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How Meghan Markle Is Making the Role of Duchess Her Own

On the anniversary of her wedding, we take a look back at at the accomplishments-and controversies-that have defined Markle's remarkable first year in the royal family.
IMAGE MAX MUMBY/INDIGO / GETTY IMAGES
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The term "defining year" hardly does it justice. Bookended by two of life’s biggest moments—a wedding and the birth of a baby—the last 12 months have been a whirlwind for the Duchess of Sussex.

Since marrying into the world’s most famous royal family on May 19 of last year, she has carried out engagements across the U.K., launched a best-selling charity cookbook, undertaken a major tour to the other side of the world, become patron of four charities and vice-president of another, carried out an official visit to Morocco at seven months pregnant, moved house (twice if you count the couple’s Cotswolds property), and given birth to the seventh in line to the throne.


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Meghan visits each of her four new patronages

This alone speaks to a busy enough year, but Meghan’s first 12 months as a royal have also been shaped by the emotional weight of relationship milestones—personal and professional.

There is the now estranged father she once hoped would walk her down the aisle, and the often over-hyped—but not entirely untrue—reports of difficulties between the "fab four." There have been the staff changes as Meghan and Harry create their own team and battle lines drawn with sections of the media over what is private and what is public. It has not been an entirely smooth ride as this couple begin to define what it means to be the 21st-century Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

One thing, however, has remained abundantly consistent: their adoration for each other. On their wedding day, Harry made guests at their Windsor Castle reception cry with his emotional speech. Almost exactly one year later, on 8 May 2019, they beamed as they introduced their two-day-old son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, to the world in exactly the same spot in St George’s Hall. Meghan summed it up by saying: "I have the best two guys in the world."

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Meghan and Harry on their wedding day

The public shared their excitement on both days; many rejoicing at seeing Diana’s son, who they have watched grow up, have his fairytale ending. Across the world the union has been celebrated as ground-breaking with Meghan, whose father is Caucasian and mother African American, becoming the first biracial person to marry into and have a child in the Windsor dynasty.

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The fact that the bride was a divorcee has been hailed as an example of how much the royal family has modernized since King Edward VIII had to abdicate in 1936 to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. And Meghan’s American nationality, and the fact that her son is eligible to have a U.S. passport has only further engaged a country where so many keenly follow the exploits of British royalty.

But, whatever the marriage may symbolize to others, for Meghan and Harry it was always simply about the fact that they are deeply in love. Harry's devotion to his wife has led the prince to feel intensely protective of Meghan as a tsunami of media attention has been focused on her—not all of it fact-based and some of it deeply unpleasant.


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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex introduce their newborn son, Archie Harrison, to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

Meghan has had to endure, largely silently, racist and sexist trolling from the far corners of the internet as well as mainstream coverage that lingered breathlessly on a narrative of two women feuding. There was a new, unkind, "duchess difficult" nickname that attached itself to her with little evidence. All this rolled out against a steady drumbeat of online stories that accused her, again and again, of breaking royal protocols that do not exist.

As I have previously written, however, to suggest that the whole "British media" is "out to get" Meghan would not be accurate. There have been many positive stories in the U.K. press and many column inches and bulletins devoted to the Sussexes’ charitable endeavors, including praising the huge impact these have had. It is true, however, that negative stories have been among the most widely shared, reproduced and commented on.

Perhaps, no one put it better than Meghan herself when she pointed out, during a panel on International Women’s Day in March, "I think positive or negative, it can all sort of just feel like noise to a certain extent these days," adding that she doesn’t read any of it.

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While speaking on a panel at International Women's Day, Meghan revealed that she doesn't read the stories about her in the press

But the Sussexes’ appointment of PR heavyweight Sara Latham at the start of this year suggests that cutting through the noise with the right message is indeed very important to the new Duchess. In an internet age, it would be futile to try to control all the ways information can gain a life of its own. However, what the couple can attempt to control is how much they share about their private lives—and they have made it clear that they intend to draw those lines where they see fit, despite what might have gone before.

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Their decision not to pose with their newborn for a large-scale photo call put them on the receiving end of criticism from sections of the media who had become accustomed to having access to such moments in royal life. Yet images and footage of their much more intimate photo call went around the world in much the same way that images of royal babies and hospital steps had done in years past. And their decision to do things differently also opened up what many felt was a welcome conversation on what "tradition" asks of royal women who have just given birth—and whether it is indeed justified that we have come to expect a certain kind of public display.

While they have made it clear they will continue to fiercely guard what they regard as personal, Meghan and Harry have demonstrated that when it comes to their work lives they will give generously. Indeed, the duchess’s admirable work ethic has been one of the defining themes of her first 12 months of royal life.

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SHOP NOW: Together: Our Community Cookbook, amazon.com

The cookbook she spearheaded production of for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, Together: Our Community Cookbook, published just four months after her wedding, underlines Meghan’s keenness to use her profile to affect real change. Her passion for charity work was there long before she met the prince, but the scale of her new role requires a different approach. And for Meghan, used to having her own autonomous voice on social media and on her blog, not to mention a career of her own, there can be no doubt that the last 12 months have required much adjustment.

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The couple set the blueprint for their future working lives with a slew of changes that saw them break away from the Cambridges to create an office in Buckingham Palace and their own Instagram account @SussexRoyal.

Crucially, however, their staff operate under the umbrella of the Queen’s office at Buckingham Palace, underlining the fact that decisions must also be made with the institution of the monarchy in mind. It is a balancing act the Sussexes are still navigating—finding their own identity within the structure of royal life and finding a way to have a normal family life against the backdrop of an extraordinary family.


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I have covered the royal family for the better part of a decade and during that time I have found that looking to the past can often help with working out what might happen next. With the Sussexes, however, I have learned to put just a little less store in this theory. Meghan is the first ever Duchess of Sussex. There can be no doubt that the former actress is making the role her own.

*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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Victoria Murphy
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