Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex came back from their royal time-off with a big announcement: They're stepping down from their senior royal roles and plan to split their time between  North America and the United Kingdom.

"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," the couple said in an announcement Wednesday issued by Buckingham Palace.

"We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages."

It was stunning news, even for the frequently surprising Sussexes. Their announcement said they were encouraged by their many supporters in Britain to make this move. 

"It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment," the statement said. 

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“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. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. 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. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. 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. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” - The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio) Image © PA

A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) onJan 8, 2020 at 10:33am PST

American-born Meghan, 38, has close family in California and close friends in Canada, so their desire to spend more time in North America suggests this plan might be designed to help her stay in touch with her friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic.

"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son (8-month-old Archie) with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity," the statement said. 

"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. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”

It is not immediately clear what the couple means by becoming "financially independent." In their royal roles, Harry and Meghan are supported in part by his father, Prince Charles, and in part through the taxpayers of Britain, and in part through his own resources, having inherited a substantial sum from his mother, the late Princess Diana's, estate. 

Harry, 35, and Meghan just returned to Britain after six weeks off at the end of 2019, following months of exasperation with their media coverage and widespread mocking in the media for such issues as their use of private planes while campaigning against climate change. 

Both had expressed publicly, in media interviews, their unhappiness as 2019 wound down: He said he was in a "different place" from brother Prince William at the moment, and she lamented the unstinting media scrutiny. Both have filed lawsuits against major newspapers complaining about tabloid practices.

It was a dramatic change from the happy days following their May 2018 wedding at Windsor Castle, when the two were the toast of the United Kingdom and hailed as the future faces of the modern royal family.