It’s been an eventful year for the royal family, and maybe for the Duchess of Sussex most of all. From the eagerly awaited arrival of Archie Harrison Mountbatten Windsor to his (very private) christening and debut action packed overseas tour to South Africa, there hasn’t been a quiet moment for the new family. But while it has been a largely successful year for the new royal family, there have been challenges as Meghan navigates her new role, and some very public struggles for the couple. Meghan and Harry have had a rocky time in the tabloids, which has prompted them to take legal action, and there have been continued rumors of tensions between Meghan and Kate and a falling out between Harry and his brother William, with Harry revealing that they are on “different paths” in a recent documentary.
Rarely off the front pages, Meghan has kept incredibly busy in her first full year as a royal— and despite the criticism she has faced in some media outlets, biographer Andrew Morton says it’s been, by and large a successful year for the new duchess.
“Meghan has done everything that a new royal bride is expected to do,” said Morton, author of Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. “She has given birth to a beautiful baby, she has undertaken numerous engagements abroad and at home. She has made a number of competent speeches and has made the Queen laugh.”
But Morton also acknowledges, “It’s been a tough year for Meghan and there has been a lot of criticism. I think she’s been unfairly criticized from the outset just like Diana was and just like Fergie was. Meghan is no different. Royal women tend to be more criticised than royal men. They are scrutinised for what they wear how they look what they say.’
Over the past twelve months Meghan has carried out hundreds of domestic and overseas engagements, taken on new charitable commitments and launched exciting initiatives including her successful capsule collection for the charity Smart Works. She also edited the September issue of British Vogue while on maternity leave, showing off
an impressive work ethic that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Queen.
“2019 was a tremendously productive year for the Duchess of Sussex,” said Christine Ross, editor of the site Meghan’s Mirror. “In her first full year of being a Duchess, Meghan has embraced her role in a powerful way. The Duchess of Sussex’s large-scale initiatives over the year showcased her dedication to her charitable patronages and the causes she is passionate about.”
Amid everything there have been rumors of a rift between the Sussexes and the Cambridges, and speculation that Meghan and Kate don’t get along. After moving from Kensington Palace to their new home Frogmore Cottage in Windsor ahead of Archie’s birth in May, the Sussexes set up their own household at Buckingham Palace, further distancing themselves from the Cambridges. In June they left the Royal Foundation, which Harry set up with Kate and William, to start their own philanthropic venture, the Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. That organization launches next year and will have a particular focus outside the UK in the Commonwealth and in the States.
The Commonwealth was also a focus of their tour of South Africa in September, and was a chance for the couple to show baby Archie to the world. In a historic moment Archie met Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, becoming the youngest royal to participate in official tour duties. While the tour was deemed a triumph for the couple, it ended with Harry’s bombshell announcement that Meghan plans to sue the *Mail on Sunday* for breach of copyright after the newspaper published excerpts of a private letter she wrote to her father Thomas Markle. The couple also opened up to their friend journalist Tom Bradby about the difficulty of their roles, with Meghan revealing that she was “existing, not living.” From being attacked over her extravagant baby shower, to the cost of the extensive refurbishments at the couple’s house and their use of private jets over the summer, Meghan has frequently come under fire.
“Meghan is smart and she showed her purpose at her wedding by the people she invited,” Morton said. “She invited people she didn’t know well – Oprah, George and Amal Clooney the big Hollywood hitters. It was a clever move, because they are the ones who have stood up for her when she has been attacked.
But even with A-list support behind her, as a former actress and an American Meghan in some ways remains an outsider within the royal family, says Morton. ‘I don’t think people have given her latitude for being American,’ says Morton. ‘Plus it’s a difficult family to marry into. The Royal Family is full of traditions and rituals such as who walks into a room first, who curtsies first. Things that are nonsensical to an outsider. The whole etiquette of royalty is hard to get grips with. Just because she seems competent and was a successful actress doesn’t mean it’s been easy for her. Nothing could have prepared her for everything that has happened.’
Now on a sabbatical from royal duties until January, Meghan, Harry, and Archie spent their first Thanksgiving as a family in the States with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, and are now enjoying some down time. Given their whirlwind year it’s no wonder they are trading a busy royal Christmas for a more low key family affair.
Morton points out while her own family is limited to Ragland, Meghan has the support of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and her religion to turn to when she needs it.
“Her faith is important to her as it is to the Queen and Prince Charles and I think one of the reasons they get along is that there is a spirituality and sense of faith about her that is real and apparent,” Morton said. “I’m sure like the Queen she draws on her religion in times of need.”
Looking to next year Morton predicts another royal baby and a busy itinerary for the hard working couple. “One will hope for baby number two to complete their family, and I think we’ll see them travel and fundraise around the world. There will be an international element to this couple as Commonwealth ambassadors, they’re in a good position to go around the world and I think things look very positive. There are storm clouds ahead though. and court cases are coming up that will be unpleasant. You also wonder, is she ever going to be reconciled with her father?’
For now, they remain on sabbatical and under-the-radar and planning a low-key Christmas before hitting the ground running in the new year. Like the Queen, who also faced challenges this year, Meghan may look forward to a smoother 2020.