Why is Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle so controversial? How did Harry and Meghan meet?
In 2018, Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle and now has two children with her. However, as Harry points out in his book Spare, their marriage has been highly criticized by family members and the British press.
Here’s a breakdown of Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan, from an Instagram meet cute to living in California with their children.
Meeting Meghan Markle
Before diving into Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, we need to look at how they met in the first place. In July 2016, while scrolling through Instagram, Harry saw a short video of his friend Violet and another woman. He was immediately captivated by the stranger and asked Violet who she was. Violet replied that she was the actress Meghan Markle, most famous for her long-running role on Suits, and offered to get the two of them in touch with each other. Harry eagerly accepted. The two began chatting almost non-stop online, then started dating.
(Shortform note: Finding a significant other online is becoming more common for everyone, not just for celebrities hiding from the public. A Stanford sociologist reported that, in 2017, nearly 40% of heterosexual American couples had first met online. While that’s a very specific subset of global society, it’s representative of a larger trend: The “traditional” ways of finding a partner (through friends and family, at local hangout spots, and so on) are in decline, and online connections are taking their place.)
Harry says that his feelings for Meghan were stronger than what he’d ever felt for any other woman, and he hoped she’d be “The One.” He describes a sporadic but intense courtship. Both he and Meghan had very busy schedules that often left them in different countries—Harry due to his royal duties, and Meghan due to her production schedule. As a result, the next two years involved a lot of texting and phone calls. When possible, the two of them would travel together or meet up for dinner in secret locations where the tabloids couldn’t find them.
(Shortform note: Many people believe that long-distance relationships like Harry and Meghan’s are challenging, especially people who equate romance with physical closeness. However, the opposite may be true: Some studies have shown that couples who are (or have been) in long-distance relationships tend to feel more dedicated to each other, less trapped by their relationship, and equal or greater satisfaction compared to couples who are geographically close.)
Marriage and Children
Eventually, Meghan moved to England to be with Harry, leaving Suits as a consequence. Shortly after, Harry asked her to marry him, and she accepted. By law, Harry had to ask Queen Elizabeth for permission to marry; she granted it immediately.
(Shortform note: Asking the ruler’s permission to marry is a throwback to a time when royalty married for political gain, not for love—the monarch had to ensure that his or her family made strategic matches, and would often choose those matches personally.)
Harry worried that she might have felt pressured into agreeing, but as the wedding approached, the Queen further showed her approval by inviting Meghan over to Buckingham Palace to try on her own personal tiaras. She even helped Meghan choose one to wear during the ceremony.
(Shortform note: With Queen Elizabeth’s passing, there are questions surrounding what will (or should) happen to those tiaras, as well as much of her other jewelry. Most likely, she willed the entire collection directly to her heir, King Charles. However, many of the royal jewels were taken from countries that England colonized, and many people are now saying that Charles should return them. It’s not clear whether the specific tiara that Meghan wore is included in those demands.)
However, other members of Harry’s family weren’t so welcoming. Charles once said that he didn’t want Meghan living in Britain—he claimed there wasn’t enough money to support her, but Harry suspects he just didn’t want a new couple to overshadow him and Camilla. Furthermore, William and his wife Catherine didn’t always get on with Meghan; they sometimes argued with her and Harry, fights which the press somehow got wind of.
Despite his family’s objections, Harry and Meghan got married on May 19, 2018, at St. George’s Chapel. Their first child, Archie, was born almost exactly a year later: May 6, 2019. Their second child, Lilibet, was born on June 4, 2021.
Throughout their relationship, Harry and Meghan have faced constant stalking and harassment from the media—particularly the British tabloid media. Furthermore, the press has constantly published untrue stories about Meghan. Meghan has also received near-constant threats from people who’ve read and believed the negative stories about her.
Because Meghan is biracial, much of the coverage is also racist—sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. Stories have portrayed Meghan and her family as poor, bad-mannered, and addicted to drugs—none of which was true—in the process playing into anti-Black stereotypes. Some articles have questioned what effect Meghan’s mixed-race heritage would have on the royal bloodline.
The persecution and threats eventually drove Meghan into hiding. She began suffering from panic attacks, which she’d never experienced before. At one point, she confessed to Harry that she was having suicidal thoughts. Harry compares their situation to the media harassment that led to Princess Diana’s fatal car crash and says he feared losing Meghan like he’d lost his mother.
Desperate to escape from the constant media harassment they faced in the UK, and the death threats that came with it, Harry and Meghan decided that they would step back from their roles as royalty and begin splitting their time between North America and the UK. Their official statement announcing this appeared on Instagram on January 8, 2020.
(Shortform note: This event is often referred to as “Megxit,” a play on “Meghan” and “exit” as well as a clear reference to Brexit (the UK’s controversial decision to leave the European Union). Harry has stated that Megxit is a misogynistic term that targets his wife and originated from a Twitter troll, so it’s not surprising that he avoids using it in Spare. The Instagram post of their original announcement is still up, and has garnered over 1.8 million likes.)
A few days later, the Royal Family met to discuss exactly what this “stepping back” would entail. Harry understood that giving up their royal duties also meant giving up their royal income—the money the government paid them for their services—but he was shocked when he found that he’d also be losing his security detail. In fact, the head of Harry’s security team said that only the Queen had a higher estimated threat level than Harry and Meghan; even so, they would lose their protection at the end of March 2020. Harry and Meghan would have to pay for their own security.
(Shortform notes: “Very real” security threats against Harry and Meghan have already led to prosecutions, suggesting that their fears about their safety are well founded. Harry is currently trying to win the right to hire police protection in the UK, as his private security team is unable to provide enough protection for his family to visit.)
In February 2021, Buckingham Palace announced that they’d reviewed the previous agreement regarding Harry and Meghan. Effective immediately, the couple now had to relinquish many of their royal roles—such as being the official patrons of charities and, in Harry’s case, having certain honorary military roles. In other words, the Royal Family was officially cutting almost all remaining ties with them.
Today, Harry and Meghan live in California, in the United States. They first moved there in March 2020, staying in the home of film director Tyler Perry (who provided paid-for security for the couple). They later purchased their own home, a place to raise their children and begin their new life.
(Shortform note: What do Harry and Meghan plan to do with their lives now that they’ve cut ties with the Royal Family and moved to the US? They’ve indicated that their long-term plans are to continue to support the causes close to their heart through philanthropic work. In the short term, they hope to build on the success of Harry & Meghan with another Netflix docuseries titled Live to Lead. Reportedly, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is co-producing the series, which will feature exceptional leaders discussing their lives, their values, and how they spearhead great changes by inspiring others.)
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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Prince Harry's "Spare" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Spare summary:
- Prince Harry's autobiography about growing up as a member of the Royal Family
- The struggles that come from being the younger son—not the heir-apparent
- How Prince Harry deals with harassment from paparazzi and mental illness