LONDON—Queen Elizabeth expressed concern on Tuesday over allegations of racism in the royal ranks raised by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this week, but said that the royal family would address them privately.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey broadcast on Sunday, the Duchess of Sussex, who is biracial, spoke of feeling suicidal while working in the palace and said that a member of the royal family voiced concerns about how dark her unborn child’s skin would be.
On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace issued a four-line statement on behalf of the queen stating “the issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” The statement added that the duke and duchess will always be “much loved family members.”
The statement appeared to exclude a full-blown probe into the allegations of racism in royal circles and instead aimed to draw a line under a bubbling crisis that has swept the monarch since Sunday.
During the two-hour interview, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they had experienced racism before and during their 2018 marriage. Prince Harry said that discrimination in Britain was a “large part” of the couple’s decision to relocate from the U.K. to the U.S. last year.
The allegations of racism at the heart of the family are among the issues pressuring the House of Windsor amid a transition toward a new generation. Queen Elizabeth, 94 years old, has reduced her public engagements and Prince Charles is laying the groundwork for a more streamlined monarchy.
The interview with Sussexes hasn’t meaningfully swung public opinion against the royals in the U.K. A poll conducted by YouGov after the interview showed that 36% of British adults said their sympathies mostly lie with the senior royal family members, while 22% back the Sussexes. (A third of people said they had sympathy with neither side.)
But surveys also showed that the country is divided along age lines, with people under the age of 50 backing the Sussexes and those over that age siding with the queen and senior members of the family.
“It’s too soon to say whether this will have a long-term impact on the Royal brand or the institution itself,” said Eir Nolsoe, a researcher at YouGov.
Until Tuesday’s statement, Buckingham Palace and the British government had kept quiet on the issue. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to weigh in. Prince Charles, on his first public outing since the interview, visited a vaccination center to help encourage vaccinations among communities of color. When asked about his thoughts on the interview, he paused and then walked away.
In her statement, the queen said she was unaware of the problems Ms. Markle faced, adding that the family was “saddened to learn the full extent” of the challenges the couple encountered in recent years.
Some royal watchers questioned whether the queen’s statement would put the allegations of racism to rest, particularly if the Sussexes continue to speak about the issue. The palace last week announced a full internal investigation into allegations that the Duchess of Sussex bullied royal aides. The duchess denies bullying. It was unclear why a similar probe wasn’t launched into the racism charge.
The decision to close ranks in the face of problems has sometimes stirred further troubles for the royals. After Princess Diana’s death in 1997, it took the queen five days to address the loss of the princess. The monarchy’s popularity sank, but the family managed to rebuild their support and modernize. That process culminated with the marriage of Ms. Markle, a divorced American actress, to Prince Harry in 2018.
The allegations of racism are among several headaches Buckingham Palace currently faces. Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, faces questions over his past connections to the now-deceased sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein.
In 2019 Prince Andrew appeared on the British Broadcasting Corp. to explain his friendship with Mr. Epstein and deny allegations by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Mr. Epstein’s accusers, that she was forced to have sex with him. In the wake of public criticism over the interview, Prince Andrew was ordered to step back from royal duties.
The family is also seeking to resolve more mundane issues, such as expenditures that have nearly doubled in seven years and criticism over the power senior royals have to scrutinize draft British laws that affect their assets or land holdings.
Feelings have run high about the Oprah interview. On Tuesday, British channel ITV PLC said Piers Morgan left its flagship breakfast “Good Morning Britain” show after comments he made about the Duchess of Sussex. On Tuesday morning Mr. Morgan said he “didn’t believe a word” of what the duchess had said in her interview with Ms. Winfrey and then walked off set for 10 minutes. The episode prompted Britain’s telecommunications regulator to investigate the matter after it received thousands of complaints.
Write to Max Colchester at email@example.com
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