Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s step back from the royal family came as a shock — but should it have? Since Meghan and Harry became the Sussex royals, they’ve flouted tradition often, insisting on additional privacy measures and outright refusing royal customs that didn’t suit them. Between their inclination to do things differently and the flagrant criticism of Meghan in the UK media, it makes perfect sense that the couple would decide to part ways with the rest of the royals. In fact, if you look closely at the Sussex duo’s actions over the past year, there are plenty of signs that they were planning an exit from the royal family.
While Meghan and Harry have been floating the idea of operating independently for quite some time, we’d say the real shift started happening once baby Archie was born. The couple’s concerns for their own privacy and quality of life may not have been enough to take this drastic step — but when it came to their child, they realized they needed to make a change.
Here are all the signs the Sussex non-royals had this step in mind.
March 2019: Meghan & Harry Make a Bid for Independence
In March of last year, Meghan and Harry reportedly petitioned for independence from Buckingham Palace in order to create their own global “Sussex brand” of philanthropy. A source told the Sunday Times that Harry and Meghan were asking to be “entirely independent,” but Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles shot them down due to “institutional structure that doesn’t allow that kind of independence.”
May 2019: Meghan Refuses to Take Post-Delivery Photos with Archie
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Today The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are delighted to share their first public moment as a family. They are so incredibly grateful for the warm wishes and support they’ve received from everyone around the world, since welcoming their son two days ago. Photo cred: Chris Allerton ©️SussexRoyal
There’s a grand, old tradition in the royal family of taking photos on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital — hours after giving birth to a royal baby. Princess Diana did it with Harry and William, and Kate did it with Charlotte, George, and Louis.
But when it was Meghan’s turn, she didn’t even entertain the notion of getting dressed in full hair and make-up to pose for photos the day she gave birth (nor should she have). She reportedly “felt sorry” for Kate when she saw those photos, and instead staged her own Archie photoshoot to a time that suited her.
This may not seem like a big deal — but when every royal baby for generations has been introduced to the public this way, you need a serious spine to say no.
June 2019: Meghan & Harry Split From Prince William & Kate Middleton’s Charity
In June, Meghan and Harry took another step that set the rumor mill swirling about their future in the royal family. They decided to split from the Royal Foundation, the charity they had been running with William and Kate.
“Later this year The Royal Foundation will become the principal charitable and philanthropic vehicle for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” a statement read at the time. “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will establish their own new charitable foundation with transitional operating support from The Royal Foundation.”
In hindsight, this structural shift makes sense and paved the way for Meghan and Harry to continue their nonprofit work independently from the royal family.
July 2019: Meghan & Harry Insist on a Private Christening for Archie
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This morning, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was christened in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle at an intimate service officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are so happy to share the joy of this day with members of the public who have been incredibly supportive since the birth of their son. They thank you for your kindness in welcoming their first born and celebrating this special moment. Their Royal Highnesses feel fortunate to have enjoyed this day with family and the godparents of Archie. Their son, Archie, was baptised wearing the handmade replica of the royal christening gown which has been worn by royal infants for the last 11 years. The original Royal Christening Robe, made of fine Honiton lace lined with white satin, was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1841 and first worn by her eldest daughter. It was subsequently worn for generations of Royal christenings, including The Queen, her children and her grandchildren until 2004, when The Queen commissioned this handmade replica, in order for the fragile historic outfit to be preserved, and for the tradition to continue. Photo credit: Chris Allerton ©️SussexRoyal
In another Archie-motivated break from tradition, Harry and Meghan declined to allow press at their christening for Archie (again, a different approach from both Kate and Diana). Once again, the media was incensed, with royal expert Ingrid Seward blaming Harry for the decision: “I think this is quite Harry-led and it is putting Meghan in a very difficult position.”
Unfortunately, this refusal to allow press photos also further fueled rumors that Archie’s real birthdate was being kept a secret — and that he was actually two weeks older than the Sussexes claimed. Another good reason to step out of the public eye: avoiding insane rumors like this about your baby.
September 2019: Meghan Gets Back in Touch with Hollywood for Vogue UK Cover
In September, Meghan guest-edited an edition of Vogue UK, highlighting 15 “forces for change,” including Hollywood stars like Salma Hayek, Laverne Cox, Jameela Jamil, and Jane Fonda. The cover was criticized for being “not white enough” and for proving that Meghan cared more about celebrity than being royal — and while both criticisms are clearly absurd (she wasn’t even on the cover!), they may have had a small point. Clearly, Meghan missed doing work outside the scope of her royal duties.
October 2019: Meghan Opens Up About the Pressures of the Spotlight
Documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey offered new insight into how the Sussex couple was feeling toward the end of the year — and many noted one quote from the Duchess in particular.”
“Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging. And then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman, it’s a lot,” she told ITV’s Tom Bradby. “Thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m okay.”
So, to recap. Going into the end of 2019, Meghan was feeling attacked by the media in her most vulnerable state as the mother of a newborn, and abandoned by those meant to be checking in on her welfare. Hmm…that exit doesn’t seem so sudden now, does it?
December 2019: Meghan & Harry Skip Christmas with the Royal Family
Finally, in the clearest sign that something was amiss, Harry and Meghan skipped out on all the royal family’s Christmas traditions and spent the holiday as their own little family instead. Even more suspiciously, that “holiday away” soon turned into a full-scale, six-week vacation — at least 11 days of which were spent in Canada with Meghan’s mom Doria Ragland.
Since the Sussexes announced their intention to step back in January 2020, it seems clear that they were getting themselves settled in Canada as the year came to an end. The only remaining question is how much the rest of the family knew about any of this. By all accounts, they were taken off guard when Meghan and Harry made the official announcement — so, did they decide to enact this plan in secret back when their independence bid was denied a year ago? Or have all these factors built up over time, until they couldn’t take it anymore?
We may never know what was the final straw for Meghan and Harry. But when we look back at their past year, it’s hard to say their royal exit was really so surprising.
Click here for all the most romantic photos of Meghan and Harry over the years.