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The U.K. found itself at a standstill throughout most of Monday, as Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral took place at Westminster Abbey in London. And there was a lot of hullaballoo surrounding the event that won’t make a lot of sense to Americans.
One of the most confounding aspects, however, is the way Meghan Markle has been put under a microscope by the press and public alike all week, despite not putting a foot wrong. The scrutiny is especially astounding when one considers how quietly Prince Andrew has been reintegrated into royal procedures.
In case you need a refresher, Meghan Markle’s controversies include speaking out about racism within the royal ranks, suing a prominent British newspaper for invasion of privacy (and winning), and moving back to America with her husband for the sake of her mental health.
Prince Andrew, on the other hand, was stripped of his titles and removed from public duties as he battled a sexual assault case brought by Virginia Giuffre. Giuffre has alleged for years that she was the victim of sex trafficking by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and forced to have sex with Prince Andrew at the age of 17. (Both Maxwell and Prince Andrew settled with Giuffre out of court; Andrew is reported to have avoided a trial by paying her an estimated $16 million.)
Yet, this week, as Andrew stepped back into the public eye, it’s Markle who has inspired the most scrutiny and criticism in the days leading up to the funeral.
For much of the U.K. media, coverage has been primarily concerned with presenting the remaining royal family members as putting on a united front out of respect for the queen. This means that both television and print media has actively avoided discussing Prince Andrew’s legal and reputational woes—except to report the arrest of a Scot who dared to heckle Andrew during a funereal procession in Edinburgh. (The 22-year-old was charged with breaching the peace after shouting, “Andrew! You’re a sick old man.”)
Something more insidious is at play in the tabloids, however. Search the Daily Mail‘s website for stories about Prince Andrew, and general funeral coverage pops up. Conduct the same search for Meghan Markle and, alongside that same funeral coverage, a wealth of other articles seek to paint her in a very specific (negative) light. There’s analysis of Markle crying at the funeral, while Princess Kate is presented as “the picture of poise.” There are several stories about Markle and Harry being “uninvited” to a Buckingham Palace state reception. Worst of all, there are a series of articles bending over backwards to report other people’s criticisms of Markle. This serves as a clever way to paint Markle in a bad light without the Daily Mail‘s writers being directly responsible for the nasty things being said.
This methodology has, in the last week, prompted the paper to publish articles with the following headlines:
No such secondhand coverage has been published on Andrew.
On Twitter, things for Markle were even worse. While Prince Andrew failed to make it into the top trending topics during his return to the spotlight, #GoHomeMeghanMarkle dominated the website on Sept. 12. The hashtag started after Markle accompanied Prince Harry, Prince William and Princess Kate to greet mourners in London. Had Markle not accompanied her husband in this task, she would likely have been accused of discarding the feelings of the British public and disrespecting the queen. Showing up and doing her duty unfortunately did not mean she fared any better.
While some of the gathered crowds (especially younger people) greeted Markle warmly that day, those that didn’t were praised online for giving her the cold shoulder.
Markle must have known in advance that she would be in a no-win situation as soon as she set foot on British soil. And she has sailed through the scrutiny with as much dignity as any human could possibly muster under the circumstances. What has been forgotten this week is that Markle and Harry were careful during their Oprah tell-all to paint Queen Elizabeth II in a very positive light. Also forgotten? The fact that they named their daughter after Elizabeth’s childhood nickname, Lilibet. It matters not. The damage in the U.K. is done and as far as the royal supporters there are concerned, Meghan Markle is and always will be a pariah.
Though stateside the presumed cause of all this is racism, the real reasons behind the ostracizing of Markle are more complex. The color of her skin is undoubtedly a factor for some, yes—but so is her nationality. (Lest we forget that the last senior royal that married an American was forced to live in exile after abdicating the throne in order to do so.) It’s OK for members of the British royal family to marry so-called “commoners.” But the commoners who marry in usually do so having been groomed to understand and revere every aspect of royal life. Markle had no such life-long training, and the royalists of Britain know (and resent) it.
The truth of the matter is that the U.K. public is willing to live with royal overlords only so long as the people at the top of that hierarchy are willing to keep their mouths shut and play the game. Part of that game—as every woman who’s ever married into the Windsor family could tell you—is putting up with bullying from both the press and the public. Middleton, the new Princess of Wales, for example, endured a decade of mockery. She silently withstood that hardship and humiliation and is now talked about only in the most glowing of terms. She put her time in and she was rewarded. When Markle was unwilling to put up with such treatment—a hazing of sorts—her fate was sealed.