LONDON — Once upon a short time ago, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were lauded as the breath of fresh air that the British monarchy needed to become more inclusive and modern.
Then the couple shocked the nation and rattled the royals by announcing on Instagram that they were all but divorcing “The Firm” — a term for the royal family — and planning to split their time between Britain and North America.
By Friday, Meghan had already decamped to Canada — where in another life she had filmed the TV show “Suits” — to be with their son, her spokeswoman told reporters.
A lot has been written about the shocking move. But here’s a reminder of how we got to this point.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle met on a blind date and started dating in July 2016. The British tabloids instantly churned out sensationalized coverage of Ms. Markle, the once-married actress-daughter of a white father and black mother.
The prince soon released a statement on Nov. 8, 2016, that served a dual purpose: It acknowledged his relationship with Ms. Markle and berated the British news media for their treatment of her.
That set the tone for the relationship between the couple and the tabloids: Harry, who had long blamed the paparazzi for the car crash in 1997 in Paris that killed his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, had drawn a royal line.
“It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm,” the statement read. “This is not a game — it is her life and his.”
More evidence of their relationship emerged: They’re buying a Christmas tree in London! Going to see the Northern Lights in Norway! Holding hands at a friend’s wedding in Jamaica! After Ms. Markle gave a revelatory interview to Vanity Fair in Sept. 2017, it became clear the two were in it for the long haul.
“We’re two people who are really happy and in love,” she said.
Two months later, they announced their engagement. “I think both of us were totally surprised by the reaction, after the five to six months we had to ourselves, of what actually happened from then,” Prince Harry said in their interview with the BBC.
A week later, The Daily Mail published a story about Ms. Markle’s supposed ambitions that included racist tropes. “Now that’s upwardly mobile! How in 150 years, Meghan Markle’s family went from cotton slaves to royalty via freedom in the U.S. Civil War … while her dad’s ancestors included a maid at Windsor Castle,” the headline read.
But the world watched as the couple celebrated their lavish union at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their wedding, of a kind the royals had never experienced before — the chapel of the thousand-year-old castle echoed with the sermon of an African-American bishop and a gospel choir — was viewed by nearly two billion people around the globe, according to the BBC.
Ahead of the wedding, the tabloids turned a relentlessly unflattering lens on Meghan Markle’s father, Thomas, a 73-year-old former Hollywood lighting director who lived in Mexico. The theme: Would he or wouldn’t he attend the wedding?
One tabloid got him to cooperate with staged photos. Then, The Daily Mail reported, accurately, that Ms. Markle’s father had decided to skip the ceremony and would not walk her down the aisle.
Prince Charles ended up doing the honors.
But a steady stream of unsavory stories quoting Meghan’s half siblings — especially an estranged half sister — continued to appear. Last February, The Mail on Sunday published heartfelt excerpts from what it said was a handwritten letter that Meghan had sent to her estranged father, in which she said he had “broken her heart into a million pieces.”
In October, it was revealed that the Duchess of Sussex — Meghan’s title since her wedding — had filed a lawsuit against the tabloid and its parent company over the publication of the letter.
Prince Harry — who had started legal proceedings against the owners of two British tabloids over accusations that they had hacked his phone — said in a statement that Meghan had become a victim of “a ruthless campaign” by British tabloids, and that he had been “a silent witness to her private suffering for too long.”
There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious,” Prince Harry said, “and though we have continued to put on a brave face — as so many of you can relate to — I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been.
The Mail on Sunday said that it “stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously.”
Amid tabloid rumblings, the royal couple announced they were expecting their first child, but the harsh coverage continued apace. Meghan was criticized for showing off her baby bump, and for flying to New York for her baby shower in February.
But Prince Harry could barely contain his glee when he faced a news camera to announce their son’s birth on May 6, 2019. It would be two days before they presented Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor to the world.
The couple unfurled Archie piece by piece: parts of his face, fingers and feet on Instagram, often in sepia-toned or black-and-white images. As the media fretted that it was not allowed to photograph the newborn in the traditional way, other royal watchers had one question: Is he ginger?
Yes, it appears so.
In November 2018, Kensington Palace announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would move out of Nottingham Cottage, on the grounds of Kensington Palace, where Prince Harry’s brother, William, and William’s wife and children live, and take up residence in Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
The tabloids reveled in what they saw as a royal rift, branding Meghan as “demanding” and a “diva.”
In April, the tabloids seized on the cost of the refurbishment of Frogmore: 2.4 million pounds of taxpayers’ money, or more than $3 million, according to the BBC.
On June 20, it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would split from the Royal Foundation, established by Princes William and Harry in 2009, and create their own.
In September, during an official tour of Africa, Prince Harry addressed his relationship with his brother in an ITV documentary.
“Inevitably stuff happens, but we’re brothers, we will always be brothers,” he said. “We are certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him and I know he will always be there for me.”
But the interview that made Britain spill its collective tea came from Meghan.
“Not many people have asked if I’m O.K.,” the Duchess of Sussex said poignantly of adjusting to the pressures of her royal role, the harsh media coverage and her struggles as a new mother.
On Jan. 8, the couple announced their semi-resignation. The news spread like wildfire just as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Harry’s brother, celebrated her 38th birthday, on Jan. 9.
A divided nation digested the news that the couple were stepping back as senior members of the royal family and striving to become financially independent. The tabloids erupted with indignant headlines — “They Didn’t Even Tell the Queen.”
The general sense was that the couple had unleashed a potentially existential crisis for the royal family, quickly nicknamed “Megxit,” for which the 93-year-old queen and Harry’s father, Prince Charles, were trying to find a “workable solution” in an emergency meeting.