- Beatriz Díez (@bbc_diez)
- BBC News World
The echoes of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey continue to be felt inside and outside the UK.
The brief statement released Tuesday by Buckingham Palace, in which the British royal family expressed sadness and concern over the revelations made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, did not quell the debate over some of the details that emerged in the ” explosive “conversation.
One of them was Meghan Markler’s repeated allusion to The Firm (the firm or the company) when talking about his life and his problems of coexistence in the House of Windsor.
But where does this name come from?
There are different theories about the origins of the term “The signature” to allude to the British royal family and, although none is completely contrasted, the truth is that the expression is in common use today.
The nickname is said to have been invented in 1947 by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, upon marrying the then-princess and current Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
“He compared that marriage to marrying a family business or firm.”explains writer Marlene Koenig.
According to other experts, such as the writer and journalist Penny Junor or the historian Ed Owens, authors of two books on the subject, the origin of the name is prior to that wedding.
In his 2005 book The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor (“The Signature: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor”) Penny Junor recounted that it was George VI, King of England from 1937 to 1952, who first referred to the House of Windsor as the signature.
“The name curdled,” Junor wrote.
A matter of image
Historian Ed Owens, who in 2019 published The Family Firm: monarch, mass media and the British public, 1932-53 (“The Family Signature: Monarch, Media, and the British Public”), also goes back to the reign of George VI to explain how this term was coined.
“After the crisis over the abdication of Edward VIII [diciembre de 1936], Conservative politician and journalist Arthur Beverley Baxter wrote a flattering semi-official book on the new king, George VI, his wife and daughters that was titled Destiny Called to Them (‘Fate called them’), “Owens explains.
“The author was given a new kind of access to the king and queen to write a positive book about the new monarch, which was not very popular, especially compared to his older brother, Edward VIII,” Owens tells BBC World.
“They say that when Jorge was a prince and a student at the University of Cambridge, they saw him smoking dressed in the clothes of the university. Apparently, the director told him that he should set a better example: ‘You are a member of the royal family’, at the same time that the young prince and future king replied: ‘We are not a family, we are a firm’“Owens relates.
The historian explains that the expression, in that context, meant that duty and public service come first and family and the pleasures of private life second.
“That’s why he used that term and I used it as part of my book, although the anecdote is most likely made up,” says Owens.
“What the Beverley Baxter book wanted to express is that royals cannot enjoy ordinary private life, personal family moments, because they are so committed to their public roles. That’s where the term originally comes from, with that idea of duty, service, self-sacrifice.
“I think it is unlikely that George VI would say that, but the fascinating thing is that attributing it to him in a 1938 book was part of a public relations strategy on the part of the royal family, or the firm, to present to George VI as an obedient and self-sacrificing king that he put his private desires, especially the enjoyment of a private family life, behind the duty of being king. “
“This was a complete contrast to the figure of Edward VIII, his older brother, who abdicated in favor of his life and personal fulfillment over and above his duty as a monarch,” adds Owens.
Who is part of “The firm”
The meaning of the supposed words of George VI differs from the concept that Prince Felipe wanted to express in his comment on marrying Elizabeth and that seems to be the one that persists today.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was referring to all the staff working around the royal family: courtiers, strategists, secretaries, public relations experts“says Owens.
And it is that, indeed, the British royal family is a company that goes beyond its own members, with a whole army of private secretaries, communication advisers, department heads, drivers, assistants, gardeners and all those who run the palaces and the lives of those who live in them.
The royal family has enormous financial power. In 2019, Forbes magazine estimated that the net worth ofl heritage of the queen amounted to $ 500 million.
“The House of Windsor is a big business, albeit with more ups and downs than the stock market. All royal executives and their powerful associates are expected to make every effort to avoid any hint of scandal that could bring down the reputation of the company. family business, “reads the flap of Penny Junor’s book.
Buckingham Palace alone has more than 400 employees They run everything from a massive catering business to the dozens of banquets, parties and state dinners hosted by the queen, to a complex business-style public relations apparatus made up of people from the worlds of journalism or politics.
The meaning that Meghan gave
During Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duchess of Sussex chose to refer to that entire conglomerate rather than mention the Windsors.
“I think she used the term along the lines of Prince Philip. She was referring to this group of other individuals who exist to serve the royal family. PR specialists, private secretaries, people who constantly monitor the press to see what is written about the family, that they leak information back to the royals and make decisions on their behalf, “says Owens.
“We heard in the interview that Meghan was not allowed to leave, that members of the firm – these courtiers from Palacio – told her that she should not go out and be seen or photographed with her friends because of the media attention she received.
“If he had spoken of the royal family he would have personalized immediately and we would have thought that he was talking about them, the Cambridge, the Cornwalls, the monarch herself or Philip, but they weren’t the ones he was referring to“, emphasizes the historian.
The queen and her own signature
To make matters more complex, Queen Elizabeth formed her own “firm of 8” in December 2020, a select group of eight royals who represent the family publicly and uphold her personal rule of “one must be seen to be believed“.
The group includes Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge; Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex; Princess Anne and, of course, the queen herself, who seems to have been immune from the aforementioned interview.
Throughout it, and despite the harshness of some revelations, both Meghan and Harry expressed affection towards the monarch.
“Despite what was said at the beginning of the interview, everything Meghan said was carefully planned by her and her team,” says Owens.
“I think Harry and Meghan would have made a big mistake in terms of how they would be perceived by the public both in the UK and in the rest of the world if they had directly criticized the queen seeing that she is, by far, the most popular and respected person in the House of Windsor“.
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