The Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked the world when they announced their decision to relinquish their duties as senior members of the royal family.
In January 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle issued a statement on Instagram declaring: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen."
The couple thanked their fans for their encouragement over the last few years, crediting this to helping them feel "prepared to make this adjustment".
But the statement on Instagram sent just as many shockwaves through the British public as with Buckingham Palace themselves given that âit was not approved by other members of the royal family and is said to have left a mood of "disappointment"
The news came shortly after Meghan and Harry revealed their struggles with royal life in a candid documentary for ITV about their royal tour to South Africa.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – in pictures
But a lot has happened to the couple since their first meeting in 2016.
From a royal wedding like no other to lawsuits against the media and the most polarising British Vogue issue in recent history, read on for a timeline of the highs and lows that have defined Meghan and Harry's relationship.
Meghan and Harry met through mutual friends in London in July 2016 when one of the former-actor's confidants, Markus Anderson, reportedly introduced them.
Anderson is linked with private members club Soho House, of which Harry is a member, but it wasn't until months after the initial London meeting that their burgeoning romance made headlines.
Photographs of the couple together were published in the press, showing them on holidays, at friend's weddings and eating out in London making the news.
But it was by way of an unprecedented statement that their relationship was officially announced. Kensington Palace, writing on behalf of Harry, stated that the harassment being experienced by Meghan and her family, saying a “line had been crossed”.
Kensington Palace has issued a statement this morning about the harassment currently being experienced by Meghan Markle and her family. pic.twitter.com/EuFZ4fmUIj
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) November 8, 2016
"He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game’. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game - it is her life and his," the statement read.
"He has asked for this statement to be issued in the hopes that those in the press who have been driving this story can pause and reflect before any further damage is done."
In October 2017, Meghan conducted her first public interview since news of the relationship emerged with Vanity Fair, in which she opened up about what it is like to date a member of the royal family.
“It has its challenges, and it comes in waves—some days it can feel more challenging than others,” she told the publication.
“And right out of the gate it was surprising the way things changed. But I still have this support system all around me, and, of course, my boyfriend’s support.”
The couple announced their engagement in November and were interviewed by the BBC's Mishal Hussain at their home, Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor, about the news.
During the interview, Harry opened up about how much he enjoyed being with someone from outside his inner circle.
"It was hugely refreshing," he said before discussing the trip they took to Botswana together shortly after meeting.
Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle are "thrilled and happy" to be engaged. pic.twitter.com/HBz30SbZVE
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) November 27, 2017
"To be able to start almost afresh right from the beginning in getting to know each other step by step and then taking that huge leap of only two dates and then going effectively on holiday together in the middle of nowhere and sharing a tent together and all that kind of stuff. It was fantastic. It was absolutely amazing to get to know her as quickly as I did."
Harry proposed to Meghan with a custom ring made by court jewellers Cleave and Company using one diamond sourced from Botswana and two smaller stones from Princess Diana's collection.
Princess Michael of Kent apologised for wearing a “racist” broach to the Queen's Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace, that was also attended by Meghan and was her first Christmas with the royal family.
The princess, who is married to the Queen's cousin, was pictured wearing a prominent piece of "blackamoor" jewellery pinned to her coat as she arrived at the annual royal family gathering.
Blackamoor sculptures are figures that usually depict African men and were prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The princess was widely condemned for wearing the "blatantly racist" piece to the Palace and a spokesperson for the royal said she was “very sorry and distressed” that it had caused offence. They added that the brooch “was a gift and has been worn many times before.”
The bride and groom continued to defy convention at the wedding by putting a modern spin on everything from the cake to ceremony itself.
The couple also chose Reverend Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, to deliver a powerful sermon about love during the wedding. The address, replete with historical references, had guests, including David Beckham smiling, while some members of the royal family appeared bemused.
BEST ROYAL WEDDING REACTIONS TO BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY!#RoyalWedding2018 #Royals #RoyalFamily #RoyalWeddingTODAY #reactions #funny #LoveWins #Bravo #MeganMarkle #PrinceHarry #royalwedding #RoyalWeddingDay #meghanandharry #acceptance #Loveistheway #BishopMichaelCurry #BishopCurry pic.twitter.com/BDbeQLLJL4
— Stephanie (@Xceller8ed) May 19, 2018
The joyous day was somewhat dampened after it was revealed that Thomas Markle Sr, Meghan's father, would not be there to walk her down the aisle. Instead, Meghan walked herself down the aisle until she was joined by Prince Charles, who gave the her away.
