One year ago Meghan Markle gave the public exactly what they wanted.
Still fresh off of her history-making wedding at Windsor Castle, she landed in Australia for her first official tour toting several trunks of tastefully appointed clothing and a blossoming secret: In seven months' time, she would give birth to a tiny heir—a ginger-tressed mini clone of husband Prince Harry.
When the duo made the announcement—"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," read the official dispatch from Kensington Palace—it was met with much giddiness as congratulations poured in from all corners of the world. After which, the glowing former actress, 38, and her charming prince lived happily ever after.
If only, right?
Though she and Harry, 35, enjoyed a generally well-received tour through Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand on the heels of their big announcement, the criticisms that had haunted them in the months since the beloved royal announced he would be taking a bride that was a decidedly progressive, American, biracial divorcée returned with a fervor.
On their own, the putdowns would have been niggling, but endurable—easy to brush off jealousy of a grandiose baby shower or uproar over the couple's decision to fly private. But stacked all together, the adversity became crushing and the pair began to question the wisdom of continuing their stiff upper lip approach.
As other public figures rushed to their defense—"Dear England and English press, just say you hate her because she's black, and him for marrying a black woman and be done with it God dammit," British actress Jameela Jamil notably tweeted—Harry decided to take a stand, similar to the statement he put out when his then-girlfriend was the victim of racist attacks. As their African tour came to a close, he announced their plans to fight back at British tabloids who published mistruths, starting with The Mail on Sunday's choice to print a heavily redacted letter Meghan wrote to her father.
"It's an accumulation, and Harry refuses to sit and do nothing as the British press scrutinizes Meghan and invades her privacy," a source explained to Us Weekly. "Meghan comes across as a strong woman, but she's been deeply affected by the negative stories about her."
Which, of course, start with her family. Her estranged sister's talk of a truce after Meghan announced she was with child quickly proved to be mere lip service, and soon the duchess found herself, once again, fending off her attacks alongside her dad's plays for relevancy, the most egregious being his release of their private correspondence.
In the wake of the Sussex's lawsuit, Thomas Markle defended his choice, saying he felt her friends categorization of the letter as an olive branch, in revealing its existence, was misleading. "I decided to release parts of the letter because of the article from Meghan's friends in People magazine," he told The Daily Mail, notably one of the papers the couple is suing. "I have to defend myself. I only released parts of the letter because other parts were so painful. The letter didn't seem loving to me. I found it hurtful."
But he had to know he'd be plunging the final stake into their daddy-daughter relationship.
Because Meghan could only devote so much time to a losing battle, what with the other fires she had to fight in her first year as an official member of The Firm. Some were silly (is it possible for a woman to cradle her baby bump too often?) while others were deeply hurtful, the continued chatter of an ugly feud between her and sister-in-law Kate Middleton being top of mind.
There were those who felt she was doing too much, it thought to be gauche to enjoy a baby shower thrown by her well-to-do circle. And there were many more who felt she was never quite doing enough.
Of particular issue was her and Harry's refusal to let the public in on every step of her pregnancy. Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, while a member of the royal family, was not to be saddled with a title or a position atop the lineage, so there was no need in their eyes to engage in the same spectacles Prince William and Kate had endured with their offspring, Prince George, 6, Princess Charlotte, 4, and Prince Louis, 18 months, being third, fourth and fifth in line for the throne, respectively.
Instead, Meghan kept her birth plan and specific due date under wraps. And while they announced Archie's May arrival—just weeks before their first anniversary—and participated in a photo call just days later, they were taken to task for their secrecy and chastised again when his too-private christening rolled around.
There are those who take great delight in devouring every detail about the royal family and their every expanding brood and were disappointed to miss out on another glimpse of little Archie. But mostly people took issue with the couple doing things their way and not refusing to completely play the royal game.
"I've covered five or six christenings during my royal career and I've never come across such secrecy," Majesty magazine editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward griped on Today. That the event, which was followed up with the release of two official photos, but no mention of Archie's godparents, came so soon after the cost of renovations on the couple's Windsor home was released made it feel even more egregious for some.
"They can't have it both ways," royal biographer Penny Junor opined to the Sunday Times. "Either they are totally private, pay for their own house and disappear out of view, or play the game the way it is played."
