It’s fair to say there’s never been a year in the last seven decades when nothing much happened of note in the British royal family, the world’s most famous, most storied royals in the history of modern monarchies. Queen Elizabeth II’s many descendants just can’t help but make news.
This year, 2019, was no different, with highs and lows in the fortunes of the Windsors occupying the news feeds of fans around the globe.
Perhaps the most surprising royal story of the year was the saga of the Sussexes: How did a royal marriage that started out on a super high in 2018 come to tears in 2019?
A year nearly to the day after Prince Harry married the former Meghan Markle –outspoken, biracial, American-born, divorced, a former actress – in a blaze of royal splendor and joy, she gave birth to Archie, the first baby of part African descent in the family.
How is the royal family adjusting to Meghan? How is she adjusting to them? As we learned this year, it’s complicated.
Here, in chronological order, are the top royal stories of 2019:
Jan. 17: Prince Philip’s royal car wreck
Prince Philip, the queen’s retired husband, was driving alone onto a highway near the royal Sandringham estate in Norfolk when he collided with another car in a violent wreck. He said he couldn’t see because the sun was in his eyes.
The then-97-year-old Duke of Edinburgh escaped injury although his Land Rover was totaled. A passenger in the other car was treated for a broken wrist, and a 9-month-old baby in the car was uninjured.
Aside from relief that he was pulled unscathed from such a mangled vehicle, there was widespread shock that the nonagenarian was still driving himself – and sometimes without security.
But maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise: Since his youth, Philip, now 98, collected race cars and loved to drive them – very fast, according to the often alarmed queen. A man who prizes his few opportunities for independence from royal restraints, he would not be happy giving up his car keys.
Nevertheless, Philip voluntarily surrendered his driving license a few weeks after the wreck.
April 23: Prince Louis of Cambridge turns 1
The baby of the Cambridge family, Prince Louis, turned 1 on April 23. He is just as cute as big brother Prince George, 6, and sister Princess Charlotte, 4.
He also seems to be a very happy baby judging from the few photos we’ve seen. A recent favorite: Louis, toddling down a garden path at the Chelsea Flower Show, dressed in red-striped short pants, blue sweater, blue socks and blue leather baby shoes, and carrying a big stick.
His parents, Prince William and Duchess Kate of Cambridge, released three new pictures for his birthday, as has been their custom, and all show him with huge smiles.
Maybe it’s because it’s his amateur photographer mum is behind the camera.
May 6: Royal baby Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is born
Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex’s much anticipated royal baby was born amidst confusion and mystery: The privacy-seeking couple did not release his place of birth or the circumstances, and palace plans to inform the media of timing went awry.
Later, we learned he was born at 5:26 a.m. local time in an American-owned London hospital to which she was rushed from Windsor in the middle of the night.
Hours after the birth, Harry went before cameras at the Windsor Castle stables to declare his over-the-moon joy at being a dad. Two days later, the trio appeared together at the castle to announce his nontraditional name (no title but with his great-grandfather’s surname added to Windsor).
They also released a picture on their @SussexRoyal Instagram page with the queen, Prince Philip and Meghan’s mom, Doria Ragland, looking delighted with the baby.
June 3: The Trump State Visit to Britain
President Donald Trump got his heart’s desire – a three-day “State Visit” featuring most of the royal bells and whistles and hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. He and first lady Melania Trump (plus a clutch of other Trumps) arrived at Buckingham Palace on June 3 to be treated to the kind of royal pomp-and-ceremony the British are so good at staging.
They met top royals like Prince William and Duchess Kate of Cambridge and Prince Harry (but not Harry’s American wife, new mom Meghan, or the queen’s husband, Prince Philip).
There was a lavish white-tie state banquet at the palace and a reciprocal dinner for the royals at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. The Trumps visited Westminster Abbey, took tea with Charles and his wife, Duchess Camilla, at Clarence House, met with Britain’s political leaders and took part in ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Except for social media sneering at his “ill-fitting” white-tie ensemble, there were no major protocol faux pas.
July-November: The woes of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
The queen’s beloved second son’s friendship with American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein embarrassed the royal family and damaged Andrew’s reputation starting in 2011.
In 2015, one of Epstein’s self-described “teen sex slaves,” Virginia Roberts Giuffre, alleged in court documents that she was forced by Epstein to sexually service Andrew and others among his powerful friends, allegations Andrew and the palace emphatically denied.
It all came rushing back into headlines in July when Epstein was arrested and charged with new sex crimes, and pictures of Andrew with Epstein and with Giuffre surfaced again on social media. In August, Epstein was found dead in his cell in federal custody.
With federal authorities promising to pursue Epstein’s associates and Giuffre continuing to publicly denounce Andrew, saying he should “go to jail,” Andrew decided to sit for a BBC interview, hoping to contain the damage to his image and that of the royal family.
The sit-down was poorly received, and on Nov. 20, four days after the BBC interview aired, he announced his withdrawal from royal duties and the end of his royal patronages and charity work “for the foreseeable future.”
August-November: The media troubles of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan
The tabloid backlash against Harry and Meghan began building earlier in the year: She was said to be too bossy, too American, too mean to sister-in-law Kate with whom she was said to be “feuding.” Then the story shifted: The “feud” was actually between Harry and brother Will.
After the birth of Archie the carping grew louder: In August, Harry and Meghan were branded “eco-hypocrites” for using private jets for getaways while lecturing about climate change. Their friends, including celebrities such as Elton John, rushed to defend them; tabloid columnists rushed to mock them.
Then, in October, at the end of their 10-day tour of southern Africa, the couple announced they were suing three tabloids for copyright infringement, invasion of privacy and phone hacking.
Their declaration of war on the tabloids, relatively rare for royals, stunned the media and distracted from the overall success of the tour, during which Archie adorably made his public debut.
After their return, interviews they did with ITV aired in a documentary film in which they lamented their “struggle” living with “relentless” and “malicious” media scrutiny, some of which they believe are anti-American and verging on racist.
Meghan appeared to be holding back tears as she talked about the effect of the pressure on her mental and physical health as a new mother. “Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said.
On Nov. 13, the couple announced they would spend Christmas with her mother, Doria Ragland, and not at Sandringham for the traditional royal family holiday. Their plans are part of their desire to take a six-week family-time break from royal duties, possibly spending at least part of it in the U.S.
The news was greeted with incredulity by many tabloid columnists – a “snub” to the queen, they brayed – even though the palace insisted the queen approved of their Christmas plans. Besides, Will and Kate spent at least two Christmas holidays with Kate’s family away from Sandringham in the early years of their marriage.
So if Harry and Meghan just want to get away from all the negativity during the holidays, who can blame them?
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