A Timeline Of The Drama Surrounding Meghan Markle And The Royal Family

When Britain's Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle in 2016, forward-looking people cheered. While the move could by no means atone for the royal family's purported history of contributing to colonialism and plain old classism, it at least showed the family's willingness to move past these old values and embrace a more inclusive and modern vision of what a royal family could look like.

But as we all know, this was not to be. While the royal family was officially pleased to welcome Markle into The Firm, the British tabloid press and much of the public were not. The cultural adjustment to royal life was more than California-raised Markle bargained for (per Us Weekly), and the vicious level of public scrutiny was more than even a seasoned Hollywood veteran like her could handle. This pressure — much of it from other royal family members — drove Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to step down from their royal duties in 2020, a move than saddened the royal family and shocked the public. With the pair revealing more about that tumultuous time in their new Netflix series "Harry and Meghan," it's time to look back and review how it all unfolded.

October 2016: The tabloids notice Meghan Markle's new relationship

The royal romance between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle started in 2016 with a blind date arranged by a mutual friend, according to CBS News. The chemistry between them was real and immediate. "And so we went and met for a drink and then I think very quickly into that we said, 'Well, what are we doing tomorrow?'" Markle recounted to the BBC.

More dates, including a trip to Botswana, soon followed, and it didn't take long for the press to notice. The first tabloid to break the news of their relationship was the Express, which broke the story on Halloween 2018. This initial romance coverage was quite positive and painted Markle in a flattering light. "He's happier than he's been for many years," an anonymous source told the Express. "Meghan is a very confident and intelligent woman, and she's not overawed mixing with royalty. That's one of the things Harry admires about her."

November 2016: Prince Harry and the royal family scold the press for their treatment of Markle

Sadly, the media's kind treatment of the new couple was not to last. It didn't take long for the more salacious tendencies of the British tabloid press to come out, and soon Prince Harry and Meghan Markle found themselves — along with the rest of the royal household — fending off an endless barrage of racially and sexually tinged rumors and slurs, per The Guardian. An official statement from Kensington Palace noted, "The smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."

Kensington palace sources also told The Guardian that Prince Harry feared for the safety of Markle and her family, who were being physically stalked and harassed by paparazzi. Even Markle's mother, still living in Los Angeles, was forced to "struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door," according to an official Kensington Palace statement. "Given what she was going through in the press and what was happening privately, Harry no longer felt it was acceptable for someone in his position to sit quietly," a palace source told The Guardian. "This is happening because of him, not her. The traditional no-comment position no longer felt acceptable to him."

2017 onward: Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton try to forge bonds – but tensions are obvious

As her relationship with Prince Harry grew more serious, Meghan Markle did what most people do in a newly serious relationship: She tried to get to know his family. But getting to know the royal family wouldn't be as simple as showing up at a weekend family barbecue, and the family would demand more from a potential in-law than just a pleasant personality and compatibility with their relative. And then there would be all the different cultural expectations between a California-raised actor and a tradition-bound family of European nobles.

All this contributed to the perpetually awkward relationship between Markle and her soon-to-be sister-in-law Kate Middleton. "She'd expected the formality that she recognized in them as a royal couple sort of not be extended behind the closed doors of Kensington Palace, and in fact, it was, and so, I think our suspicions about this being a pretty cool relationship right from the start have been confirmed here," royal expert Katie Nicholl told ET Online. "Meghan, she interpreted that as coolness, but as far as Kate is concerned, it's not natural for her to go and give a great big bear hug to someone that she hasn't met before. So again, I think those sort of cultural clashes were clearly there, and I think [it's] just different people here."

September 2017: Meghan Markle meets Queen Elizabeth II and a friendship is born

Meghan Markle didn't get to meet her future grandmother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, until shortly before her engagement. And per ET Online, she didn't have much time to prepare for the meeting, either. Instead, Harry made a snap decision one day to swing by and make the introduction. "I didn't know I was gonna meet her until moments before," Meghan recounted in the Netflix docuseries "Harry and Meghan" (per ET). "We were in the car, driving and he's like, 'You know how to curtsy, right?' And I just thought it was a joke."

