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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: What to Know About Their History-Making Decision

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The bombshell dropped by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that they were "stepping back" from their duties as "senior members" of the royal family set tongues wagging around the planet.

As if their public movements weren't already the subject of seemingly endless speculation, now comes the announcement there will be significantly fewer social appearances to scrutinize.

They vowed to become "financially independent" while retreating from their roles as "senior members" of the British royal family. They also intend to split their time living in Britain and "North America." So what does Wednesday's statement from the couple really mean? Here are answers to some of the bigger questions about Harry and Meghan's surprising declaration.

Why did they do it?

The couple didn't explicitly state their reasons for withdrawing, but their criticism of British media coverage has been no secret. They have sued three London tabloids, alleging copyright infringement, invasion of privacy and phone hacking. A particularly painful example, according to Prince Harry, was the newspaper publication of a private, handwritten letter from Markle to her American father, with whom she has a strained relationship. 

Earlier this year, in candid conversations for ITV's documentary titled "Harry & Meghan: An African Journey," Harry, 35, noted he still resents the tabloid coverage that hounded his mother, Princess Diana, right up to the 1997 car crash that took her life. His wife, he said, was now receiving similar treatment.

Meghan, 38, became teary while recounting she failed to grasp the media frenzy that would surround her in her new life as a royal. "I never thought this would be easy," she said. "But I thought it would be fair. And that's the part that's really hard to reconcile."

What does Harry's grandmother think?

Queen Elizabeth called Thursday for an emergency meeting in the wake of the couple's announcement, according to People.

On Wednesday, about an hour after Harry and Meghan's staggering statement, Buckingham Palace issued one of its own. "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage," it read. "We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."

What does "stepping back" mean?

Prince Andrew used the same language in November, when he said his mother, the queen, had granted her permission for him to "step back from public duties the foreseeable future," while controversy swirled over his relationship with the late Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender. 

The couple explained they would not entirely rescind their royal roles, saying they intended to continue supporting their patronages while "carrying out works for the monarchy within the U.K. or abroad, as called upon."

Where will they live?

The statement said Harry and Meghan will continue to use Frogmore Cottage, a residence on the Windsor Castle grounds, as their British home. The couple was criticized by the tabloids for spending some $3.8 million to renovate and update the house.

The couple also said "We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages." Harry and Meghan have just returned from Canada, where they spent the holidays. She lived in Canada for seven years while starring in the television series "Suits," and her mother lives in Los Angeles, causing speculation the couple and their baby son, Archie, might choose one of those locales.

What does "financial independence" mean?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they will no longer take money from the Sovereign Grant, funded by taxpayers, which supports the public duties of the royal family. That funding, they said, made up 5% of their office's total costs

Rejecting the grant money will enable the couple to earn professional incomes, they said. Royal family members are prohibited from independent employment while accepting grant funds, they said in their statement.

Together, Meghan and Harry are reportedly worth $30 million — her net worth is estimated to be about $5 million from her acting work, and his is estimated to be about $25 million, made up from an inheritance from his mother and a yearly allowance from his father, Prince Charles, money that he will continue to receive. 

The couple also recently published a trademark for their "Sussex Royal" brand, something that reportedly might allow them to create merchandise, books, charity campaigns and other services.

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