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When the Duchess of Sussex turned up in New York City a few days ago, at first it seemed to be something of a surprise. There certainly was no advance warning a member of the Royal Family was visiting the U.S. But Meghan Markle’s decision to jet off on her own to the Big Apple for a baby shower with her celebrity friends may not be that unexpected after all, especially considering how she has gone about settling in with the family after she wed Prince Harry last May.
“I think we all knew Meghan was going to make waves when she married into the Royal Family, and she is doing just that,” said Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair’s royal correspondent and author of the forthcoming paperback Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss and Love. “She and Harry have ripped up the royal rule book and are really doing things their own way.”
Meghan’s transition into the family started out smoothly enough.
“I think people were very positive about her beforehand,” said Penny Junor, a U.K.-based royal biographer and author of Prince Harry Brother Soldier Son.
And the 37-year-old has been well-received for everything from early charitable works — including a cookbook to support victims of the Grenfell tower tragedy — to her enthusiasm and warmth meeting people.
But it’s not all been sunshine and light for the California-born former actor. Much media attention has focused on the very public rift with her father, Thomas Markle — an ugly, awkward and ultimately sad state of affairs that burst into public display before the wedding and has continued sporadically since then. There’s also the suggestion of tension with her sister-in-law, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Add to that the “Duchess Difficult” moniker Meghan has picked up — whether true or not — and it’s not the most regal of arrivals in the Royal Family.
From Junor’s perspective, the media “completely and utterly turned on Meghan” after she “put some noses out of joint” on a trip she and Harry took Down Under in October. During the trip, an event was called off, apparently over security concerns. “My understanding from the journalists that were there was that that was just not right at all,” said Junor. “There was no security issue. It was as though she was in a bit of a bad mood, and she just didn’t feel like doing it that day.”
Then came stories from sources — unnamed — that Meghan is difficult to get along with. She emails staff outside regular working hours. She wanted air fresheners in St. George’s Chapel ahead of her wedding to get rid of a musty smell. “Things like that — I’m sure it never occurred to her it would be a problem, because she’s not British,” says Junor. “She doesn’t understand that we British are very, very reticent about these things. You don’t just say what you want if you’re a Brit. You’re much more subtle about it.”
Nicholl has been surprised by some of the things Meghan has done “because they have really pushed royal parameters,” particularly a recent piece in People magazine, where it appears Meghan sanctioned five friends to speak on her behalf.
That was, Nicholl said, “quite a bold step” for a member of the Royal Family. “Clearly, Meghan felt that the palace’s strategy of not commenting wasn’t working and so she took charge of the situation, but I think communicating through friends in the media is a dangerous game, even though I can understand how frustrating it must be for Meghan not to have a voice.”
Still, Nicholl thinks Meghan has dealt well with the scrutiny she’s faced. “Seeing those images of her in [New York] remind us that Meghan is actually not just royal, but also the biggest celebrity on the planet right now. How she juggles that celebrity with being a royal is going to be fascinating to watch.”
Queens on screen
The Oscars could take on a regal tone Sunday night if voters favour The Favourite, and particularly if they give a nod to Olivia Colman as best actress for her portrayal of the formidable Queen Anne. Colman, who is also on tap to play another Queen — the current monarch, Elizabeth, in Netflix’s The Crown — has been widely praised for her performance as the 18th-century English monarch. But is the comedy-drama, complete with its suggestions of a lesbian love triangle involving Anne, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough and a chambermaid named Abigail Masham anything close to the historic truth? And does that matter?
“Queen Anne isn’t the figure that is portrayed there, but at the same time, if you get too oh-really-they’ve-taken-such-liberties, then I’m sure they would just say, ‘Oh, you’re just being completely humourless about the whole thing,'” said London-based historian Anne Somerset, who has written a biography of Anne.
