Archbishop of Canterbury says being a royal is 'life sentence without parole' – after Harry said he was 'trapped'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4 min read
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) receives new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (L) at Buckingham Palace in central London on February 26, 2013 after his act of 'Homage' to the Queen, one of the formal stages of his appointment before he begins his public ministry. The new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, a former oil executive who has risen swiftly up the ranks of the Church of England, will be enthroned at Canterbury on March 21. AFP PHOTO / POOL / ANTHONY DEVLIN        (Photo credit should read Anthony Devlin/AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Buckingham Palace in 2013, the year he started in the role. (Anthony Devlin/AFP)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has compared being a royal to a "life sentence", after he was drawn into a row about when the official wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place.

His comments come weeks after the royal couple's interview with Oprah Winfrey in which Harry said he was "trapped" in the royal institution. 

Justin Welby, the Church of England's top leader, had to break his silence on when he formally married Harry and Meghan after she claimed they had been wed in a secret garden ceremony a few days before their St George's Chapel marriage.

Speaking to the Financial Times as he prepares to take a sabbatical, Welby's sympathy for the prince's situation was apparent. 

The Archbishop said: "It's life without parole, isn't it? If you go back to the 1930s, Edward VIII – he was still a celeb and followed everywhere once he'd abdicated. We expect them to be superhuman."

TOPSHOT - Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (R) and US actress Meghan Markle (L) stand facing each other hand-in-hand before Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (C) during their wedding ceremony in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018. (Photo by Owen Humphreys / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read OWEN HUMPHREYS/AFP via Getty Images)
Harry and Meghan before Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during their wedding ceremony in St George's Chapel, on 19 May 2018. (Owen Humphreys/AFP)

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Professor Adrian Hilton tweeted: "A poor choice of words. Being born royal isn't a choice, but it isn't an institution which 'traps' people (to use Harry's word) in a prison. Most of the Royal Family choose dutiful service. Those who don't are free to make of their lives what they wish."

Richard Fitzwilliams, royal commentator, told the MailOnline: "It is perfectly clear what the archbishop means when he says being a member of the royal family is like 'serving life without parole'.

"It is also a singularly inappropriate way of describing, for example, the position of the Queen where her dedication to duty as a symbol of national unity has been beneficial to the whole nation.

"In an ideal world she might well have preferred the life of a countrywoman with her dogs and horses but I doubt, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she will feel that comparing her situation and that of her family to prisoners is appropriate."

Watch: Prince Harry says he has tried to help 'trapped' brother Prince William

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The Telegraph's acting royal correspondent, Victoria Ward said Welby's comment was "apparently backing Harry and Meghan's decision to break away".

Phil Dampier, a former royal correspondent, said it was "a silly thing to say". 

The Archbishop stayed silent for several weeks amid confusion over Meghan's claim that she and Prince Harry had a quiet wedding in their back garden days before their huge 19 May 2018 ceremony, which was watched by millions around the world.

He eventually confirmed that the Windsor wedding was the real ceremony. Under English law, there needs to be a certain number of witnesses, as well as notice of the wedding date ahead of time, for the ceremony to be legal.

A spokesman for the couple had previously clarified that she was referring to an informal exchange of vows.

During the 7 March interview with Winfrey, Harry said: "I was trapped but I didn't know I was trapped. Trapped within the system like the rest of the family. My father and my brother are trapped. They don't get to leave and I have huge compassion for that."

Friends of Prince William later told The Sunday Times that he does not feel trapped, saying he "has a path set for him and he’s completely accepting of his role". 

While Welby has not responded to criticism of his comments about royal life, he did send an apology on Twitter to one of the Church of England's lawyers admitting he made an "easy quip" during the interview which laid blame on them making "all this so difficult". 

He had said lawyers were making changes like getting married outside hard, but later tweeted: "I’m sorry. I should have chosen my words more carefully - I really meant to say simply that we are a complex organisation, but reached for an easy quip."

Watch: Archbishop of Canterbury confirms Duke and Duchess of Sussex's 'legal wedding' date