Did Meghan have an exit plan from the start?

It’s official! The Duke and Duchess are ‘stepping back’ – but who’s to blame?

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

by Charlotte Oliver |

The writing had been on the wall for months, with not-so-subtle hints that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were no longer willing to participate in the daily grind of royal duty.

Yet their decision last week to “step back as senior members of the Royal Family” – days after returning from their six-week break – went public with all the carnage (and tact) of a rabid rhino.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry ©Getty Images

In a defiant Instagram post, the Sussexes said they were taking on a “progressive new role”, working to become “financially independent”, and splitting their time between the UK and North America.

They then unveiled their new website, which took aim at the British media and announced that they were removing themselves from the “royal rota” – meaning they’ll no longer have to grant the press access to their official engagements, and can now hand-pick who to work with.

This was shocking enough – but it was the royal family’s subsequent statement that really revealed the damage that #Megxit had wrought.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry ©Getty Images

“Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” said a spokesperson on behalf of the Queen. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.” In other words: hold your bloody horses.

According to the BBC, the royal family was “hurt” and “deeply disappointed” by the news, which had been dropped without approval.

Insiders revealed that, while the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William knew of Harry’s desire to “carve out” a new role, they had made it clear further negotiations were needed.

The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George
The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George ©PA

Within 24 hours, Meghan had fled back to Canada, with Harry reported to have joined her after he engaged in a series of calls with the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William, to try and come up with a “workable solution”.

The palace was reportedly only sent a copy of Harry and Meghan’s statement ten minutes before it was published.

But amid all the drama, one question persisted: had Meghan planned the royal exit all along?

CHECK OUT: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's relationship timeline

Gallery

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle relationship timeline - Grazia

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
1 of 17

So when did the future Duke and Duchess of Sussex meet? Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were introduced by a mutual friend in July 2016, originally thought to be Markus Anderson (also the director of Soho house) but who was later confirmed to be Violet von Westenholz. Meghan said in an interview that before she met the Harry she didn't know much about him 'the only thing that I had asked [our mutual friend] was, 'Well is he nice?'. According to Harry he knew Meghan was The One from 'the very first time we met.' after only two dates Harry asked Meghan to accompany him on a trip to Botswana.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
2 of 17

In October 2016 that the Express became the first newspaper to publish news that Prince Harry had a new girlfriend. However just a month later, Kensington Palace released a statement condemning the 'wave of abuse and harassment' faced by Meghan. The unprecedented statement, which referred to Meghan as Harry's girlfriend for the first time, emphasized that Prince Harry was 'worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her.' It continued 'It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm.' The palace were also forced to address speculation that Prince William was unhappy with Harry for confirming the relationship too soon, stating 'The Duke of Cambridge absolutely understands the situation concerning privacy and supports the need for Prince Harry to support those closest to him.'

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
3 of 17

Early in December 2017 Meghan was confirmed as the most Googled actress of 2016. In the same month, the couple were photographed together for the first time in London, shopping for a Christmas tree at the Pines and Needles store and attending a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. By January 2017 a source told US weekly that Harry had introduced Meghan to Kate and Prince Charlotte and that the 'meeting went well'. Meanwhile a source told The Sun that Meghan had 'virtually moved in' with Prince Harry to his cottage on the Kensington Palace estate.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
4 of 17

By March things were openly getting pretty serious between the two: Meghan accompanied Harry to Jamaica for a wedding for the first time (his friend's Tom 'Skippy' Inskip to Lara Hughes-Young). On April the 7th Meghan announced that she was closing down her lifestyle blog The Tig writing 'What began as a passion project (my little engine that could) evolved into an amazing community of inspiration, support, fun and frivolity. You've made my days brighter and filled this experience with so much joy.' In May, Meghan and Harry attended their first public event together at the Polo in Coworth Park (where they also engaged in some PDA). Later in May Prince Harry was seen driving Meghan to the reception of Pippa Middleton and James Matthew's wedding.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
5 of 17

Welcome to Meghan the style Icon: at the opening of Prince Harry's Invictus Games in September Meghan wore a maroon midi dress with a pleated chiffon skirt by one of her favourite Canadian brands, Aritzia with a burgundy biker jacket by Mackage. The next day the couple were photographed sitting together at the wheelchair tennis and 'broke with royal protocol' by holding hands and kissing at the closing ceremony. On the 5th of September In an interview with Vanity Fair, Meghan stated: 'We're a couple. We're in love. I'm sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people understand is that this is our time.'