In an interview with TMZ, Meghan's father admitted to conspiring with a photographer to pose for a series of staged paparazzi photos. As a result of his admission, he felt it would be best to not walk Meghan down the aisle because he didn't want to “embarrass the royal family or his daughter.” He also shared that he had suffered a heart attack six days prior due to the stresses of the situation.
Since their wedding, speculation had been mounting that Meghan and Harry were expecting their first child but confirmation didn't come until 15 October, just as the couple were about to kick off their autumn tour of Australasia.
Kensington Palace announced that the newlyweds were “very pleased” to be expecting a baby in the spring of 2019.
“Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the Spring of 2019,” the palace said in a statement.
Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public.
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) October 15, 2018
“Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public.”
However, some people accused the royal couple of “insensitivity” over the decision to reveal the news during Baby Loss Awareness Week.
October 2018 - March 2019
During her pregnancy Meghan, like many prospective mothers, would cradle her bump or place her hand on her stomach during public events.
But the royal mother was criticised with some saying she was doing it for “photo opportunities”.
Meanwhile conspiracy theorists took to Twitter with hashtags like #Megxit and #DuchessofDeception, claiming that Meghan was not pregnant and had been strapping on a pillow or a bespoke prosthetic.
Meghan also chose not to pose for an '"on the steps" moment after leaving hospital like other royal mothers. Instead, the duke and duchess presented baby Archie to the world at a press briefing at St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle.
The couple later revealed they chose not to use the courtesy title Earl Dumbarton, which Archie was allowed to use, nor to style him Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, opting for “Master” instead.
The former BBC Radio 5 Live host was criticised for the post, which he shared moments after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex revealed their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, to the world.
The tweet featured a black-and-white photograph of a couple holding hands with a chimp dressed in a suit alongside the caption: “Royal baby leaves hospital”.
Baker swiftly removed the post after receiving backlash from Twitter users who branded it as “racist” due to Meghan's mixed-heritage.
So not only does Danny Baker post an image comparing a baby w African heritage to an ape, but he has the audacity to say problem is that those of us who point out how racist it is have “diseased minds”. Classic example of blaming those of us who call out racism for its existence pic.twitter.com/6gtKMpaHZY
— Afua Hirsch (@afuahirsch) May 8, 2019
The 61-year-old later apologised, writing: “Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up.
“Never occurred to me because, well, mind not diseased. Soon as those good enough to point out it’s possible connotations got in touch, down it came. And that’s it.
“Now stand by for sweary football tweets.”
The BBC showed a comedy programme, Tonight With Vladimir Putin, which portrayed the Duchess of Sussex saying “Stay the f*** out of my trailer or I’ll cut you, Kate.
Both episodes of the programme included a feature entitled "Meghan Markle’s Royal Sparkle". In one episode The Duchess of Sussex's character was asked what makes her angry.
@BBC You are not seriously going to show that racist, misogynistic "trailer trash" portrayal of Meghan Markle are you? It isn't satire. It is a disgrace. You should be ashamed. BBC used to set the standard. Air that, and you will lose the last shred of credibility you have.
— AliceHope (@AliceHope57) June 25, 2019
The character replied with an anecdote about the Duchess of Cambridge asking to borrow her hairbrush.
“I say no because that’s gross and then I leave my room and come back and I can tell she’s used my hairbrush anyway because it’s covered in skanky hair that’s going grey and I say, ‘Stay the f*** out of my trailer or I’ll cut you, Kate,’” she yelled.
The show also made fun of the Duchess’s relationship with her father, Thomas Markle.
In June 2019 the Duke and Duchess of Sussex received criticism after it was revealed that their home was renovated with £2.4m of taxpayer-funded costs.
Frogmore Cottage in Windsor was turned into a single property for Harry and Meghan, from five separate homes.
While the couple, who moved from Kensington Palace in April before the birth of their son Archie, paid for any upgraded fixtures and fittings themselves, royal accounts showed that the public fund met the cost of replacing heating, electric, gas and water main systems, as well as replacing ceiling beams and floor joists.
Frogmore Cottage is owned by the Crown Estate and was a gift to the couple from the Queen, who was kept updated on the work. It had not been the subject of work for some years, and had already been earmarked for renovation.
Meghan and Harry chose to christen Archie at an intimate ceremony attended by close family. Royal baptisms are traditionally private but the couple went one step further by going against convention and deciding not to announce Archie’s godparents.
