Whatever else the announcement of Meghan Markle’s new royal patronages achieves, the royal family will hope it consigns the predominant pre-New Year storyline of her and Harry feuding with Kate and William to the trash can.
There was the story that Markle had made Kate cry at a bridesmaid dress fitting, that Meghan was known as “Duchess Difficult,” that she was trying to change how royal life runs (very slowly), and that her and Harry’s move out of Kensington Palace, breaking up the “Fab Four,” was not just down to space, but also to strained relations within the quartet.
A Christmas Day photocall, with the four young royals pictured heading to church in Sandringham, did little to quell the rumors.
“Meghan has so much on her plate, between being pregnant and dealing with the public backlash, and she’s finding the whole situation incredibly stressful,” a royal source told Us Weekly this week.
A second source told Us Weekly that Markle is “definitely bothered by all the reports and speculation” and notes “some things are just hard to stay away from.”
“Meghan made a huge sacrifice by moving across the pond, away from her mom and friends,” an “insider” told Us Weekly. “Marrying into the the royal family isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as it seems, so in a lot of ways Harry feels responsible for Meghan being so miserable.”
A source “close to the duchess” said Harry “takes any attack on Meghan very personally.” “He’s wanted to publicly make a statement many times defending Meghan and addressing the false rumors,” the source said. “But was advised not to.”
On Thursday, with the announcement of the patronages, came an attempt to restore some order, and also some royal standing to Meghan.
This was inevitably partly facilitated by the queen, whose patience for the relentless battery of negative headlines about the young generation of royals might have been fraying.
In a series of tweets, Kensington Palace announced that Meghan would become “Patron of four organizations that reflect the causes and issues with which she has long been associated, including the arts, access to education, support for women, and animal welfare.”
First came the National Theatre. “The Duchess is a strong believer in using the arts to bring people from different backgrounds and communities together. @NationalTheatre’s mission is to make world class theatre that’s entertaining, challenging and inspiring—and to make it for everyone.”
Then, the Association of Commonwealth Universities. “Her Royal Highness is a strong advocate of accessible education for all. @The_ACU is the world’s first and oldest international university network, and the only org representing higher education across all 53 Commonwealth countries.”
Then, the Mayhew, an animal-welfare charity: “The Duchess has long understood the connection between animals and community welfare. @TheMayhew uses innovative ways to reduce the number of animals in need through proactive community, and educational initiatives and preventative veterinary care.”
Then, Smart Works: “The Duchess has met with many women who have benefited from the charity’s support. @SmartWorksHQ helps long-term unemployed and vulnerable women regain the skills, confidence, and tools to succeed at job interviews, return to employment, and transform their lives.”
The queen passed on the patronages of the National Theatre and ACU, which she had held for 45 and 33 years, respectively.
Certainly, the charities are very on-brand for Meghan, spanning the arts, animal rights, women, and education—and, in giving Meghan something of a working structure, it means she can at least be actively occupied and be seen as actively occupied.
Meghan is an actress by profession, and used to having a voice on issues that are important to her; to be denied that, and to be rendered mute–as royal princesses are—must be incredibly tough and galling. She must watch as every single tabloid headline about her behavior and her intra-royal relationships solidifies into unchallenged demi-truth.
Not that Meghan has been simply letting the negative stories stand. In December, she appeared, to rapturous applause, at the British Fashion Awards.
Tellingly, as soon as the new patronages were announced, Meghan was filmed and photographed at one of the organizations, Smart Works, helping clients with outfits and learning about how the charity’s experts help them become more confident.
The Meghan reset came just two days after a positive Elle story, in which “Duchess Difficult” has now transformed, according to a source, into someone being “well-liked” by staff, who “are excited by her ideas and enthusiasm” and not annoyed by her 5 a.m. emails.
Meghan, the source said, “was anxious to learn about royal protocol and takes her new duties very seriously. She’s a quick learner, and she’s receptive to the courtiers who have been providing her guidance and helping her adapt to her new life as a member of the royal family.”
However, the glacial pace of palace life was irritating for her, Elle said. As for her and Kate, they are “very different people with very different styles,” but not at war. Said the source, “The stories of the two duchesses having a major ongoing feud are just overblown. They have enormous respect for each other and are both devoted to representing Her Majesty in the humanitarian and charitable work they do.”
And so, after a disastrous few months of headlines, exacerbated by the ongoing saga of Meghan’s estranged relationship with her father (and the interviews he gives about it), the royal press machine hopes it can turn a corner.
The “feud” between Kate and Meghan, or Kate and William and Harry and Meghan, will be neatly recustomized as two professional and complementary royal working units, with the occasional quartet photocall or initiative announcement to assure royal fans that all is peaceable with the young and cute couples. And “Duchess Difficult” becomes just another hard-working, good deed-doing royal.
There is another, more moving aspect to Thursday’s announcement, and that is in the queen—the most redoubtably hard-working royal ribbon-cutter—passing another torch on to the young generation of royals. Here is the future she knows is coming, and the future that she hopes will continue and evolve the tradition and image she has worked tirelessly to enshrine and burnish.
The Meghan Markle “reset” efforts of this week are as much to benefit the royal family as they are to benefit Meghan. Their success will be measured in whether those “feud” headlines and “Duchess Difficult” stories have been fully extinguished.