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
6 of 17

Late 2017 we saw the end of everyone's favourite legal powerhouse Rachel Zane (sob). In November 2017, shortly after Meghan met the Queen, the actress was reported to be leaving her role in Suits after seven seasons.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
7 of 17

After months of speculation, Prince Charles announced the engagement of his younger son Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after 15 months of dating On November 27th 2017 . The engagement ring, said to be designed by Harry, is made of two stones that belonged to Princess Diana. The couple later appeared at a photocall, with Markle wearing a white dress coat by Canadian brand Line The Label (whose website subsequently crashed). When asked by waiting photographers if the proposal was romantic, Harry joked 'of course!' Speaking about his late mother, Princess Diana, Harry said 'I think they'd be thick as thieves. She would be over the moon, jumping up and down, so excited for me... It's days like today when I really miss having her around and miss being able to share the happy news. With the ring, I'm sure she's with us, jumping up and down somewhere else.' it was announced that the wedding would take place on May the 19th, 2018.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
8 of 17

In December 2017 Meghan, Harry, Kate and William were photographed together attending the Christmas service at Sandringham. Pictures of the two couples earned them the title 'The Fab Four'. Meanwhile in the following months Meghan earned a reputation for breaking royal protocol on official visits by hugging fans of the couple and kissing them on the cheek.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
9 of 17

In February 2018, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle had their first royal engagement together for the Royal Foundation Forum with Prince Harry and Prince William. Harry stated of the two couples 'We have different opinions and they work really well [together]. Working as family does have its challenges; of course it does. The fact that everybody is laughing shows they know exactly what's it like… But we are stuck together for the rest of our lives.'

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
10 of 17

In the lead-up to the wedding it was confirmed 2,640 people would be invited to the grounds of Windsor Palace to watch the royal wedding. Photos of Meghan and Harry's wedding invitations were released, bearing Harry's legal name 'Henry'. Meghan and Harry made a number of public appearances together including to the Invictus game tryouts in April and attend the Queen's birthday at the Royal Albert Hall. Meghan's final episode of Suits is also aired, marking the official end of her acting career.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
11 of 17

On May the 14th, three days before the wedding Meghan's father, Thomas Markle sr. who was confirmed to walk Meghan down the aisle pulled out, following an embarrassing incident in which he staged paid paparazzi photos. Thomas Markle later suffered a heart attack, and his son Thomas Markle Jr. penned an unflattering open letter to Harry criticizing Meghan and encouraging him to pull out of the wedding. The day before the wedding, Kensington Palace announced Prince Charles would walk Meghan down the aisle, stating 'The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Markle to The Royal Family in this way.'

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
12 of 17

Meghan and Harry wed on the 19th of May for a combined audience of 11.5 million people who tuned in to watch the ceremony. Meghan's gown was made by Clare Waight Keller, artistic director of the fashion house Givenchy which she later changed for a silk crepe dress by Stella McCartney. Her mother Doria Ragland attended the ceremony along with a host of celebrities including Meghan's former Suits cast and her close friends, George and Amal Clooney.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
13 of 17

Throughout May of 2018 Harry and Meghan made their first official appearances as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. For her inaugural attendance to the Trooping of the Colour Meghan wore an off-the-shoulder dress, reportedly breaking royal protocal. In the following months the newlyweds made a number of public appearances including to Ireland to meet the country's officials. They also took a rumoured trip to visit George and Amal Clooney in Lake Como.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
14 of 17

Speculation began during Princess Eugenie's wedding that Meghan was pregnant owing to her loose coat. The rumours were confirmed when Kensington Palace announced on the 15th of October 2018 that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were expecting a child. The announcement also coincided with the first day of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's official tour.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
15 of 17

In October Meghan and Harry departed for their 16-day Autumn royal tour visiting Australia, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand (obviously featuring some serious style moments from the newly-appointed Duchess of Sussex/Style). By November, sources were telling news outlets that the couple were preparing to move to Frogmore cottage in Windsor in 2019. The couple spent the anniversary of their engagement, November the 27th apart, due to Harry being in Zambia.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
16 of 17

