What Is ‘The Firm’? The Royal Family Institution, Explained

When Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan, referred to the British royal family as “the Firm” in their dramatic interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday, she evoked an institution that is as much a business as a fairy tale. It is now a business in crisis, after the couple leveled charges of racism and cruelty against members of the family.

Buckingham Palace responded on Tuesday that “the whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.” The allegations of racism, the palace statement said, were “concerning,” and “while some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

Harry and Meghan’s story, of course, is a heartbreaking personal drama — of fathers and sons, brothers and wives, falling out over slights, real or imagined. But it is also a workplace story — the struggles of a glamorous, independent outsider joining an established, hidebound and sometimes baffling family firm.

The term is often linked to Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, who popularized its use. But it dates further back, to the queen’s father, King George VI, who was once reported to have declared, “We’re not a family. We’re a firm.”

won a judgment against The Mail on Sunday for illegally publishing a private letter that she had sent her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

The couple’s interview claimed a prominent media casualty on Tuesday when Piers Morgan, the co-host of “Good Morning Britain” on ITV news, abruptly resigned. Mr. Morgan, a strident critic of the couple, said he “didn’t believe a word” of the interview, even Meghan’s confession to having had suicidal thoughts — which prompted more than 41,000 complaints to Britain’s communications regulator.

“The monarchy can’t survive without the media, but how do you manage that media?” said Edward Owens, a historian and the author of “The Family Firm. Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53.”

Harry and Meghan, Mr. Owens said, are the latest in a long line of royals whose personal anguish has been portrayed as the cost of doing their royal duty. That sacrifice, he said, was an unavoidable part of what George VI meant by being part of the Firm. And it served as a justification to the public for the perks of the job.

“The Firm suggests that these bonds of family are an afterthought,” Mr. Owens said. “It is duty and the business of the royal family that comes first.”

View Source