The wedding of Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, was the social event of 2017. Most of London’s upper class, and a lot of royalty, were on the guest list. Yet one rather significant person was not. Meghan Markle is Prince Harry’s girlfriend and an unwilling darling of the tabloid newspapers, but she hadn’t been invited. Was it because she had, so to speak, a lower place in the pecking order of high society? Or did the bride not want her stealing the spotlight?
When it was announced that Prince Harry was dating a young woman named Meghan Markle, fans of celebrity gossip went absolutely nuts. Markle and the Prince had been introduced at a charity function in Toronto. But Markle wasn’t a polished socialite from the upper echelons of society. She was, in fact, a television actress and lifestyle blogger – and a divorcee, to boot.
Markle’s story isn’t quite a stereotypical commoner-meets-prince romance, however. She was born in L.A. and grew up on sitcom sets, as her father was an Emmy Award-winning lighting director. Her mother also worked – as a yoga instructor – and the family lived comfortably. Plus, Markle was raised to be proud of her biracial heritage – her father is white and her mother is African-American.
After attending university in Illinois, Markle began seeking work as an actress. She started off with small roles in long-running shows like General Hospital, and between roles she supported herself with freelance calligraphy work. In fact, Markle actually worked on the wedding invitations for the 2005 wedding of Robin Thicke and Paula Patton. Gradually, however, she picked up more and more acting jobs.
Throughout the late ’00s Markle appeared in shows like Without a Trace, Fringe and CSI: Miami. More often than not, though, she was cast in very small roles, sometimes appearing in the credits as just “Random Girl.” But in 2011 she finally got her big break. That year, she was cast as paralegal Rachel Zane in the legal TV drama Suits. The show was a big success, and it increased Markle’s profile a great deal.
2011 was also the year that Markle married her long-term boyfriend, producer Trevor Engelson. The pair got hitched in Jamaica in front of 102 guests – but it wasn’t to last. By August 2013, they had split, and though there was no way that Markle could have known it at the time, this spelled out future trouble. That’s because the British royal family are famously strict about divorce.
In fact, the history of the British royal family features two notable scandals involving divorce. The first was the Abdication Crisis in 1936, when it was decreed that King Edward VIII could not marry the divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson and still remain on the throne. In the end, Edward actually abdicated in order to be with her, sparking a constitutional crisis that is remembered to this day.
The second scandal occurred in 1953. Peter Townsend, who had already been married once before, proposed marriage to Princess Margaret that year. But neither the Church of England nor the British Cabinet would approve the match, claiming that it went against both royal tradition and the Bible for a princess to marry a divorced man. Eventually, faced with the prospect of losing her royal title, Margaret split from the person that she loved.
But this problem was yet to come for Meghan Markle. After her divorce, she continued to act on Suits, as well as throwing herself into charity and humanitarian work. In 2014 she made a speech at the UN for the HeforShe Gender Equality Campaign, and later that year she went to Afghanistan on a United Service Organizations mission.
It was tricky, though, because the pair kept a very low profile. And they were right to – the paparazzi were dying to get their lenses on the hot new Royal couple. In fact, by November 2016, the Palace had to issue a statement condemning the press for their invasive coverage. “The past week has seen a line crossed,” it read. “[Harry’s] girlfriend Meghan Markle has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment.” The surprisingly strong-worded statement also mentioned “the outright sexism and racism” that had been aimed at the actress.
Was it this – the fear of the paparazzi turning up in their droves – that kept Markle off Pippa Middleton’s invite list? Or was it the fact that she was divorced? Both sound like plausible explanations. But neither is actually the correct one. As with almost everything surrounding the royal family, it was all to do with tradition and protocol.
An unnamed insider talked to People magazine about it. The rules of the monarchy – the same ones that have governed royal weddings for hundreds of years, including Kate and William’s – probably couldn’t have been bent for Markle. The guidelines decree that any unmarried or unengaged partner almost certainly won’t get an invite, no matter how serious their relationship. “No ring, no bring,” is the general rule, and while Pippa’s wasn’t technically a royal wedding, it did have some very prominent royal guests.
Etiquette coach Myka Meier also weighed in. “I would not be surprised if Prince Harry was not given a plus one, as the wedding guest list would have most likely been made in fall of last year when Prince Harry’s relationship with Meghan was not as public,” she told People. “[Pippa] may very well follow the ‘no ring, no bring’ rule.”
But – Markle did get to attend the wedding reception at the Middleton house afterward. However, it was an event so very private and closely guarded that no pictures have emerged from the evening, beyond a blurry snap of Prince Harry and her in a car. Apparently, Harry had driven 100 miles to pick her up after the wedding ceremony. What a (literal) prince!
“Harry went all the way back to London to get Meghan and bring her to the party,” an anonymous source told The Sun. “He was determined not to upstage Pippa but also really wanted them to enjoy the wedding together. He didn’t want Meghan having to arrive alone, without him alongside her, at the reception.” Aww.
Even without any photos available, the press still reported extensively on Markle’s appearance at the party. They picked up that she may have worn a black dress with a white jacket, and pondered at length about whether that was appropriate for the occasion. “Was Meghan Markle’s outfit at Pippa Middleton’s wedding reception a fashion faux pas?” asked the Mirror
It was clear, then, that the paparazzi weren’t going to let the actress go any time soon. Yet Markle and Harry were becoming better and better at playing the game, even as speculation raged about whether a proposal might be coming. They kept themselves out of the papers and merely carried on with their lives. Moreover, when Markle was asked at a Suits event whether she planned to marry Harry, she gave no response.
And it gradually became obvious that the royal family would not, in fact, have a problem with Prince Harry marrying an American divorcee. Times have changed a lot since the Abdication Crisis. In May 2017, for example, a spokesman for Westminster Abbey told the Daily Express that the Prince and Markle would be permitted, like many royal couples before them, to marry at the famous church.
“The Abbey follows the General Synod Ruling of 2002. Since then it has been possible for divorced people to be married in the Church of England,” the spokesperson said. Unsurprisingly, fans of the couple were delighted, and it appeared that Markle was becoming quite friendly with Harry’s famous family, too. Not necessarily a prerequisite among royals and their spouses, but still very useful.
Of course, it still remains to be seen what course the rest of Markle’s life will run. Even if she doesn’t marry Prince Harry, she’s got her own career and wealth to fall back on – as of 2017, Markle’s net worth was estimated to be a whopping $5 million. But there’s also a very high chance that the next royal wedding she attends will be her own.