LONDON — After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle met through friends in July 2016, it didn’t take long for the British tabloids to get wind of the relationship and shift into overdrive.
Speculation mounted that Markle, the star of the TV legal drama “Suits,” might be the one to finally tame the royal, who was known as much for his partying as for his conservation work. But less than three months later, Harry issued a strongly worded statement suggesting that there had been “a line crossed” with some of the coverage.
“Meghan Markle has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment,” it said. “Some of this has been very public — the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”
That entreaty demonstrated the frustration expressed by the royal couple at their treatment by the press and the criticism they endured from traditionalist Britons, which may have played a substantial role in their decision, announced Wednesday, to step back from their royal duties and begin a transition to a more independent life.
But his request did not stop the tabloids from documenting the pair’s every move as Markle and Harry watched the Northern Lights in Norway, attended society weddings and were pictured kissing in public for the first time in May 2017 at the exclusive Coworth Park polo club west of London.
Four months later, Markle appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, speaking openly about their relationship for the first time.
“We’re two people who are really happy and in love,” she said.
Later that month, they were joined by Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, at the Invictus Games in Toronto, where they made their first official public appearance together at a wheelchair tennis match.
With marriage speculation mounting, it emerged that Harry had taken Markle to meet Queen Elizabeth II, whose permission they needed to tie the knot.
Then, on Nov. 27, 2017, Prince Charles’ office at Clarence House announced their engagement to be married at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, a small town about 30 miles west of London. The pair revealed in a TV interview that Harry had proposed over a roast chicken.
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Markle appeared to take to the royal role with ease, joining Harry at the queen’s traditional pre-Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace that December before joining the rest of the family on Christmas Day.
The public also seemed enamored with the soon-to-be princess, flocking to see her at a series of public engagements across the U.K.
At their first joint engagement with Harry’s brother, William, and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, at a Royal Foundation forum in February 2018, Markle showed her support for the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns in an on-stage question-and-answer session.
She would later be praised for her support of LGBTQ issues, which she said were about “human rights,” and her support for educating the world’s poorest girls.
However, less than five days before the wedding, on May 19, 2018, Markle appealed for “understanding and respect” for her father, Thomas Markle, who was the subject of numerous tabloid stories. She later confirmed that he would not be attending.
But the wedding went off without a hitch. Celebrity guests, including Serena Williams, George Clooney and James Corden, looked on as Meghan Markle became Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
After their wedding, crowds flocked to see them wherever they went, particularly in Australia, where they conducted their first royal tour as a married couple.
That October, Harry and Meghan announced that they were “very pleased” that they were expecting a baby in spring 2019.
Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born on May 6 at Portland Hospital in London after Meghan went into labor early in the morning.
But rumors of a rift between Harry and William began to emerge. On June 20, the Sussexes confirmed that they were separating from William and Kate’s Royal Foundation charity to start their own initiative, Sussex Royal.
Harry and Meghan were criticized the next month when they broke convention at Archie’s christening by not holding a private ceremony. They also decided not to announce Archie’s godparents.
They were also condemned in August for using private jets to travel to the south of France, which Harry later claimed had been to ensure their safety.
With press criticism mounting, Harry again rebuked the media in October for its coverage of Meghan. The couple announced that it would take legal action against The Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, for the “intrusive and unlawful” publication of one of her private letters.
In a documentary about their trip to Africa, Harry revealed that he and his brother were on “different paths,” and in November he and Meghan confirmed that they would not be spending Christmas with the royal family and instead would visit Canada.
On Wednesday, shortly after their six-week stay in Canada, they announced that they were stepping back as “senior” members of the royal family and were “working to become financially independent,” and they said they would split their time between the U.K. and North America.
Their groundbreaking decision took many by surprise, apparently including Buckingham Palace.
“Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” a palace spokesperson said. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Where they will go or what they will do remain open questions, but whatever happens, the tabloids will likely not be far behind.