Get caught up on all the royals news you might have missed in January 2020 — from birthday celebrations and funerals to deeply personal speeches and striking new photos, plus much more… though there's one story that's dominated headlines like no other royals news has in years: Early in the month, just days after they returned to Britain following a six-week break in Canada where they sought to regroup following a challenging year full of scrutiny and criticism, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan announced unprecedented plans to step back as senior members of the British royal family and become financially independent, yet continue to serve the queen. Negotiations and crisis talks followed at an unusually rapid pace and 10 days later, Queen Elizabeth II reluctantly approved what the British media has dubbed "Megxit" — though the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were ultimately unable to secure the half-in, half-out arrangement they wanted. Keep reading for all the details on all the major beats of this ongoing story, plus more key news concerning British and global royals for January 2020…
"The Crown" creator announces series will end after season 5 with Imelda Staunton as final queen
On Jan. 31, "The Crown" creator-showrunner Peter Morgan revealed that the hit Netflix drama series about the British royal family — which released season 3 on the streamer in 2019 — will end with season 5. He also announced that acclaimed English stage and screen actress Imelda Staunton will play Queen Elizabeth II for the final run, "taking 'The Crown' into the 21st century," Peter said, per The Hollywood Reporter, replacing Olivia Colman (seasons 3-4), who took over for Claire Foy (seasons 1-2). "At the outset I had imagined 'The Crown' running for six seasons but now that we have begun work on the stories for season 5 it has become clear to me that this is the perfect time and place to stop," Peter explained. "I'm grateful to Netflix and Sony for supporting me in this decision." That means that the series will not cover recent events in the royal family, including "Megxit" and Prince Andrew's scandal-sparking friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Imelda most recently appeared in 2019's "Downton Abbey" movie alongside husband Jim Carter, who plays Mr. Carson.
Happy birthday to two Jordanian royals
Two members of Jordan's royal family celebrated birthdays on Jan. 30. King Abdullah II turned 58 and his youngest child with Queen Rania, Prince Hashem (bottom right), turned 15.
Former Belgian king's paternity battle comes to an end with acknowledgement that he has a fourth child
On Jan. 27, the former king of Belgium publicly confirmed that he is the biological father of artist and sculptor Delphine Boël, 51. In 2019, King Albert II, 85 — who abdicated in 2013 in favor of his son, the current King Philippe, 59 — finally agreed to take a DNA test after a seven-year legal war. Albert II wished "to put an end with dignity and honor to this painful procedure," his lawyer said in a statement released to Belgian media, as reported by CNN. Delphine's mother, Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps, had an affair with the former king during his marriage to Queen Paola of Belgium that resulted in Delphine's birth in 1968. Since they were not married, People magazine reported, Delphine is considered illegitimate and will not receive a title or join the line of succession. However, the former king's lawyer told CNN affiliate VTM News that Albert II will now include her in his will. "The king will treat all his children as equal," the lawyer said. "King Albert now has four children."
U.S. federal prosecutors reveal Prince Andrew is not cooperating in Jeffrey Epstein investigation
In November 2019, Britain's Prince Andrew made clear in a statement amid the scandal surrounding his friendship with convicted pedophile and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a New York jail cell last year, "I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations." But on Jan. 27, U.S. authorities publicly revealed that Andrew — who had to step back from royal duties in late 2019 in the wake of a disastrous TV interview in which he denied being intimate with one of Epstein's victims — has so far been uncooperative in prosecutors' criminal investigation into the disgraced financier's co-conspirators. "The Southern District of New York and the FBI have contacted Prince Andrew's attorneys and requested to interview Prince Andrew, and to date, Prince Andrew has provided zero cooperation," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman for the Southern District of New York said while standing on the doorstep of Epstein's former Manhattan residence, where Andrew has stayed, as reported by ABC News. "He publicly offered, indeed in a press release, to cooperate with law enforcement investigating the crimes committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his co-conspirators." In the wake of the surprising news, Britain's The Telegraph spoke to a source who claimed, "The duke is more than happy to talk to the FBI but he hasn't been approached by them yet."
Prince Charles makes first official visit to Israel on behalf of the British crown
On Jan. 23, Prince Charles arrived in Israel for the World Holocaust Forum, marking 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. His trip was significant as even though he's twice been in the country before (for the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres), this was his first ever official royal visit to the country. In 2019, Prince William became the first British royal ever to make an official visit to Israel. While there, Charles met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (pictured), visited with Holocaust survivors and also delivered a powerful speech in which he said in part, "The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims."
