The Royal Family ‘Institution’ and ‘The Firm’: What’s the Difference?

The royal family “institution” and “the firm” were mentioned throughout Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. But what is the difference between the royal family institution and the firm? They’re similar, but separate.

Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge | Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge | Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Meghan Markle asked the royal family institution for help and was denied

Meghan revealed in her interview with Oprah that she was experiencing suicidal ideation while pregnant with Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

“I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” she said.

The racist treatment she experienced via the U.K. press caused her distress, she explained to Oprah. That, and the fact that she felt unsupported by the royal family and the institution. She eventually asked for help and wanted to check into a mental health facility, but her request was denied.

“I share this because there are so many people who are afraid to voice that they need help,” Meghan said. “And I know personally how hard it is to not just voice it, but when you voice it to be told no.”

But what is this “institution” that denied her help?

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales walks with Queen Elizabeth II, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and his sons and their wives, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex | Dominic Lipinski/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales walks with Queen Elizabeth II, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and his sons and their wives, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex | Dominic Lipinski/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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What is the difference between the firm and the institution in the royal family?

The institution is basically the institution of the monarchy. Think of it as a business, with Queen Elizabeth II as the CEO. Within the institution there are various staffs, all hired to help keep the royal household and calendars running. This includes a communications staff that handles press, a household staff that cares for royal residences, a human resources department, and more.

The royal family members are part of the institution, but they aren’t hired staffers. That’s why, when Meghan reached out to the institution’s HR, they weren’t able to give her the same help a paid employee would receive.

The firm, on the other hand, is the nickname for the senior working royals. The firm exists within the institution, but only royal family members are part of the firm. Royal expert Victoria Arbiter told Vox that Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI, coined the name.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at the 2018 Trooping of the Colour | Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at the 2018 Trooping of the Colour | Chris Jackson/Getty Images

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Which royal family members run ‘the institution’ and ‘the firm’?

The Queen is the head of both the institution and the firm because she is the monarch. But as Meghan and Harry said, there are a select few members of the firm who make most of the family’s decisions.

It is believed that Queen Elizabeth, Charles, Prince of Wales, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, are running the show. But the other senior working royals include Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Harry told Oprah that when they moved to Canada, they lost their security, patronages, and his honorary military titles because of their “change in status.” According to Arbiter, losing their security made sense because it is funded by British taxpayers.

The difficult part is that the royal business is also Meghan and Harry’s family. It was their loved ones who decided to strip them of protection. While the structure of the institution might make sense to the members of the firm, Harry and Meghan were clearly looking for help from their family that they don’t feel they received.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.