"The godparents, in keeping with their wishes, will remain private," a statement from Buckingham Palace read.
Speculation remained rife as to who had been named the godparents of Meghan and Prince Harry's son, with contenders including media mogul Oprah Winfrey, fashion stylist Jessica Mulroney and Hollywood actor George Clooney.
The duke and duchess' decision sparked huge criticism among royal watchers. “They have to give the public something,” wrote one person on Twitter. “We are paying them and it feels like they do not care about the public.”
Harry and Meghan were heavily criticised for using private jets to go on holiday with Archie to the south of France. Many people accused the couple of hypocrisy given their staunch views on environmentalism. It came after two other European trips, including one to Ibiza for Meghan’s birthday and another to Sicily where Harry flew to discuss climate change at a conference.
Harry later defended the use of the transport by claiming it was to “ensure their safety”. Meanwhile, Sir Elton John publicly defended the couple.
Speaking in Amsterdam for a new flying scheme, Harry said: "I came here by commercial. I spend 99 per cent of my life travelling the world by commercial. Occasionally there needs to be an opportunity based on a unique circumstance to ensure that my family are safe. It's genuinely as simple as that."
Prince William and Harry had been at the centre of rift rumours for months, ever since it emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were moving to Windsor.
In August, the speculation came to a head with royal sources and experts claiming the brothers have drifted apart.
Appearing on Channel 5’s documentary William & Harry: Princes At War? royal expert and editor of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward said: “I would think it might bother William a little bit, because he might see the way that Harry and Meghan do things as being detrimental to the business of the monarchy as a whole.”
Seward added that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were surprised by Harry and Meghan's whirlwind romance, saying: "It was all so quick that William and Kate didn't have a moment to get to know Meghan because Harry hardly knew Meghan.
"And of course William and Kate would have quite naturally thought 'oh she's been married before, she's older than Harry, I hope she's going to make him happy'. Anyone would think that."
In August it was announced that Meghan Markle was to guest-edit the September issue of British Vogue magazine. The cover of the special edition featured a grid of 15 women selected as “Forces for Change” on the cover and articles inside that had been commissioned by the duchess.
While the response was largely positive, some people criticised Meghan’s choice of women, which did not include the Queen, and questioned whether or not a member of the royal family should edit a magazine, despite several others having done so before.
“I feel like I need to bring a bit of reality to the situation.
“We're talking about Vogue magazine. Probably the most elite, expensive, snobby, fashion-dominated, skinny-dominated magazine in the entire world. This is not some great mainstream force for good. This is a magazine for the elite.”
Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe also took aim at the Duchess for picking political cover stars, saying: “Royals have not only got to keep out of politics but they have got to be seen to keep out of politics.”
In October 2019, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex took part in an ITV documentary about their royal tour to southern Africa.
In Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, Harry opened up about his aversion to paparazzi and confessed that he and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, are on “different paths”, fuelling speculation that the two have grown apart.
Meanwhile, the Duchess of Sussex revealed she had been struggling with criticisms in the media, telling ITV’s Tom Bradby that she was not really “okay”.
Bradby later said that the couple seemed “vulnerable” and “bruised” during the filming and revealed he knew that things weren’t “entirely rosy” for the couple ahead of filming.
“The reality I found was just a couple that seemed a bit bruised and vulnerable,” Bradby told Good Morning America.
“That was the story I found and it seemed the right journalistic thing to do, to try and tell that story as empathetically as I could.”
Following the ITV documentary, Meghan and Harry issued an official statement, in which the duke said he could no longer be a "silent witness" to Meghan's "private suffering".
“There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, 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 statement read.
In the same statement, it was confirmed that Meghan had filed a claim against Associated Newspapers "over the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband."
The proceedings in the Chancery Division of the High Court related to the unlawful publication of a private letter from Meghan to her father.
The seven-month-old took centre stage in the black-and-white photograph, staring right down the camera lens while his parents laugh behind him with a Christmas tree in the background.
While many royal fans were overjoyed by the image, others accused Meghan of using Photoshop to sharpen her own face so it would stand out more.
Meghan’s close friends, Janina Gavankar, who captured the photo, spoke out to defend the couple on Instagram, writing: “So proud to have taken the Christmas photo for one of my best friends and her family." She also clarified that the photo had not been edited.
The couple enjoy a six-week break in Canada with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland.
Meghan and Harry are pictured at Canada House in London to thank the Canadian high commission for their “warm hospitality” following their trip over Christmas.