As Meghan and Harry embarked on life as newlyweds there was less plainsailing, as controversy continued to follow closely on their heels. Meghan's family have continued to be the subject of unflattering media headlines and Thomas Markle gave interviews to the media about his distanced relationship with his daughter. Meanwhile Samantha Markle (Meghan's half sister, who also claims to be penning a book about the Duchess) was put on a fixated persons list after showing up at Kensington palace in January. Rumours of a froideur between Meghan and Kate were sparked shortly after Meghan and Harry's nuptials by reports that Meghan reduced Kate 'to tears' during challenging dress fittings with Princess Charlotte. In February, Thomas Markle leaks a handwritten letter from Meghan to the media in response to friends of the Duchess defending her in an interview and following numerous staff changes, rumours arise that Meghan and Harry's staff refer to Meghan by the nickname 'The difficult Duchess'.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
17 of 17

In March 2019 it was confirmed that the Sussex and Cambridge's 'royal households' will split, meaning the couples will no longer share staff. Royal spokespersons confirm that Kate and William's staff team will stay in Kensington Palace while Meghan and Harry's staff will be based in Buckingham Palace, reflecting the location of their new residence of Frogmore cottage in Windsor. Representatives are quick to confirm this is a planned move, and not due to rumors of growing tensions between the couples.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and the Queen
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and the Queen ©Getty Images

It’s certainly been a swift turnaround for the pair, whose wedding a year-and-a-half ago was celebrated with national fanfare and jubilation. At the time, TV actress Meghan was resolute in her decision to give up acting, saying, “I just see it as… a new chapter.”

She added that moving to the UK and committing herself full-time to the royal family allowed her to focus “even more energy” on causes she cared about, because “you realise you have… a voice that people are going to listen to. With that comes a lot of responsibility, which I take seriously.”

But despite her insistences, rumours soon surfaced that the 38 year old was far from happy to mould herself into the template of a traditional princess.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding wasn’t just marred by her estranged family slamming her as a “social climber”, there were also whispers that she was “dictatorial” – leading insiders to reportedly label her “Me-gain”.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry ©Getty Images

Days before the ceremony, it was reported that Harry had told his staff, “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.” From then on, the couple made it clear that they were absolutely treading their own path, wherever it might lead.

Since then, they’ve increasingly ripped up the rulebook. The schism began last March, when Harry and Meghan formally split their royal offices from Prince William and Kate Middleton’s, before stepping down from their shared Royal Foundation.

They also made their reluctance to “play the media game” clear, only confirming that Meghan was in labour with Archie when he had already been born, then waiting two days before presenting him to the world – and only inviting one photographer to capture the moment.

They followed this in June with their decision to hold Archie’s christening in absolute privacy and refusing to reveal the identities of his godparents.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry ©Getty Images

But things reached fever pitch last October, when Harry took legal action against tabloids for “bullying” his “suffering” wife. Then, in their documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey – ostensibly filmed to shed a light on charity work in South Africa – Meghan lamented, “Not many people have asked if I’m OK,” and confirmed that she was struggling with life in the spotlight.

Harry echoed her sentiments and appeared to confirm his rift with Prince William, explaining that they were “on different paths”.

A six-week hiatus from royal duties did little to placate them; last week, they “hit the nuclear button” – and the royal family was changed irrevocably.

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Unsurprisingly, social media has focused on Meghan, with thousands questioning her motives and claiming that this was the outcome she’d wanted all along.

One royal fan railed, “Meghan has finally got what she always wanted – the title and the money, as well as independence. She’s won.” Another said, “Well, she got her way! We should be refunded for all the renovations at Frogmore.”

Frogmore House
Frogmore House ©Getty Images

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Meanwhile, the fact that their new website was designed by the same agency who created Meghan’s former lifestyle site The Tig – coupled with their decision last year to employ American PR team Sunshine Sachs – suggests she’s got showbiz in her sights.

This was highlighted further last week, after it was revealed that they’d trademarked the “Sussex Royal” brand on more than 100 items, including T-shirts and hoodies.

As for the future, it’s still unclear what Harry and Meghan’s “progressive new role” will be, and how the Queen will officially address her grandson’s defiance.

In any case, it’s fair to say that the royal family’s been changed forever – and whether she planned it or not, Meghan’s played a huge role in that.

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