And while the initial meeting was weird and stressful for Markle, who compared it to a scene from the themed dinner-theater chain Medieval Times, she and Queen Elizabeth II developed a surprisingly easy rapport. "[Her Majesty] has a brilliant sense of humor. That's one of the first things that brought her and Meghan closer," a source told Us Weekly. "It's that warm side of her that has made Meghan feel so at ease." And while their relationship cooled a bit following Prince Harry's and Markle's decision to leave the royal household, it remains one of Markle's warmest memories of her time with the family

November 2017: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are engaged and the royal family expresses support

By late 2017, royal watchers suspected that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would eventually become engaged, and per Insider, Markle's decision not to return to her role in the legal drama "Suits" was further evidence that big changes were afoot. And in November 2018, everyone's predictions were confirmed: While the couple had actually gotten engaged earlier (Prince Harry had proposed to Markle at home, while she was preparing a roast chicken for dinner, per Insider), public announcements by the royal family were only made later.

And if any of the royal family had reservations about the upcoming marriage, they studiously hid them, putting forward a unified show of support for the couple. "We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together," Prince Harry's older brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were quoted as saying on the official Twitter site of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Prince Harry's father, the Prince of Wales.

May 2018: Prince Charles walks Meghan Markle down the aisle at her wedding

No wedding would be complete without some petty family drama, and the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — elegant and warm-spirited as it appeared to spectators — had its share of behind-the-scenes family angst. For starters, Markle's own family life wasn't all sweetness and light: Her parents are divorced, and while her mother's presence at the wedding was a source of delight for many viewers, the absence of her estranged father – who'd been caught staging photos with paparazzi, according to Us Weekly — was conspicuous. Fortunately, Prince Charles was happy to step in and support his future daughter-in-law by walking her down the aisle during the ceremony.

And because weddings tend to make already fraught relationships between relatives worse, another tiff between Markle and Kate Middleton was almost inevitable. Fortunately, they both realized what they were doing and quickly mended fences. "A few days before the wedding, she [Kate] was upset about flower girl dresses, and it made me cry," Markle told CBS (via Us). "It really hurt my feelings. ... She was upset about something, but she owned it, and she apologized. And she brought me flowers and a note, apologizing. And she did what I would do if I knew that I hurt someone, right, to just take accountability for it."

January 2019: Meghan Markle asks for help with depression, royal family turns down request

If Meghan Markle thought being engaged to a royal was tough, she had no idea what it would be like being married into the family. Despite her husband's entreaties, the invasive tabloid coverage continued, and per Insider, this included a blatant double standard between the way Markle's actions and those of her sister-in-law Kate Middleton were judged — for instance, Markle's requests not to be photographed were described as snotty and selfish, while Middleton was praised as down to earth and humble for making the same requests. On top of that, she felt suffocated by restrictive royal press rules that effectively prevented her from advocating for or defending herself. "She's always been so independent, her entire life, and that's all been taken away from her," a royal insider told Us Weekly. "She's always been able to clap back on social media, and now she can't."

All of this took a terrifying toll on her mental health. In a CBS interview, according to Insider, she revealed to Prince Harry that she was having suicidal thoughts and "can't be left alone." Knowing she needed help, she told the rest of the royal family she needed treatment, but they pushed back, saying "it wouldn't be good for the institution," according to Us.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

March 2019: Tensions between Princes Harry and William and their wives result in division of their charity

If the relationship between Meghan Markle and her sister-in-law was fraught, the tensions between their husbands were even more so. While Prince William publicly expressed support for Prince Harry's new love and their eventual marriage, behind the scenes, he expressed concern that the relationship was moving too fast and too publicly, according to Cosmopolitan. Naturally, this did not go over well with Prince Harry, who later accused his brother of not doing enough to make Markle feel included in the family.

