While it may be hard to believe, it’s been less than three years since Meghan Markle exploded onto the world stage and her relationship with Prince Harry first went viral (it was November of 2016). But in that short time, Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, has become the poster child for what racist, misogynist and emotional bullying looks like on a global scale.
Meghan’s early days with Prince Harry came with your run-of-the-mill media treatment: Reporters dug through her life, looked under every rock, interviewed anyone and everyone she had ever met and tracked her every move. But things took a dark turn when her past marriage, her biracial background, and even her mother Doria Ragland’s living conditions became part of the coverage. One gleeful DailyMail article detailed the gang activity near Ragland’s home, all while comparing Meghan’s average American upbringing with Harry’s posh lifestyle.
Since then, the constant and frenzied tabloid coverage of all things Meghan has kept the fire going. Anonymous royal “insiders” painted her as a bridezilla before the royal wedding; rumors that she was a demanding boss earned her the moniker of the “Difficult Duchess;” suddenly she was responsible for the rift between Harry and Prince William; and most importantly, she was supposedly waging an all-out war with the potential future Queen of England — Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. In short, if the monarchy toppled tomorrow, it would be a villainous Meghan standing on the ashes of centuries of British rule. An American, a former actress, a divorcée who will will make history when she births the first biracial royal in line to the throne… trolls latched onto anything they could.
Unfortunately, things haven’t slowed down since Meghan and Harry revealed her pregnancy in late 2018. In fact, they’ve only gotten worse. Meghan has been vilified for nearly every decision she has made as an expectant mom, from her shoes to the way she cradles her pregnant belly. And that’s not even mentioning the conspiracy theory that she’s faking the pregnancy.
The list of attacks is as absurd as it is absurdly long, and it’s gotten so grotesque, a slew of Meghan and Harry’s über-famous celebrity friends have come to her defense in the media. George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey, among others, have spoken out about the duchess’ character and the harmful and unfair treatment she has been receiving from the press and the public alike.
But Meghan is not the first royal woman to fall victim to this kind of treatment. Kate Middleton, Sarah Ferguson, and Ferguson’s two daughters, Princess Eugenie and Beatrice, have all endured a trial by fire in the public eye. Not to mention how viciously the late Princess Diana was hounded for most of her public life and what Meghan’s step-mom in law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall went through before her eventual happy ending with Prince Charles.
In addition to nearly two decades of negative tabloid press of the same sexist fashion as what Meghan experienced, Kate has also endured the added stress of having her nude body splashed across tabloids. Even after dragging French tabloid Closer to court for publishing topless photos of her on a 2012 vacation to France, Kate’s bare bottom was then photographed after a gust of wind blew up her dress during a 2014 royal tour of Australia. The photos were immediately published in the German newspaper Bild. One would think Kate has earned enough respect to get better treatment now, but no: The duchess is currently embroiled in a scandal alleging Prince William cheated on her while she was pregnant with Prince Louis.
Fergie’s short lived marriage to Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth II’s third child, was beset with rumors of infidelity, attacks on her expenses, and worst of all, abusive body-shaming when she was dubbed “Duchess of Pork” by the media. Following her divorce in 1992, things got even worse after paparazzi published photos of a topless Fergie with American banker John Brian.
Fergie and Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and the newly married Eugenie, have weathered similar storms. Aside from enduring vile body-shaming all their lives, the sisters were also turned into a meme following big cousin Prince William’s wedding to Kate in 2011. The experience led the princesses to turn to anti-bullying activism, a cause they work closely with to this day.
With so much experience with bullying — and recognizing that the attacks on Meghan carry a much more sinister and racist undertone — why aren’t the women of Windsor coming to Meghan’s defense? Why are they staying mum?
The short answer is that the same prohibitive royal protocol keeping them from defending themselves also ties their hands when it comes to Meghan. Steeped in centuries of rules, the monarchy is nothing without its customs and code of conduct. But, if one looks closely, there are telltale signs the whole family (but especially the younger generation of royals) has rallied around their newest family member — at times silently breaking with royal tradition, and at other times pulling the equivalent of lighting a fire under the rulebook.
Aside from Kensington Palace’s rare but strong statement condemning hateful speech about Meghan, the royal family have also announced new guidelines on social media conduct, threatening trolls with legal action if they continue to flood the palace’s social channels with negative comments. Then, Kensington Palace did the unthinkable and denied the rumors of a feud between Kate and Meghan, something they refused to do when Diana and Fergie were accused of the same thing.
In a family all about optics, Prince Charles’s welcoming and warm treatment of Ragland on Harry and Meghan’s wedding day spoke volumes, as did the fact that he beamed with joy as he walked his future daughter-in-law halfway down the aisle. And with every appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony, fellow royals, especially the women, can be seen being extremely warm and engaging with the duchess.
And, of course, who could forget the most important moment of all: Meghan and the Queen’s giggle fest during their first solo function together. Images of the two royals chitchatting and laughing went viral, removing all doubt about how the longest-serving British monarch feels about her granddaughter-in-law.
With Baby Sussex’s impending arrival, there’s no doubt the rumors and allegations are about to get even more personal and hurtful. And as long as a rigid system controls every word out of Kensington Palace and Frogmore Cottage, Meghan and the rest of the royals will have to turn a blind eye to most of what is said about them. But not all harassment will be swept under the carpet; Meghan and Harry are leading the charge for the rest of the family, making it crystal-clear what they’ll tolerate and what they won’t stand for. And the rest of the royals are right behind them.