Two Monaco royals celebrate birthdays
Two Monegasque princesses celebrated birthdays in January. Princess Charlene of Monaco — the wife of the principality's reigning Prince Albert II — turned 42 on Jan. 25. On Jan. 23, Albert's sister, Princess Caroline of Hanover, turned 63. The same date also marked 21 years since Caroline married third husband Prince Ernst August of Hanover, but the couple wasn't celebrating: They reportedly split a decade later, though have yet to divorce.
Prince Charles urges world leaders to act on climate change, meets Greta Thunberg
Britain's Prince Charles, a longtime environmental advocate, delivered an impassioned speech about climate change at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, urging leaders "to evolve our economic model" and put "people and planet at the heart of global value creation." He spoke at length as he launched a new "Sustainable Markets Initiative" and concluded by telling the audience, "Everything I have tried to do, and urge, over the past 50 years has been done with our children and grandchildren in mind, because I did not want to be accused by them of doing nothing except prevaricate and deny the problem. Now of course, they are accusing us of exactly that. Put yourselves in their position, ladies and gentlemen. We simply cannot waste any more time — the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now." He also met 17-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg at the event and praised her work in an interview with CNN, gushing, "She's remarkable, she represents one of the main reasons why I've been trying to make all this effort all these years."
The Sussexes surpass the Cambridges on Instagram
We knew they were popular, but now they're really, really popular. The same day Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan launched their own Instagram account, @SussexRoyal, after splitting off from Prince William and Duchess Kate's @KensingtonRoyal page, the Sussexes broke a Guinness World Record for fastest account to hit 1 million followers (they did it in five hours and 45 minutes). On Jan. 22 — even in the wake of news that Harry and Meghan are exiting their roles as senior royals — they surpassed the number of followers that Britain's future king and queen can claim. As Town & Country wrote, "Both accounts now boast a whopping 11 million followers, but the Sussexes are just a smidge ahead with 11,038,255 to Will and Kate's 11,030,199," numbers that were accurate as of Jan. 22.
New animated satire series about Britain's royals coming to HBO Max
Fans of New York Times bestselling author Gary Janetti's Instagram page — which is famous for hilariously poking fun at Britain's royal family and their antics through the eyes of young Prince George — will love the former "Family Guy" writer and "Will & Grace" executive producer's newest project. On Jan. 21, HBO Max announced that it's greenlit a new satirical animated comedy from Gary and 20th Century Fox Television called "The Prince" that it describes as a series that "follows a cartoon 6-year-old Prince George spilling the royal 'tea' on his family, followers and the British monarchy." Gary (who's married to Hollywood stylist Brad Goreski), will voice George. Other stars with voice roles include Orlando Bloom as Prince Harry; Broadway star Condola Rashad as Duchess Meghan; "Game of Thrones" actor Iwan Rheon as Prince William; Lucy Punch as Duchess Kate; Frances De La Tour as Queen Elizabeth II; Tom Hollander as Prince Philip and Prince Charles; and Alan Cumming as George's fictional butler, Owen.
Grandson of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II seemingly trades on royal ties in Chinese milk commercial
Amid speculation about how Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan will earn a living once they break from Britain's royal family without exploiting their royal status, it emerged on Jan. 21 that the queen's eldest grandson, Peter Phillips, is shilling milk that comes from Jersey cows while seemingly trading on his royal ties. Peter, who's not a working royal, doesn't receive public funds and does not have a title — a decision his mother, Princess Anne, made when he was born — has been criticized for making a commercial for Shanghai-based Guangming Dairy, which is part of Bright Food Group, a state-owned food and beverage company in China. Sky News reported that Peter is identified in the ad — which features a palace-like estate, a historical-looking landau carriage and other aristocratic winks — as "British royal family member Peter Phillips." (See it here.)
Norway's future monarch marks a milestone birthday
Norway's future queen, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, celebrated her Sweet 16 birthday on Jan. 21. To mark the occasion, Norway's Royal Court released a beautiful new black-and-white photo of the teen, whose parents are Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Mette-Marit.