Still, appearances are everything in the royal family, and while royal watchers noticed some chilly body language between the two brothers in their public appearances, the two attempted to put up a unified front. After Prince Harry and Markle married, for instance, the two brothers and their wives set up and operated a charitable foundation together, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. But in 2019, the foundation announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would leave the foundation and start their own with transitional funding from the Royal Foundation, per Cosmopolitan. The foundation and the royal family portrayed this as part of the natural evolution of the Sussexes' philanthropic focus – but royal watchers couldn't help wondering if the rift was personal.

May 2019: Prince Harry's and Meghan Markle's son is born and rumors of racist family comments emerge

The birth of a royal baby is traditionally a time of celebration, along with a lot of public scrutiny. But the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's first son, Archie, in May 2019 brought with it a new level of drama and intrigue. According to Us Weekly, the couple reported that they were not invited to pose for the traditional first photo of their newborn outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in London (the exclusive facility where three generations of royals have delivered their babies, per Town & Country). However, Town & Country reported that Markle chose not to do the traditional photo shoot.

In addition, the couple denied reports that they had declined to give their son a royal title, saying the family denied him a title without explanation. This denial — wherever it came from — had more than symbolic significance: A title would have brought him the right to extra security, which would have been a welcome benefit for someone spending his life in the public eye. And Markle hinted at an ominous reason for the perceived snubs: "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born ... and what that would mean or look like."

January 2020: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle step down from royal duties

The pressure from the royal household and the media on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle didn't let up after the birth of their son and soon drove the couple nearly to a breaking point. "Not many people have asked if I'm OK, but it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes," Markle told ITV (via Insider). In late 2019, per Insider, reports from royal sources revealed that the couple was planning a six-week break from their royal duties and would be spending the winter holidays with Markle's mother in Canada.

The break must have been beneficial for them since upon their return in January 2020, they announced their plan to make it permanent, saying they would step back from their royal duties and be financially independent of the royal family. This unconventional move blindsided the rest of the royal family. As a source told Us Weekly, the queen was "so disappointed that her own grandchild would heap so much embarrassment on the monarchy and bring all this unwanted attention on his family at the worst possible time."

March 2021: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's tell-all interview with CBS appalls the royal family

Discretion and a stiff upper lip have long been guiding values for the British royal family — no matter what was going on behind the scenes, royals were duty-bound to keep calm and carry on as if everything were fine. So when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they had scheduled a "no holds barred" sit-down interview with CBS about their experience with the royal family and their future plans, the rest of the royal family was less than pleased. A source told Us Weekly that Prince William and Duchess Kate were "appalled" by the move. As another royal insider explained to Us, "It's just beyond the pale for William and Kate, especially in light of the dreadful timing with [Prince] Philip in the hospital. They are utterly aghast."

None of this helped the difficult relationship between Prince Harry and his brother. But if there was any silver lining to the conflict triggered by the interview, it conclusively put to rest any possibility Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would return to the royal fold and resume their duties. "The queen was hoping that they'd return, but there is not much she can do about it and accepts their decision," a source told Us.

2022: Tensions between Meghan Markle and the royal family have cooled — but not fully healed

Time and distance do wonders to de-escalate conflicts. Having settled into a seaside home in southern California (per The Cut), Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have mostly put their old lives behind them and are now focusing on building their new identities and careers. Looking back, Markle revealed to The Cut that try as they might, the couple could never have truly fit into the royal family. "Just by existing, we were upsetting the dynamic of the hierarchy. So we go, 'Okay, fine, let's get out of here. Happy to,'" she said.

Their new lives have helped cool the tensions between the couple and the rest of the royal family. In June 2022, the couple returned to London to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's platinum jubilee, their first public appearance with the royal family since their departure. And in the couple's interview with CBS (per Us Weekly), Markle clarified that much of her misery was brought on by royal handlers, not her in-laws themselves. "So, there's the family, and then there's the people that are running the institution," she told CBS. "Those are two separate things. It's important to be able to compartmentalize that because the queen, for example, has always been wonderful to me."