When Meghan met the Queen

Royal relationships can be complicated – especially when traditional protocol tangles with more modern views.

This seemed to be the case when Meghan Markle met the Queen. The actress had been under the spotlight since autumn 2016, when it was revealed she was Prince Harry’s significant other.

No-one could have foreseen how Queen Elizabeth II would feel about her grandson dating an American actress. When the future Duchess of Sussex first met the sovereign, Meghan had already been in a relationship with her Prince Charming for around a year.

© Brian Hickey / Alamy Stock Photo

Royal romance
The Los Angeles-born actress, 38, was as famous for her role in the US drama, Suits, as she was for her humanitarian work, with links to the United Nations. Prince Harry, 35, was said to have engineered his meeting with the star after seeing her in Suits, in which she played senior paralegal Rachel Zane.

They were said to have met in London in June 2016, when Meghan was visiting the UK. It was claimed that although the meeting seemed accidental, the prince had secretly engineered it through mutual friend, fashion designer Misha Nonoo.

The couple tried to keep their fledgling relationship under wraps, but the media soon got wind of it. Although first appearing in public together at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2016, it was September 2017 before Prince Harry took Meghan to meet his grandmother, sparking speculation that a royal wedding was on the horizon.

First meeting
Rumours had been rife that an announcement of a royal engagement was imminent, so it came as no surprise when media reports claimed Meghan had met the Queen at her summer residence, Balmoral. It was suggested Meghan and the Queen’s first meeting went well.

The couple had been staying with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at Birkhall in Scotland. Harry hadn’t been to Balmoral that summer, as he and Meghan had just returned from a three-week holiday in Botswana and Zambia. He decided to take her to meet the Queen. Press reports quoting a “source” close to the royal family said it would “no doubt be the first of many encounters”.

Harry and Meghan stayed with the Queen for the weekend and the whole occasion was a “success”, with Harry introducing “someone he loves to someone he cares for deeply”.

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 decrees that direct descendants of the reigning monarch must gain their approval before they can wed. Although the law has been relaxed in recent times, it was no doubt good to know that the Queen liked Harry’s choice of bride. She was said to be impressed by Meghan’s “vim and vigour”.

Mutual admiration
Since their first meeting, the Queen’s relationship with Meghan appeared to develop into a friendship. After the royal wedding on 18th May 2018, Meghan was frequently photographed with her grandmother-in-law. It was reported that the Queen genuinely liked Meghan and thought of her as a grand-daughter. The mutual admiration was reciprocated, with Meghan calling the Queen “an incredible woman”.

In an interview just before their wedding, Meghan said she had witnessed Harry’s “honour and respect” for the Queen as the monarch and the “love” he had for her as his grandmother. Meeting her after learning so much about her had been “very important” to the royal bride-to-be. They had a shared love of dogs and Prince Harry said the royal corgis had taken to Meghan straight away.

Royal protocol
However, later media reports in 2019 subsequently described the Queen and Meghan’s relationship as “complicated”. In October 2019, Meghan spoke with journalist Tom Bradby about becoming a member of the royal family and a new mum at the same time. Meghan said she was “struggling” with being in the spotlight all the time.

She spoke frankly about how she was feeling, telling Bradby “not many people” ever asked if she was okay, adding it was a “very real thing” that she was going through “behind the scenes”. Subsequent media reports suggested Meghan’s soul-baring to the reporter was something that was alien to the Queen. It appeared to go against recognised royal protocol.

Experienced royal commentators said Elizabeth II was “unlikely” to offer any public support for Meghan, as the Queen’s motto had always been, “Never wear private grief on a public sleeve.” It was suggested that the Queen might well support Meghan privately, but publicly, she would retain the typical “stiff upper lip” expected of a member of the royal family.

Rift rumours
Royal watchers suggested there may be a rift between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry and Meghan when she gave her annual Christmas Day speech in 2019. She was sitting at a desk, surrounded by photographs of family members, including Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince William and Kate and Prince Phillip. However, there was no photograph of Harry and Meghan, in contrast with the Queen’s Christmas Day speech 2018, when they had featured in the family photos.

No-one knows for sure what the Queen’s private reaction was when Harry and Meghan took to their official Instagram account early in January 2020 to announce their intentions to step down from royal duties. The nation was left reeling when they said they would no longer be carrying out the duties expected of “senior royals” in future and subsequently they were going to become financially independent, removing themselves from the civil list.

“It’s complicated”
The official response from Buckingham Palace was that they “understood their desire to take a different approach”. However, the official statement said there were “complicated issues” that would “take time to work through”. One can only speculate on the Queen’s private thoughts.

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