The British royal family is always quiet in the summer, retreating to Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth’s Scottish castle, for deer stalking and barbecues by the River Dee. Prince William, Kate Middleton, and their three children—Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis—recently joined the monarch there for “one big sleepover,” according to Vanity Fair—a cozier vibe than that depicted by prime ministers’ past accounts of high-pressure parlor games. (Ibble dibble, anyone?)
Maybe it’s the lingering pandemic or the fact that Prince Andrew has been named as part of the late Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring. Last month, his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, sued Prince Andrew in federal court in New York. (The prince denies the accusations.) Mostly, though, there’s a gaping, Prince Harry–and–Meghan Markle–shaped hole in the family.
When the two international superstars resigned as senior royals in 2020, they took a force field of energy and interest with them. After the history-making Meghan, the remaining members of the monarchy leave an impression that we’re returning to the status quo. The mantle of young royal now falls to Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are, whether by nature or necessity (since he’s the heir to the throne), a more reserved couple. They’re set to assume more prominent roles under complicated circumstances.
For a glimmer of a moment, it seemed the Fab Four could usher in an exciting new era together. Instead, in March, Prince Harry and Markle broke the royal family’s cone of silence and alleged racism within its ranks in their landmark interview with Oprah. Prince Harry referenced a “trapped” Prince William; Meghan said sensational reports claiming she made Kate cry over a bridesmaid dress actually happened in the reverse. For some, both Prince William’s and Kate’s images were bruised, along with their credibility as mental-health advocates, as Meghan said the family largely ignored her pleas for help while suffering suicidal ideation. About a month later, Prince Philip died, widowing Queen Elizabeth, 95, after a 73-year marriage and drawing into sharper focus that an eventual succession from the queen to Prince Charles to Prince William looms.
Prince William and Kate now find themselves in a transitional, post-Harry-and-Meghan, post–Prince Philip place. Where do they go from here? Geographically speaking, Prince William and Kate are “seriously considering” a move to Windsor, just outside London, The Telegraph reported this week. The monarch spends much of her time at Windsor Castle, which would make Prince William and Kate “better able to support the queen as they take on a more senior role at the heart of the royal family.” Among the available Windsor properties: Frogmore House (not to be confused with Prince Harry and Meghan’s former Frogmore Cottage). The Telegraph hinted at the family’s long-term thinking, writing, “If Princes George and Louis are to follow in their father’s footsteps and attend Eton, a move to Windsor would also mean their school would be on the doorstep.”
While Prince Charles, 72, is next in line, the future of the institution—the glittery public-relations campaign of it all—falls more weightily to Prince William and Kate, both 39, and their young family. They have a lifetime of royal engagements ahead of them. Theirs will be the photogenic faces on the tea towels. Prince William and Kate maintain a relative bubble of privacy around their children, sharing photos only around birthdays and holidays, but Prince George, sandwiched between his parents, appeared at the Euro Cup this summer in a wee suit and tie, completing the literal picture of the line of succession.
If Prince William and Kate are to further the British monarchy, they’ll have to evolve with a changing U.K. It doesn’t help with the younger, multicultural generation that they did not release personal messages acknowledging Black Lives Matter (a mental-health charity founded by the royal family did issue an official message of support for BLM) or condemn racist headlines against Meghan, even as Prince William said he was “sickened” by racism against British football players.
But there has also been a tonal shift since Prince Harry and Meghan’s departure. Prince William and Kate have become more relaxed on social media. On Instagram, Kate posted herself getting her COVID-19 vaccine in jeans and a snug tee, and the family shared uncharacteristically emotional tributes to Princess Diana on Mother’s Day. And when they launched a YouTube channel in May, their first upload was a cheeky montage video peppered with outtakes. On their 10th wedding anniversary in April, the couple that long eschewed PDA released two cuddly new portraits.
Whether these are real changes or just a rebrand to the royal Firm may never be entirely clear. Royal watchers are back to analyzing and close reading the scant public statements—or are we? As much as Prince Harry and Meghan shook the royal ecosystem, they also created a new order, proving that being warm, vulnerable—and Instagrammable (RIP @sussexroyal)—breeds real connection, endearing a very inaccessible institution to a mass audience. (Call it the Diana Rule.) If Prince William and Kate seem less stiff, they may be inching toward adopting it. The only thing constant in the royal family may be the need for change.
Originally Appeared on Vogue