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Royal memorabilia featuring Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is displayed for sale in a store near Buckingham Palace, in London, on Jan. 10, 2020.


As the Queen and other members of the Royal Family scramble to resolve the growing crisis over the future roles of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, documents have surfaced that show the couple spent months planning their break from royal duties.

The Queen has reportedly ordered her staff to move quickly to address the couple’s demand for greater freedom and more financial independence. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said on Wednesday that they wanted to step back from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family and divide their time between Britain and North America. The announcement caught the Queen by surprise and has prompted widespread criticism in Britain.

As the controversy swirled, news broke on Friday that Meghan had headed back to Canada to escape the media glare. The couple had only recently returned to Britain, having spent much of the Christmas holidays on Vancouver Island with their eight-month-old son Archie. They sang the praises of that visit during a meeting with Canadian diplomats in London on Tuesday. Meghan, 38, is believed to have gone back to Canada to be with Archie, whom news reports said had been left with her friend, Toronto-based stylist Jessica Mulroney.

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Harry, 35, has remained in Britain to continue discussions with the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. It’s unclear if he will join his wife and son in Canada but he is slated to play host to the draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup at Buckingham Palace on Thursday.

Journalist Tom Bradby, who is close to the couple, said the royal rift came after Harry and Meghan were told there were changes coming to the royal household. "The couple’s view was they came back and wanted to talk to the family about their plans,” Mr. Bradby told ITV on Thursday. "It had been made clear to them in their absence there was going to be a slimmed-down monarchy and they weren’t really a part of it.”

Documents show that the couple have spent months making plans to strike out on their own.

Last July they announced they were withdrawing from the Royal Foundation, a charity they jointly headed with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and planned to create a separate charity. No details were given at the time but newly released documents from Britain’s Intellectual Property Office show the couple had already registered “Sussex Royal” as a trademark for more than 100 products and services.

Among the items listed were clothing, magazines, newspapers, post cards, calendars as well as “marketing and promotion of charitable campaigns,” “cultural activities,” “personal development training” and “arranging and conducting of conferences." They’d also registered “Sussex Royal The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.” This week they unveiled a slick website that included details of their charity work, which is largely tied to the Commonwealth.

Robert Lacey, a British historian who is a consultant to the Netflix series The Crown, said the couple could be considering creating a charitable foundation along the lines of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and basing it in Canada. “I think it would be an immense and very imaginative expansion of British royal philanthropy,” he said.

Mr. Lacey added that working for the foundation would give them financial independence and they could still perform some royal duties. “If it’s a philanthropic foundation based in a Commonwealth monarchy like Canada, why should that not link in with the Royal Family?” he said.

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Canadian tax rules make setting up a global foundation complicated but not impossible. The Mastercard Foundation relocated to Toronto in 2007 and it concentrates on programs in Africa. While the foundation was created in 2006 through a donation of shares from Mastercard Inc., it now operates independently from the financial company and has US$17.4-billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2018.

Penny Junor, an author who has written several books on the Royal Family, doubted the idea would work. The couple would have to raise money for the foundation, which could put them in conflicts of interests. And whatever money they earned from the charity could be controversial. “There are pitfalls, there are dangers,” she said. “I don’t see how if you are working for the Royal Family at all you can become financially independent.”

The couple hasn’t said how they plan to earn an income from their new roles. And it’s unclear if they will keep their royal titles.

The bulk of their current income comes from the Duchy of Cornwall, a private company set up in 1337 to provide money for the immediate heir to the throne.

The Duchy has about £1-billion ($1.7-billion) worth of holdings in agriculture, real estate and financial investments and it’s headed by Charles. Last year, Charles received around £21.6-million from the company.

He gave Harry and his brother, William, about £5-million each. It’s not clear if Charles would continue funding Harry at the same level.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect number for the assets of Mastercard Foundation.

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