Prince Harry returns to his family in Canada, threatens legal action
On Jan. 20, two days after the queen announced the terms of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's spring exit from Britain's royal family — and after he appeared at several events in London still as a working royal — Prince Harry headed back to his family in Canada. The Duke of Sussex was photographed deplaning in Victoria, British Columbia, where he rejoined wife Duchess Meghan and son Archie. In the days that followed, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the couple had instructed their lawyers to send cease-and-desist letters to British media outlets that had published photos of Meghan, son Archie, their two dogs and protection officers walking in a Vancouver park earlier in the week threatening legal action if the outlets buy, publish or continue to publish what the royals believe are intrusive long-lens photos, USA Today reported.
The Countess of Wessex turns 55
Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex — the wife of Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex — turned 55 on Jan. 20. It was a working birthday: Sophie and Edward attended a royal reception for African leaders hosted by Prince William and Duchess Kate at London's Buckingham Palace to mark the UK-Africa Investment Summit.
Belgium's queen celebrates her birthday after a big anniversary
Also celebrating a birthday on Jan. 20? Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, who turned 47. The big day comes a little more than a month after the former speech therapist and King Philippe celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
Princes Harry and William are working to repair rift
On Jan. 20, the Sun tabloid reported that in the wake of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's decision to quit as senior members of Britain's royal family, Harry and brother Prince William have started working to repair their troubled relationship — a rift Harry confirmed in an October 2019 documentary. "William and Harry have spent time together privately … working on their relationship and discussing their future. It has been ground-breaking in terms of saving their bond as brothers and has been totally driven by them," a source told the Sun. "But [wives Duchess] Kate and [Duchess] Meghan, who was in Canada [during the brothers' talks], did join in with some of the talks on more than one occasion — which is another sign of a real thaw in their relationship. Things are better." According to the Sun's source, "They decided to cut out all the toxic people stirring around them to deal with each other man-to-man as brothers. Given Harry is now permanently moving away, there was a realization if they didn't sort things out now, they never would. Of course there have been serious differences in opinions but the family warmth is back. And they're sad they're going to be so far apart." Time will tell if the report — which also claims that Harry is feuding with his father, Prince Charles, following his exit as a working royal — proves to be true.
Prince Harry shares first personal comments on royal family exit
Prince Harry delivered a deeply personal and moving speech during a private Jan. 19 dinner for supporters of his Sentebale charity at an event hosted by The Caring Foundation in London where he spoke for the first time about his decision to leave royal life. "I want you to hear the truth from me, as much as I can share — not as a Prince, or a Duke, but as Harry, the same person that many of you have watched grow up over the last 35 years…" he said, going on to declare that though he and Meghan will be living outside Britain for the foreseeable future, "The U.K. is my home and a place that I love. That will never change." (Read his speech in full here.) Harry also seemed to hit back at media claims that their exit was Meghan's doing, telling his audience, "It brings me great sadness that it has come to this. The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back, is not one I made lightly." He also lamented what they had to give up due to what the monarch clearly decided were insurmountable protocol issues. "Our hope was to continue serving the queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible," he said, explaining that they hope to now live "a more peaceful life." Keep reading for another remarkable message in his speech…
Prince Harry's comments draw comparisons to Princess Diana's exiting-public-life speech
In his Jan. 19 speech at a private dinner for supporters of his Sentebale charity, Prince Harry also made some comments that, as Canadian celebrity news site Lainey Gossip pointed out, in many ways parallel the message delivered by his mother, the late Princess Diana, when she announced in December 1993 in the wake of intense attention and scrutiny (sound familiar?) that she was withdrawing from public life a year after Parliament announced her separation from Prince Charles. Harry told supporters, "You have given me an education about living. And this role has taught me more about what is right and just than I could have ever imagined." In Diana's speech — which she delivered during a luncheon for one of her patronages, the brain injury association Headway (seen here) — she told the audience, "I've been allowed to share your thoughts and dreams, your disappointments and your happiness. You have also given me an education. By teaching me more about life and living than any books or teachers could have done. My debt of gratitude to you all is immense."
Archie Mountbatten-Windsor's godparents revealed
On Jan. 19, Britain's Sunday Times reported that it had confirmed the identity of two of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor's godparents following Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's decision not to release any names after their son's christening in July 2019. (Other royals have traditionally publicly shared godparents' names.) According to the report, Tiggy Pettifer (née Legge-Bourke) — who served as Harry and brother Prince William's nanny when they were boys — is a godmother. Mark Dyer — a former equerry to Prince Charles to whom Harry grew close following the death of mother Princess Diana — is one of Archie's godfathers. (Tiggy and Mark are both seen here in 2006 when Harry was commissioned as an officer at Sandhurst Military Academy.) The Sunday Times previously reported that Harry's longtime friend Charlie van Straubenzee is also one of Archie's godfathers.
