Meghan and Harry's case is vastly different than the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII and the recent ousting of Prince Andrew, says Robert Lacey, historian and consultant to Netflix’s The Crown
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have announced their plans to “carve out a progressive new role” in the royal family — a move that’s “unprecedented.”
The couple revealed Wednesday that they “intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”
Robert Lacey, historian and consultant to Netflix’s The Crown, says that nothing like this has happened before.
“This is unprecedented in the modern royal family,” he tells PEOPLE. “It is difficult to think of anybody who took such a drastic step.”
“They were not true resignations. They were dismissals,” says Lacey. “If those two men had not resigned they would have been expelled in any case. In the case of Edward VIII, he would not have been sanctified as King and in the case of Andrew, the institutions that made him royal would have parted company with him in the most humiliating way. This seems in every way to be a genuine resignation.”
As any fan of The Crown could tell you, King Edward VIII — later known as Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor — gave up the throne after less than a year because his family (and parliament) wouldn’t accept the American-born Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved (and a two-time divorcée), as queen.
Prince Andrew announced his decision to “step back from royal duties” in November following the backlash of his interview surrounding his relationship with disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Can’t get enough of PEOPLE‘s Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
In addition to stepping back as senior members of the royal family, Meghan and Prince Harry shared that they are making plans to split their time between the U.K. and North America.
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex wrote on Instagram. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment.
“We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”