From the moment the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their intention to give up their royal duties for a more “progressive role” abroad, one thing never doubted: that “Sussex Royal” brand should disappear.
It may have sounded good to the team of super-smooth American law agents, intellectual property lawyers, and digital marketing experts to advise the couple on their new modus operandi.
But it would never meet the approval of the ultimate referee on all royal things – the queen.
The only surprising thing is that this may have come as a surprise to the Sussexes themselves.
From the earliest age Harry was raised about the holiness of the ‘brand’ that determined his existence.
Almost no one else on earth grew up with the idea that it is perfectly normal for both parents to have their own individual standards to fly above every home or vehicle that they accidentally occupy at some point.
Harry and Meghan stand with the High Commissioner for Canada in the UK, Janice Charette (right) and the deputy High Commissioner, Sarah Fountain Smith (left), after their visit to Canada House as a thank you for the warm Canadian hospitality that they have received during their recent stay in January 2020
The couple’s decision to resign as senior working princes and pursue “financial independence” put a spanner in the works of Sussex Royal and placed the queen in an unpleasant position
When his grandmother takes on the most important of all her constitutional duties – the opening of the Parliament – she is preceded by the heralds of the College of Arms, guardians of everything that is heraldic (from coats of arms to flags).
The very idea of labeling the monarchy as a brand can reject loyal royalists. In this case, however, the analogy is not only relevant but also crucial to the argument.
Because the definition of what is and what is not ‘royal’ is not just a matter of royal whims. The queen is in fact subject to various laws, including the Trade Marks Act 1994 and even the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883.
The Sussex people chose not to argue with the queen, but with the law of the country.
Since time immemorial, people have tried to trade on royal connections, so there have long been strict rules that govern everything from the use of the Royal Arms to the use of crowns on grain packs.
It is not about jealousy guarding the official functions, it is about protecting the public against fraud and misrepresentation.
No frost wants anyone to buy defective goods or be taken by some huckster who claims some kind of fake royal origin.
That is precisely why the Royal Warrant Holders Association was founded in the 19th century.
Prince Harry and wife Meghan wave from the Ascot Landau carriage during their carriage procession on the long walk while heading for Windsor Castle after their wedding ceremony in May 2018
Harry and Meghan have spent tens of thousands of pounds on a new Sussex Royal website, sussexroyal.com, in addition to their hugely popular Instagram feed. It has now been made clear that they must ‘re-brand’
To this day, royal warrants are granted to companies that must have supplied the Royal House over a period of several years. If the royal custom ceases, then the warrant also does that. They are not bought or sold.
They are also not a business asset – they are registered with a person within the company.
Now, Harry and Meghan, quite understandably, have assumed that their own “royal” credentials cannot be blamed, just as they are.
After all, they retain the style of HRH even if they will not use it.
But what personally applies to a family member does not apply to what is clearly a commercial enterprise.
The Sussexes ‘understand’ the importance of brand protection, and that is why they have been so busy registering ‘Sussex Royal’ for any kind of potential commercial use (including, we are told, pajamas).
They can therefore hardly object if the queen and her officials, who represent an institution that has been protecting her own brand for centuries, enact a very well-established law to protect their own “intellectual property.”
Perhaps Harry and Meghan should shift their attention from their own elegantly built website to the more mysterious cut-outs of the official Royal Household website.
Harry and Meghan with the High Commissioner for Canada in the UK last month
There they will find detailed instructions from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office on how companies can claim any kind of ‘royal’ status. Much of it is in any case not governed by the palace but by the cabinet.
In other words, Harry and Meghan will have to arrange their plans with Michael Gove and grandma.
The official royal website may not have the beautiful artistic shots like the ones on sussexroyal.com, but it’s pretty accurate.
For example: Sections 55 and 1047 of the Companies Act 2006 and Regulation 8 of the Limited Liability Partnerships (Application of Companies Act 2006) Regulations 2009 prohibit companies (including foreign companies) … from being registered under a name that is one of the sensitive words specified in the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014, unless approval has been obtained from the Secretary of State. “
The sensitive words specified in the 2014 Regulations are Royal, Queen, King …
A few hours before he left for his new life in Vancouver last month, the Duke of Sussex delivered that depressed speech at a charity dinner, Sentebale.
In it he spoke about his “sadness” in rejecting his plans to create a new, privately financed semi-royal existence.
It was his response to the Queen’s statement of the previous day in which she expressed her love and support for the couple in their attempts to “create a happy and peaceful new life.”
Meghan Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry attended a creative industry and business reception last October in the garden of her High Commissioner Residence, Johannesburg, South Africa
It was generally seen as a rather chaste riposte, especially given the generosity of the Queen’s words at such a delicate time.
Don’t let it grumble like that anymore. The queen’s love for her grandson and his wife has not changed anything.
However, this issue is business only. Sticking to ‘Sussex Royal’ falls under the heading ‘duty’ and not ‘family’.
The Queen’s father had to make some very difficult decisions when his brother, the former Edward VIII, left the ship in 1936.
This situation is of course not at all like the Abdication Crisis, but it is primarily the duty of the monarch to protect the Crown.
The queen is not completely immobile with regard to her “brand.” She is very wise and often very generous.
At the great royal moments such as jubilees, for example, she will announce an amnesty about the use of the royal arms, giving souvenir makers a free run to produce all kinds of commemorative statues – from biscuit tins to toilet rolls – for a specific period.
But that certainly does not mean a permanent free-for-all.
Of course Harry and Meghan must be given the time to reconfigure their new businesses.
And of course there will be a few gray areas and misunderstandings in the coming years.
But the overarching rule remains the same: the royal imprimatur – and everything that it entails – must always remain exclusively in the hands of the Sovereign.