Buckingham Palace details terms of Sussexes' exit agreement
On Jan. 18 — just 10 days after Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan revealed they wanted to step away as senior members of the royal family — Buckingham Palace announced, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, that "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family." She went on to praise the couple and make it clear they remained "much loved members of my family" even as they were stepping back. In a second statement from the palace issued on behalf of Harry and Meghan, the main points of the agreement were laid out. "They understand that they are required to step back from Royal duties, including official military appointments. They will no longer receive public funds for Royal duties," the statement explained. "With The Queen's blessing, the Sussexes will continue to maintain their private patronages and associations." However, it also made clear that, despite their wishes otherwise, "they can no longer formally represent The Queen." They will keep but no longer use their HRH (His/Her Royal Highness) titles "as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family," the statement clarified. As for money? While it's expected that Prince Charles will continue to fund the couple from his private fortune, at least for now — "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their U.K. family home." The palace has repeatedly declined to comment on security arrangement or costs. Further, it was made known that these changes will take effect in the spring and will be evaluated in a year. (Read both statements in full here.)
2022 Invictus Games location revealed
On Jan. 15, Prince Harry announced that the 2022 Invictus Games will take place in Düsseldorf, Germany. In May 2020, the biennial event — in which an international delegation of wounded armed services personnel compete in nine sports — will take place in The Hague, Netherlands.
Four royals converge for "Sandringham Summit"
On Jan. 13, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry and future kings Prince Charles and Prince William all met on the queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, in what's been dubbed the "Sandringham Summit" to discuss Harry and Duchess Meghan's decision to leave their roles as senior royals. (Where was Meghan? After briefly returning to Britain from Canada early in the month to thank Canadian diplomats for their hospitality and to privately visit two of her patronages, Meghan had already flown back to Vancouver Island to be with son Archie, leaving Harry to continue negotiations on his own.) Following the afternoon meeting, the queen issues a wildly informal statement making it clear she would reluctantly yet fully support her grandson. "My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family," she wrote. "Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives. It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK. These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days."
The sultan of Oman dies at 79
Oman's royal leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, died on Jan. 10 following a cancer battle. He was 79. At the time of his passing, he was the Arab world's longest serving ruler: He spent nearly 50 years on the throne following a British-supported bloodless coup against his father. His cousin, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, was sworn in as his successor. World leaders, European royals including Britain's Prince Charles, Spain's King Felipe VI, Belgium's King Philippe, the Netherlands' King Willem-Alexander and more, as well as royals from the Arab world including the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait and the kings of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, all traveled to Oman to pay their respects.
Duchess Kate celebrates her birthday
Britain's Duchess Kate turned 38 on Jan. 9. People magazine reported that she and husband Prince William planned to celebrate by hosting some of their closest friends at Anmer Hall, their country home in Norfolk, England, near the queen's Sandringham estate, over the weekend that followed.
Denmark's royal twins celebrate their birthday
On Jan. 8, Denmark's royal twins, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine — the youngest of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary's four children — turned 9. To mark the happy occasion, the royals took to Instagram to share new photos of the twins taken by their mother. "Their Royal Highnesses Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine are 9 years old today. In connection with the birthday, it is a pleasure for the Crown Prince couple to share a number of new pictures of the Prince and Princess. The pictures have been taken in recent months and can be seen on the Royal House website," they captioned an adorable Instagram slideshow (which we've translated into English).
Bombshell "Megxit" announcement drops
On Jan. 8 after Britain's the Sun tabloid delivered a major scoop — it reported that Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan "are looking to move to Canada for a significant portion of this year as they actively consider their future role in the Royal Family" and that "long-term options being floated include the Sussexes relinquishing their HRH titles or relocating their office to Canada" — the couple dropped a bombshell announcement essentially confirming the leak while working to reclaim the narrative. "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. 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," they wrote in part on their @SussexRoyal Instagram account, adding, "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." They concluded what the British press dubbed "Megxit" by directing readers to their incredibly detailed new website, SussexRoyal.com, and explaining that "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." The queen was seemingly not amused, just a few hours later dropping a terse statement that read, "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through." Despite early reports claiming the royal family was blindsided by the Sussexes' news, trusted outlets and later the queen herself revealed that discussions had been ongoing for months.