All the while, as they navigated their own rules of engagement, Meghan was dealing with some major life changes beyond the obvious one responsible for much of her stress, anxiety and sleepless nights.
She and Harry made the decision to split off from the Royal Foundation that he established with William in 2009, the formerly named Fab Four dividing into two separate households and charitable groups. They also put physical distance between themselves and Kate and William, moving from their two-bedroom Kensington Palace cottage into the aforementioned Frogmore Cottage at Windsor, the latter being more in line with the grandiose Apartment 1A where the Cambridges are bringing up their family.
In tandem, the two moves hinted at a growing rift between the families, but as royal experts pointed out, it was understandable for Harry to want to move out from under his big brother's shadow now that he was a husband and dad himself. And always being a bit hesitant of putting his personal life on display, it made sense that he'd prefer to have his son grow up removed from the microscope that is Kensington.
Shielding his wife from the spotlight, however, would prove impossible.
Save for an appearance at June's Trooping the Colour, the new mom spent the summer on leave from official royal duties, but that didn't stop detractors from following—and taking issue with her every move. From her trip to New York to watch close pal Serena Williams play for a U.S. Open Women's Singles Championship, to birthday wishes that weren't seen as appropriately heartfelt, to a missed weekend with their new neighbor, Queen Elizabeth II, at her Scottish manse, nothing was too small or too personal to criticize.
Even perceived scandals that were not of Meghan's own doing were thrown at her feet. One in particular, her protection officer's decision to request that Wimbledon goers not snap candids of the duchess on their iPhones, left her feeling especially distressed.
"I was told that Meghan was quite disappointed at just how it played out because, in her words, she had said to this source that she would have happily taken a photo with anyone that had asked," royal commentator Omid Scobie later said on an episode of Yahoo UK's The Royal Box. "So I think that perhaps this might have been a case of a protection officer being slightly too protective, although that's probably his job."
Still, despite all of that and the hoopla that can be caused with a few private jets, Meghan's rollercoaster of a year wasn't filled solely with declines.
There was little Archie, of course, his every coo and new discovery bringing the type of joy that can't even be trumped with an evening spent hanging with the likes of Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams at July's London premiere of The Lion King.
And her much-heralded official return from maternity leave: the September launch of her Smart Set capsule clothing collection, a collaboration with designers (including close pal Misha Nonoo) and Smart Works, her patronage that outfits job-seeking women in work-appropriate garb and provides interview training.
"As women, it is 100 percent our responsibility, I think, to support and uplift each other," Meghan said at the London event, "to champion each other so we aim to succeed, to not set each other up for failure, but instead to really be there rallying round each other and say 'I want to help you.'"
Her return into charitable endeavors, she noted, was just a taste of the type of "really strong community-based projects" she and Harry hoped to continue next year with their new foundation, Sussex Royal.
The official event came weeks before their much-heralded tour of Africa and just on the heels of her guest-edited edition of British Vogue hitting stands. The issue, in which she lauded 15 "brilliant female changemakers" including Salma Hayek, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and teenage climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, was generally well-received, though, of course, there were the expected nay-sayers that complained she didn't include her husband's grandmother, the Queen, of course, not being praised quite often enough.
"A guest editorship of Vogue featuring a list of inspirational women, half of whom no one's ever heard of," columnist Sarah Vine wrote in the Daily Mail. "You fail to nominate the one truly inspirational woman in your life, the Queen, whose years of selfless devotion to this country knock all of the others into a cocked hat."
Still, if there's anything Meghan has become adept at, it's brushing off the haters, that is if she pays them any mind whatsoever. And, frankly, while the critics are often the most vocal, it's hard for most to find fault with her work to highlight a host of female difference-makers of all ages.
Plus, there's the fact that it gave her the chance to befriend former First Lady Michelle Obama, the person Meghan choice to have featured on the issue's closing page.
"In formulating the content of the Forces for Change issue, I knew that I wanted to create a magazine that would speak not just to where we are, but to where we hope to be," Meghan explained. "In doing so, I knew we needed to both open and close strong. Like a beautiful meal: the first bite sets the tone and the final spoonful leaves you satiated, smiling, and sometimes (if you're dining under the direction of a forward-thinking chef) even inspired."
The forward-thinking, change-inspiring new royal has long since set the tone and given every reason to believe she'll continue inspiring, and inciting smiles, for years to come.