In an interview that’s bound to go down in the history books, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s emotional tell-all with Oprah Winfrey saw the couple share distressing and shocking revelations about their tumultuous relationship with the royal family.
Spilling never-before-heard secrets from behind the walls of Buckingham Palace, the CBS interview saw Meghan open up about her once-dire mental health, the royal family’s “concern” over Archie’s skin colour and Kate Middleton’s apparent meltdown about flower girl dresses prior to Meghan’s 2018 royal wedding, just to name a few.
However, there is one question from the two-hour special that we can’t seem to shake: what, or who are, ‘The Firm’ and ‘The Institution’?
And as it turns out, both the ‘Firm’ and ‘Institution’ are not just entertaining aliases made up on Netflix’s The Crown for the sake of anonymity or legal reasons, however they—like the infamous Balmoral test—do exist.
In fact, there is a very clear and distinct difference between the two terms and why a separation between the two is seemingly vital for Buckingham Palace to function efficiently.
From which royal members are a part of which group to how they co-exist with each other, here’s everything you need to know about ‘The Firm’ and ‘The Institution’.
What Is The Royal ‘Institution’?
It’s far from surprising that a rather large group of household staff and private secretaries—otherwise known as ‘the institution’—are mandatory to keep Buckingham Palace functioning as per usual.
Rather than narrowing down on the royal family members, this particular group of Palace workers includes five key departments: human resources, IT services, the Private Secretary’s Office, the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office, which is to support the family’s financial matters, as per CNN.
And while some might assume that the royal family are simply called ‘the family’, turns out, Meghan and Harry’s alias for the brood goes by a different name.
Who Are ‘The Firm’ That Meghan And Harry Refer To?
During their tell-all , the Duke and Duchess of Sussex consistently referred to the royal family as ‘The Firm’, a term which sounds foreign to regular folk, but is a special name used for the troupe that goes further back than you’d think.
“I don’t know how [the royal family] could expect that after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” Meghan said.
As reported by Penny Junor’s 2005 novel The Firm: The Troubled Life Of The House Of Windsor, the term is regularly attributed to Prince Philip, as he was a rather big fan of using the term.
“Prince Philip calls it ‘The Firm,’ and all the royal executives and their powerful associates are supposed to make every effort to avoid even a hint of scandal that could diminish the reputation of the family business,” Junor writes. As per The New York Times, the origins of ‘The Firm’ dates back to Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, who ruled between 1936 and 1952 after his brother abdicated the throne to live abroad with divorcee Wallis Simpson—who many have compared to Meghan herself. Prince Philip has also been quoted as saying, “British royals are ‘not a family, we’re a firm.'”
Nowadays, there’s a new type of ‘firm’ that Meghan and Harry are much more familiar with. The 2021 iteration of the clan consists of eight senior working royals who officially represent Her Majesty at events. However, this ‘firm’ excludes titled family members such as Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, nor Prince Philip who retired in 2017 at 96-years-old.
When Meghan and Harry stepped away from their roles back in 2020—and Prince Andrew was relieved of his responsibilities following ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein—the trio were removed from the group.
Now, the newly announced “firm of eight” includes Queen Elizabeth II; Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and wife Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge; Prince Edward, the queen’s youngest son, and wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex; and Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter.
However, this isn’t the first time that the term has been used publicly. While reporters, authors and even fictional characters in both Netflix’s The Crown and 2010’s The King’s Speech have all had their turn using the name, royals themselves don’t often utter the term.
According to Edward Owens, royal historian and author of the 2018 novel The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media, and the British Public, the Duchess’ use of the word was rather strategic.
“Meghan was once party to the secretive operation of the monarchy; but now she is firmly on the outside, and I think her phrase is suggestive of how she and Harry have been cut off and excluded,” he revealed to O magazine.
How Do ‘The Institution’ And ‘The Firm’ Interact With Each Other?
According to Meghan and Harry’s on-screen revelations, it seems that the royal family are quite controlled by their own staff on several matters. Throughout their chat with Oprah, Meghan revealed that she had turned to senior members of ‘The Institution’, as well as the Palace’s human resources department, searching for help during her lowest mental health moment.
But as we know, she claims she was told, “There’s nothing we can do to protect you because you’re not a paid employee of the institution.”
Another situation saw Harry revealing that his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, invited him and Meghan to discuss the terms of their exit from senior royal duties. “My grandmother said, ‘The moment you land, come up to Sandringham. We’d love to have a chat,'” he recalled.
However, once the couple landed in the United Kingdom from Canada, Her Majesty was suddenly “busy all week” and unable to meet with them. Harry admitted that correspondence between his personal secretary and his grandmother’s—which Meghan referred to as “CEOs”—eliminated any chance of a future meeting.
“Doesn’t the Queen get to do what the queen wants to do?” Oprah asked the couple.
“No,” Harry replied. “When you’re head of ‘The Firm’, there is people around you that give you advice… and some of that advice has been really bad.”