A birthday month for Spain's kings
Princess Diana's niece Lady Kitty Spencer is engaged
On Jan. 4, MailOnline broke the news that Princess Diana's niece, Lady Kitty Spencer, is engaged to South Africa-born British multimillionaire fashion tycoon Michael Lewis, who heads the Foschini Group. Their relationship made headlines when they went public with their romance in 2019 in large part because of their nearly 32-year age difference: Kitty, a former model, is 29 while Michael celebrates his 61st birthday in January. He's also five years older than the bride-to-be's father, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, who is the late Princess of Wales' brother and the uncle of Prince William and Prince Harry. "Michael proposed to Kitty before Christmas," one of her friends told the Mail. "She's been in Cape Town for the holidays and told her mother and the rest of the family. Michael is loved by all of them. Despite his wealth, he's very humble and low key."
Norway's Princess Martha Louise and daughters lead mourners at funeral for former husband
The New Year started off on a sad note for Norway's royals. Princess Martha Louise's ex-husband, author and visual artist Ari Behn, was laid to rest in a funeral service at Oslo Cathedral on Jan. 3. He took his own life on Christmas Day 2019 at age 47. People magazine reported that the Norwegian princess mourned her ex, whom she divorced in 2016 after 14 years of marriage, along with their three daughters, Maud, 16, Leah, 14, and Emma, 11; her parents, King Harald and Queen Sonja; and her brother, Crown Prince Haakon, and his entire family. Sweden's Prince Daniel and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands also attended the funeral, as did Ari's grieving girlfriend, lawyer Ebba Rysst Heilman, and his parents along with hundreds of mourners.
A new decade, a new family portrait
Behold, the future of the British monarchy! On Jan. 3, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II released a new photo that featured her posing with three future kings: son Prince Charles, grandson Prince William and great-grandson Prince George. "To mark the start of a new decade, a portrait has been released of Her Majesty The Queen and Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and Prince George. The portrait was taken by Ranald Mackechnie in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace," the photo was captioned on Her Majesty's official Instagram page. Charles and William released the same photo on social media.
David Foster reveals he helped set up Sussexes with Canadian home
Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan famously took six weeks off from royal duties at the end of 2019 and practically disappeared. After they surfaced on Canada's Vancouver Island in December, details about their stay began to emerge. Then on Jan. 3, music producer David Foster confessed to the Daily Mail that he's the person who put the royal couple in touch with the owner of the $14 million secluded waterfront estate in North Saanich where they've been staying. David confirmed that the owner is a friend of his, though he declined to share the pal's identity. David explained that he made the introduction after learning from singer-actress wife Katharine McPhee — who was in musicals with Meghan when they were teens growing up in Los Angeles — that they were looking for a discreet place to stay with son Archie. "I felt honored that I was able to help Meghan there, because I'm a Canadian and we're a Commonwealth country, we're the crown's. It's important to us, so I grew up with that kind of sentiment," he told the Daily Mail. "I was really happy to be able to help them to find a respite just to take a little time off." He continued, "The owner has allowed this to happen through me, and I was happy to facilitate. I don't know what their next plans are, but I know that it was reinvigorating for them to spend some downtime. This is a great testament to my hometown of Victoria that they were able to go under the radar for so long."
A Swedish princess breaks her leg skiing
Ouch! On Jan. 2, the head of Sweden's Information Department at the Royal Court confirmed to the country's Aftonbladet newspaper that Princess Estelle, 7, broke her leg in a skiing accident in the Alps while her family was on a New Year's vacation. She was taken to a hospital for X-rays and ended up in a cast and on crutches, the report confirmed. The injury meant her mother, Crown Princess Victoria, could not travel to Norway to attend the Jan. 3 funeral of close friend Ari Behn, the former husband of Norway's Princess Martha Louise. Estelle's father, Prince Daniel, however, did make it to Oslo to pay his respects.
Denmark's queen hosts annual New Year's diplomatic corps reception
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark hosted her annual New Year's reception at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on Jan. 2 to honor members of the diplomatic corps including Supreme Court judges, the Royal Guard and the Guard's Regiment's Officer Corps. She was accompanied by her son, Crown Prince Frederik, and his wife, Crown Princess Mary, who made headlines when she rewore a glamorous white gown by designer Birgit Hallstein for the fourth time in five years, MailOnline reported. This time, the princess, who's been outspoken about rewearing and repurposing gowns from her royal wardrobe, paired it with a thin pink belt and South Sea pearls.