When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped back from their roles as senior working members of the royal family in January 2020, Her Majesty responded to their requests by saying, in part: “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”
The statement was a rare first-person statement by the Queen, and the words she wrote – that they were “a valued part of my family” – wasn’t just lip service.
While close to all of her grandchildren in their own way, Her Majesty and Harry always enjoyed a close bond full of laughter and merriment since Harry’s birth in 1984. When Meghan came into Harry’s life, Her Majesty welcomed the prince’s future bride with open arms, meeting her in September 2017 at Balmoral Castle and then breaking a long-standing tradition by inviting her to the family’s Christmas Day church service and dinner at Sandringham later that year. (Previously, one was invited only if they had married into the family.)
Meghan fully recognised the special relationship Her Majesty shared with Prince Harry. She said in an interview following her and Harry’s engagement: “To be able to meet her through his lens, not just with his honour and respect for her as the monarch, but the love that he has for her as his grandmother, all of those layers have been so important for me so that when I met her, I had such a deep understanding and, of course, incredible respect for being able to have that time with her. She’s an incredible woman.”
Not long after Harry and Meghan married in May 2018, the newly minted Duchess of Sussex embarked on her first solo engagement with Her Majesty, travelling aboard the Royal Train to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge in Cheshire on 14 June that year – less than a month after their wedding. The trip was an overnight one without the Duke of Sussex; in addition to opening the bridge in Cheshire, they launched the Storyhouse Theatre in Chester and attended a lunch at the Chester Town Hall.
Later, in her tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, Meghan reflected on that trip, saying that Her Majesty had gifted her a set of pearl earrings and a necklace.
“I just really loved being in her company,” she said. “We were in the car going between engagements. And she has a blanket that sits across her knees for warmth, and it was chilly. And she was like, ‘Meghan, come on’, and put it over my knees as well. It made me think of my grandmother, where she’s always been warm and inviting and really welcoming.”
Despite Harry and Meghan’s step back from the Firm – the working arm of the royal family – they still both deeply loved Her Majesty as grandmother and grandmother-in-law, respectively.
“It’s important to be able to compartmentalise that [the difference between the Firm and the family] because the Queen, for example, has always been wonderful to me,” Meghan told Oprah in 2021.
Just days after the original January 2020 statement from the Queen, she continued to express her love for Harry, Meghan, and Archie – in the first person, writing: “Harry, Meghan, and Archie will always be much loved members of my family. I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life. I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across the country, the Commonwealth, and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family. It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
Though the miles separated them in later years – Her Majesty in the UK and the Sussexes eventually landing in California – the couple remained “much loved members of the family”, Buckingham Palace wrote in February 2021, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to leave their posts as working members of the royal family was again confirmed after a 12-month review period. The next month, even with the explosive interview where it was revealed one royal family member made comments about Archie’s skin tone before he was born, Harry was quick to point out that the offending member of the family was not the Queen or Prince Philip.
Perhaps the couple’s ultimate sign of affection for Her Majesty was choosing to name their daughter, Lilibet, after the Queen – Lilibet being a childhood nickname of Her Majesty. Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor was born on 4 June, 2021 and is known affectionately as Lili.
Though Harry, Meghan, and the Queen were not seen together for quite some time, royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter tells The Independent that, while it’s impossible to know the ins and outs of the trio’s relationship, their warm affection for one another when speaking about the other party is proof that all was well before her death.
“The relationship between them [was] good,” Arbiter says. “The Queen is very pragmatic, and, at the end of the day, she adores her family. She wants them to be happy.
“She [was] very glad for Harry and Meghan, who are now living the kind of life they hoped to achieve. But she missed them terribly and wished things hadn’t quite gone as combative as they had. But she doesn’t hold it against them. At the end of the day, Harry is a beloved grandson, and she wants him to be happy and live a happy life. He went [to the US] with her blessing.”