Ever since the pair’s 2018 fairytale wedding, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have been controversial figures in the British media. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their departure from the British royal family, making one thing clear: Buckingham Palace will never be the same. William and Harry, the dynamic prince duo, have been a package deal since they were young boys growing up in the public eye. The notorious feud between their parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, further endeared the boys in the media’s mind. Not only were they princes, but they were suddenly children of a highly public divorce. However, through Markle and Harry’s January schism with the monarchy, Harry is more distant then ever from his brother.
Tabloids, Britons and pundits alike have launched an unprecedented amount of criticism at Markle in particular. Some skeptics express distaste for her fashion and the way she holds herself while others seem to nitpick every gesture and comment. There was also an interview with ITV in which Markle expressed her frustration with dealing with the British press during her pregnancy. This soundbite caused her quite a bit of trouble with the media because they made it sound like she was ungrateful for all the attention and positive aspects of being a member of the royal family.
Even before she was officially made part of the family, Markle first raised concerns when she and Harry started dating in 2016. Due to her identity as a biracial actress, she was unconventional fit with the royals to say the least. Perhaps her status as an American divorcee is a reminder of a much darker time in the British monarchy when Edward VIII abdicated as an act of love for Wallis Simpson in 1936. Regardless, Markle seems to be inheriting stigma from previous contentious additions to the Windsors.
While Markle is certainly the person of the moment, she is not the first newcomer that has rocked the ship that is the British royal family, including Wallis Simpson, Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson, just to name a few. In general, there is a certain set of rules that potential suitors must adhere to in order to be deemed acceptable by the monarchy. One of those requirements excludes people who have been divorced as it is traditionally considered distasteful. This point in particular has had British traditionalists raging against Markle and her past marriage to Trevor Engelson.
Meghan, Diana and Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton, have faced stark differences in how the media has treated them. For example, William and Kate’s 2011 wedding captured the collective imagination of the world. Over 23 million people tuned in to watch the Westminster Abbey ceremony. And while Kate had a handful of fashion faux pas and other missteps, the media was generally friendly to her. That is, until 2012 when British tabloid Closer published topless photos of Kate on her and William’s estate in Provence. However, after William and Kate sued and began having children, the press was much more forgiving to them.
Even though Diana will go down in history as one of the most beloved royal family members of all time, she still faced her fair share of media harassment. She became known as the “People’s Princess,” working with organizations to combat HIV/AIDS, landmines and cancer. Ultimately, Diana’s extreme following contributed to her fatal 1997 car accident while trying to flee paparazzi in Paris. Given the press’s overall scrutiny of the modern royal family, it should be no surprise that entering the fold would be incredibly difficult.
That being said, Meghan has experienced a disproportionate response to her attempts to modernize the monarchy. It also goes without saying that the monarchy is entirely white — minus Markle and her son, Archie, of course. Both the whiteness of the monarchy and the fervent reaction to Markle feed into a larger history of British colonialism and oppression of people of color. Although the United Kingdom does not have the same relationship with race that the United States does, there is a vast history of invasion, conquest and spheres of influence. Just her presence alone in the family is monumental.
In her pre-marriage life, Markle was also avidly political, supporting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election and describing Donald Trump as “misogynistic” and “divisive.” Members of the royal family are apolitical by design, so her passions for politics and activism ceased well before her marriage. Royals do not endorse, nor do they berate public officials; they are expected to greet and entertain world leaders, not critique them.
One of the ironies of “Megxit,” as news outlets have now dubbed Prince Harry and Markle’s split from the royal family, is that both of Diana’s sons have supported the idea of modernizing the monarchy. Their mother’s lasting impact on them is immeasurable; their desire to humanize the royal family and cater to the everyman is without a doubt a trait inherited from Diana. Despite this parallel, it seems that Markle, as a black woman, has received a higher level of criticism than her royal peers.
Through their separation from the Queen and the rest of the royal family, Meghan and Harry are in their own way redefining what it means to be royalty. While William and Kate are somewhat forced to conform due to being in the direct line of succession, Harry and Meghan’s roles in the family are sidelined. Why shouldn’t they be able to live their lives separately? Even though there is definitely an element of understanding what you are signing on for, no one can blame a young couple in love. Just because one is born into a certain set of circumstances does not mean that their entire lives should be closed off from other possibilities. By advocating for themselves and their child, Harry and Meghan are just trying to make the healthiest decision for themselves. Plus, based on the level of harassment they have experienced, we shouldn’t blame them. If there is anyone to blame, it is the British tabloids.