During her interview with Oprah alongside husband Prince Harry, Meghan Markle said: “There is an active role that the Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us." She's referring to the institution of the royal family, but if you haven't heard the term "The Firm" before, you're not alone. Reportedly often used by Prince Philip to describe the family he married into, "The Firm" is a darker and somewhat more cynical term than "The Crown," the term for the royal family that the titular Netflix series used.
"The Firm" is one of the more derisive nicknames for the royal family—but it's reportedly the one that the family itself sometimes uses. In The King's Speech, Colin Firth notes in his role as King George VI: "We're not a family, we're a firm"—a line reportedly spoken by the real King George VI. In truth, the royal family is both: a sprawling business with wide-ranging financial ties, and also a large family that, like any family, has suffered up and downs through generations.
What does "The Firm" mean?
The phrase "The Firm" is used to mean two things:
- The royal family as a brand that is worth billions in assets and to the British economy;
- The specific members of the royal family whose job it is to make sure the brand remains strong.
Royal biographer Penny Junor used the term as the title of her book The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor. The blurb reads: "However you look at it, the royal family is a big business, though one with more ups and downs than the stock market. Prince Philip calls it "The Firm," and all the royal executives and their powerful associates are supposed to make every effort to avoid even a hint of scandal that could diminish the reputation of the family business."
It's true that the royal family has plenty of fiscal power. Their unique brand has been valued at £44 billion, or about $61 billion, taking both their assets and their worth to the British economy into account. It's also true that their reputation impacts both their financial standing and, to an extent, the country's: some years, the "Kate Middleton effect" has been valued at £1 billion ($1.6 billion) for the U.K. fashion industry. But first and foremost, the royal family regards itself as committing to a "life of service"—a term that became a lightning rod for tension in recent statements between Buckingham Palace and Meghan and Harry—rather than a brand or a business.
In private, even the Queen is thought to use the term, per Newsweek, and the entire job of the royal family's PR team is to make sure "The Firm" remains viable. But the royal family never describes itself as a brand—or anything other than a group of people who are "service"-oriented—in interviews, so it's a big deal for Meghan and Harry to refer to the institution by that label instead of the myriad other phrases she could have used.
Royal historian Edward Owens, author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media, and the British Public, told Oprah Mag: "Meghan’s words capture the impersonal nature of this PR operation: the monarchy have demonstrated a real ruthlessness in ensuring their survival over the last one hundred years as well as the survival of their wealth and privilege."
The nickname "The Firm" is both coldly impersonal and very specific: When the royal family talks about who is in "The Firm," they're referring to the key members of the royal family tasked with making sure the brand continues to thrive; is untarnished by bad press; and, therefore, remain a financial behemoth. Which brings me to...
What is the "Firm of Eight"?
If you've heard the term "the firm," it's likely in regard to the "firm of eight," the name for the group of royals reportedly denoted by the Queen to be the core of the royal family in 2021. In December, following a difficult year—the coronavirus outbreak; the allegations in regard to Prince Andrew; Meghan and Harry quitting as senior royals—the Queen reportedly picked a "firm of eight" to represent the royal family formally going forward.
As for who's in the "firm of eight":
- The Queen
- Prince Edward
- Sophie (Countess of Wessex)
- Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge)
- Prince William
- Prince Charles
- Camilla (Duchess of Cornwall)
- Princess Anne
Notably absent: Harry and Meghan; Philip, who has retired from royal duties; Prince Andrew; and the royal great-grandchildren, who are considered too young to officially represent the royal family.
Are "The Firm" and "The Institution" the same thing?
Meghan, Harry, and Oprah all used a few different terms to refer to the royal family in the tell-all interview. Among them: "The Firm," which was used multiple times; and "The Institution," which sounds like the Mafia but actually is just another word for the British royal family. It means essentially the same thing as "The Firm"—a group of people tasked with propping up the brand and all that it represents.
By using those terms throughout the interview, we can assume that Meghan and Harry to shed light on the private motives of the royal family, namely their fight continue to exist, and thrive, as a contemporary brand. The implicit subtext: That "The Firm" is willing to steamroll anything who might get in the way of that.