Certainly some of the broad strokes of history in the movie are true. And Anne’s health wasn’t good. But Somerset can easily rattle off points where the movie strays from reality — for example, its airbrushing out of Anne’s husband, to whom she was happily married. And there certainly weren’t 17 rabbits running around court, even if what they represent is true: her 17 pregnancies, which ended in tragedy, whether miscarriages, stillbirths or children who died young.
But what about one of the central tenets of the movie: the relationship among the women? “I don’t know,” said Somerset. “Personally, maybe this is very naive: I don’t think they ever did have a lesbian relationship, Anne and Sarah.” And Abigail is “not in any way as black as Sarah subsequently painted her.”
That said, Somerset thinks The Favourite is “streaks ahead” of another regal recreation on the big screen recently: Mary Queen of Scots. “In the case of Mary Queen of Scots … there is so much that happens in her life,” said Somerset. “I think it is very difficult to convey her whole career in a two-hour film, and then they didn’t help themselves by focusing on things that weren’t of first importance.”
The television series Victoria, set in the early years of that monarch’s reign in the 19th century, also takes liberties with the truth, but Somerset has found watching it more rewarding. Somerset said Victoria writer Daisy Goodwin “saturated [herself] in her subject and has got a real feeling for Victoria’s character so even if she does deviate from strict truth, she is always … intuitive at making things up.”
Of course, maybe knowing the history inside out makes it harder to enjoy any historic drama where liberties have been taken. To that end, Somerset sees another period piece on the horizon that may be easier for her to take. Helen Mirren (who has had regal turns as Queen Elizabeth II) is on tap to star as Russian empress Catherine the Great in an HBO series. “I’m blissfully ignorant about that,” said Somerset. “I’m sure I’ll find that much easier to swallow.”
What’s coming up for the royals?
The Big Event on the royal calendar for 2019 is the arrival of Harry and Meghan’s first child, although when exactly that is expected is a closely guarded secret. Any hints that have been dropped suggest the baby is due in “the spring” and more specifically, sometime in April.
Various reports suggest Meghan is about 30 weeks pregnant. In any event, it would appear the birth is still a few weeks away because Meghan and Harry flew to Morocco for a three-day visit this weekend, and presumably she wouldn’t fly if the birth were imminent or expected within the timeframe when airlines rule out air travel for pregnant women.
No other major royal events on the scale of jubilees or high-profile weddings are on the public calendar at the moment, although one royal marriage will take place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Lady Gabriella Windsor, daughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, will marry Thomas Kingston in the spring. Those nuptials will be considerably lower profile than the weddings of Harry and Meghan, and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank at the same location last year — there won’t be a carriage ride.
While members of the Royal Family routinely visit Canada, no visits have been announced for this year.
“It’s just incredible what’s happening, and I just wish my mother was here today to see what could have been done.”
— Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on progress that has been made in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. Her mother and grandmother both died as a result of the disease.
The royals in Canada
On Feb. 22, 1918, Princess Patricia became honorary colonel-in-chief of the regiment that had taken her name: Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Patricia, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, had lived in Canada from 1911 to 1916 while her father, the Duke of Connaught, served as governor general. While she didn’t have a high profile in the United Kingdom, she became well known and popular in Canada, often accompanying her father and acting as hostess for him because of her mother’s uncertain health at the time.
“She was a young woman in her mid-20s who was seen as embracing modern life and some of the new opportunities for women,” said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.
Patricia had a lady in waiting who was a suffragist, and won renown for her artistic endeavours as a painter. She also enjoyed athletic pursuits, such as golfing or lacing up her skates in the winter. While there was much speculation that she would marry a prominent royal figure — maybe a future king, a prince or a grand duke — she took a non-royal route and married Alexander Ramsay, who had been her father’s naval aide-de-camp in Canada.
Ramsay proposed to her in Nova Scotia, so there was, Harris said, a Canadian background to that royal romance. And in that, maybe there are parallels to a royal romance a century later, when Harry and Meghan’s relationship had its own early times in Canada, too.
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