the decision to marry Prince Harry, she paid a price. That price, was her privacy.

As such, Grey believes that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are going to really struggle to find a role that fits.

"I think we’ve seen from the palace statement that followed their statement, the palace is still very much working through this to see how it could work, to see how they could support Harry and Meghan abroad," he said. 

"But also to see what patronages they will continue with, what help to the Queen and Prince Charles they could still provide -- baring in mind it looks like they’re going to be living a lot of the year abroad." 

It's a seismic change that Grey said is one we haven't seen for many, many years in the royal family.

Featured image: Getty.

Watch 'Harry And Meghan: An African Journey' on 10 Play.