One day later, on Wednesday 8 January, rumours about the couple possibly moving to Canada begin to surface, which Buckingham Palace initially refused to deny.
At 6pm on Wednesday evening, Meghan and Harry announce their decision to relinquish their roles as “senior” members of the royal family in an Instagram post on @SussexRoyal. Their statement is followed by one from Buckingham Palace describing discussions regarding the move as being “at an early stage”.
It is later understood that the couple did not consult any members of the royal family prior to releasing their statement and the mood at Buckingham Palace was one of “disappointment”.
Meghan and Harry officially marked their exit from royal life on 31 March and spent their period of transition between the UK and Canada.
They spent the month attending their last major events as royals, with their last engagement being the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on 9 March.
Once they stepped down from royal life, the pair dropped their HRH titles and became known only as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
The Sussexes launch their new non-profit organisation, the Archewell Foundation, to continue their charitable efforts.
The name of the organisation was inspired by their son Archie. In Greek, the name means “source of action”, the couple explained in a statement.
“We connected to this concept for the charitable organization we hoped to build one day, and it became the inspiration for our son’s name,” the statement said.
“To do something of meaning, to do something that matters. Archewell is a name that combines an ancient word for strength and action, and another that evokes the deep resources we each must draw upon.”
A spokesperson for the couple confirmed their move to their permanent family home in Montecito, California.
They said: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex moved into their family home in July of this year. They have settled into the quiet privacy of their community since their arrival and hope that this will be respected for their neighbours, as well as them for a family.”
Harry and Meghan bought a 14,50 square foot property for US$14.65 milion (approximately £11.2 million) that features a tennis court, a pool, a guest house, and rose gardens.
A year after the Sussexes exited royal life, they gave a bombshell tell-all interview to Oprah Winfrey.
The interview, which aired on 8 March 2021 in the UK, saw the couple speaking about a range of issues, from racism to a lack of mental health support for the Duchess.
Meghan revealed that there had been conversations within Buckingham Palace about “how dark” Archie’s skin might be before he was born.
Asked if the racism was the reason the couple left the UK, Harry replied: “It was a large part of it.”
Meghan also described her brief time as a royal as “almost unsurvivable”, revealing that she struggled with thoughts of suicide but that palace officials did not support her seeking help for her mental health.
Buckingham Palace later issued a response on behalf of the Queen, saying: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challening the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.
“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.
“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Harry returns to the UK to unveil a statue in tribute to his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, on 1 July. The date marked what would have been the Princess’ 60th birthday.
He reunited with Prince William for the event at Kensington Palace, where the memorial is located in the Sunken Garden.
Despite a much-reported rift between the brothers, they were photographed standing next to and laughing with one another during the private outdoor ceremony.
On 4 June 2021, the Duchess gave birth to the couple’s second child, daughter Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
The newborn was named after the family nickname for the Queen, and Harry and Meghan also call her Lili. Her middle name was chosen to honour Harry’s late mother, Diana.
In a statement published on the couple’s Archewell website, they said: “On 4 June, we were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, Lili.
“She is more than we could have ever imagined, and we remain grateful for the love and prayers we’ve felt from across the globe. Thank you for your continued kindness and support during this very special time for our family.”
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: “The Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been informed and are delighted with the news of the birth of a daughter for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.”
Harry and Meghan are seen having dinner with Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank in California, marking the Duchess’ first public meeting with another member of the royal family other than her husband in almost two years.
The four of them were photographed dining together in Santa Barbara, smiling and laughing inside the restaurant as they chatted.
In February, Harry’s claim against a Home Office decision not to allow him to pay for police protection for himself and his family if they were to visit the UK had its first hearing.
The couple lost their taxpayer-funded police protection after quitting as working royals, but the Home Office told him he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security despite offering to pay for it himself.
Harry and Meghan have made a secret visit to the Queen ahead of the Invictus Games, which starts on 16 April.
It marks the couple’s first visit to the UK since they stood down as senior royals more than three years ago. Their trip comes after Harry’s absence from the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in London last month.
The pair will travel to the Netherlands, where the games are being held at The Hague.
Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine, told The Sun that the couple’s visit to the monarch on Thursday was a “wonderful opportunity to clear the air and offer an olive branch”.
“After everything that has gone on, it must have taken a lot for Harry and Meghan to go to Windsor,” she added.
“Also Maundy Thursday is a very special day for the Queen as it is about forgiveness. She is not one to hold grudges and I think she would have happily welcomed them with open arms.”