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Why Prince Harry Spoke Out So Strongly for Meghan Markle: ‘How Could He Remain Silent?’

Updated

When Prince Harry issued an unprecedented statement defending his girlfriend Meghan Markle on Tuesday, he did not view it as a “magic wand” to curb interest in their blossoming romance, a royal source tells PEOPLE.

But, the source asks, “How could he remain silent?”

In the statement, Harry’s office at Kensington Palace said the Suits star has been subjected to a “wave of abuse and harassment,” including “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”

From his perspective, “Harry understands that this is not a magic wand to wave, that issuing a statement like this will make it all stop,” the source says of the 32-year-old royal, who was particularly incensed by intense coverage of Markle’s mother and other family members. “But he no longer felt comfortable in himself that this was happening to her — not because of who she is but because of who he is.”

Royal pundits were surprised by the statement’s blunt candor —even coming from the no-nonsense Harry.

“It’s a very strong statement from him,” says Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine. “It’s very brave of Harry to put out a statement, but I suspect it is not going to change things very much.”

Robert Lacey, a consultant on the Netflix series The Crown, says, “The main message of this is, ‘Yes I am going out with her and it is serious.’ ” (PEOPLE previously confirmed that Harry has introduced Markle to his father, Prince Charles.)

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Lacey points to other moments in history when surprising royal relationships were unveiled. Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was first spotted at the royal family estate of Balmoral while sneaking a glance at waiting photographers via a mirror. And a clue to his royal grandparents’ love came when the then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were captured in a now-famous photo in which she hands him her coat to carry at a wedding. (Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, dropped her own —possibly unwitting— clue when she  flicked a piece of fluff off her then-love Peter Townsend’s coat.)

“For Harry, [the statement] was a rather clever, masculine statement of devotion and commitment which is also wrapped up in his defense, and his complaints about, the behavior toward her,” says Lacey. “It is the equivalent of the old-fashioned lord sticking up for his lady.”

“The best defense is to go on the attack,” adds Lacey. “He has accomplished two important objectives in one: He has defended her and stood up for her and showed that he cares. And he has also rather cleverly let people know, in the subtext, that [he and Meghan] are an item.”