When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle moved to the United States, it caused a media frenzy: not just because of his high-profile departure (months earlier he’d made a very public stepping-down announcement) but also because of his chosen country. He was decamping Europe and his blueblood brethren for a place with no monarchy or aristocracy, one where his fancy titles translated to no tangible positions or inheritance. He was, in a way, ditching his old life for a new one.
Years earlier, another royal had done the exact same thing: Princess Madeleine of Sweden.
Prince Harry and Princess Madeleine of Sweden were born two years, and a sea, apart. He was the second child of Prince Charles of Wales; she the third child of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Due to their birth order, neither one was expected to hold any sort of throne—they were the spares to the heirs. So while their older siblings had a strict path to follow, Harry and Madeline both had more leeway.
This could get them into trouble. He was dubbed the Party Prince by the British tabloids; she, the Party Princess by Swedish ones. Although Harry’s 20-something scandals seem to outnumber Madeleine’s (he dressed up as a Nazi for a costume party and was caught partying naked in Vegas), she was a fixture on Stockholm’s nightclub scene.
Both had long-term partners who they split from in 2010: Harry dated Chelsea Davy on and off for six years, whereas Madeleine was engaged to Swedish attorney Jonas Bergstrom. (She ended it after rumors that he cheated on her during a ski trip.) Harry stayed in the United Kingdom after his breakup, taking on more responsibility within the British royal family. Madeleine, however, fled to New York to heal her broken heart.
She worked for the nonprofit World Childhood Foundation and kept out of the spotlight. That’s where she met Christopher O’Neill, a British-American banker.
In 2013, O’Neill proposed. The announcement was low-key, for royal standards: just a simple video on the monarchy’s official website. The two wed in Stockholm at the Royal Chapel. O’Neill declined any royal rank, kept his American citizenship and his job. Although he married into the Swedish royal family, he decided not to join it.
In 2016, Harry met his own successful American: actor Meghan Markle. After the two got engaged in November 2017, Markle announced during an interview with the BBC that she was quitting her television show, Suits, to become a working royal.
Both couples’ children do not have titles and therefore will be considered private citizens. The Sussexes chose to skip one for their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, whereas Madeleine’s father removed her children to support a slimmed-down monarchy. Madeleine agreed with the decision: “Earlier today, the court announced that Leonore, Nicolas, and Adrienne will no longer belong to the royal house,” she wrote on her Instagram. “This change has been planned for a long time. Chris and I think it’s good that our children are now getting a greater opportunity to shape their own lives as private individuals in the future.”
In 2018, Madeleine and her family moved from London to live in Florida full-time. “The time and opportunity for the United States is good for the family when the children are still in preschool age,” read a press release. Since then, they’ve lived a quiet and private life. Two years later, Harry and Markle moved to Montecito, California.
As the Sussexes carve out their new American life, can they learn anything from Madeleine and Chris, the royals who moved before them? There are certainly some differing circumstances: The media spotlight shines much brighter on the British royals than the Swedish ones, allowing Madeleine and Christopher to achieve a level of normalcy that is perhaps unfathomable for global superstars Harry and Markle.
But there is something to be said about some of their other actions: While the couple still engage in Swedish-related advocacy work, make some public appearances for the royal family, and actively post on social media, they also still live fairly regular lives. O’Neill has a day job, and Madeleine is heavily involved in her children’s schooling: “It’s a full-time job just being a parent of a schoolchild there!” she said in a recent interview.
Markle, for one, is hitting the ground running as an activist, speaking out against voter suppression and supporting women’s voting rights. And perhaps embracing this new role—one that champions a feminist, American cause, at that—can help her transition from a highly visible British royal to a different type of public figure whose life won’t be over-scrutinized. Harry has not yet indicated what, exactly, he is going to do in California. But once he does, perhaps he too can chart a different path. Choosing an identity that is different from your royal one, it seems, is of the utmost importance.