Queen Elizabeth II's love of dogs is well-documented, tending to upwards of 30 corgis throughout her more than six-decade reign.
But when Britain's monarch allowed Meghan Markle's beloved beagle Guy to hitch a ride with her en route to Windsor May 18 ahead of the royal wedding, it signaled more than just her desire for some time with a furry companion.
Because while the newly minted Duchess of Sussex has had her haters from the start—with detractors objecting to the fact that she was American, an actress, a divorcée and, yes, unfortunately, even that she was biracial—the Queen has never been one of them.
The royals' bond was on full display Thursday when Markle attended her first solo engagement with the monarch—without the "best husband ever" Prince Harry. Wearing a set of pearl-and-diamond earrings the Queen had gifted, Markle sailed through the appearance in Cheshire, England. She even engaged in a few laughs with the oft-stoic royal as they watched a performance from local students called "Bringing Communities Together: Halton's river crossings over the ages."
And that small gaffe over who should enter their waiting car first? No big deal. The Queen encourage Markle to slide in ahead of her.
It was hardly her first acquiescence. Among Queen Elizabeth's many responsibilities is giving her formal consent—or veto—to any family marriages in order to guard against unions that could "diminish" the status of the royal house. And many believed Markle's previous marriage, to film producer Trevor Engelson, would hurt her chances of eventually making it official with Harry, 33. After all, King Edward VIII was forced to give up the throne to wed twice-divorced American actress Wallis Simpson. And the queen did block her own sister, Princess Margaret, from marrying her first love, Royal Air Force Capt. Peter Townsend, because he happened to be divorced.
So there was some cause for concern.
But those in the know insist the Queen gave her approval long before she signed that hand-printed vellum scroll.
In her book, Harry: Life, Loss and Love, royal expert Katie Nicholl told Entertainment Tonight she was "really keen" to suss out how Queen Elizabeth truly felt about 36-year-old Markle. "Because when you look at Meghan on paper she is not necessarily what you might expect of a conventional royal fiancée and that she's American, she's a well-known face," said Nicholl. "She's filmed some pretty racy sex scenes that we've all seen in Suits. Everything from being a divorcée to being a bit older than Prince Harry, to coming from a dual heritage family, you might wonder if the Queen being of a certain generation and, of course, being the queen might have been concerned."
Turns out, not so much. "Everything I heard from the sources I spoke to was that she really felt from the outset that Meghan was a positive person in Prince Harry's life," continued Nicholl. "That she made him very happy and that she was really very supportive."
That her beloved grandson was head over heels with the California native from early on is one thing. But royal historian Hugo Vickers felt what really sealed it was Markle's impressive resume. This is a woman, after all, who dedicated herself to charity and activism from the time she was 11 and spotted a sexist advertisement on TV, a well-educated and well-traveled philanthropist who's served as an advocate for UN Women and recently traveled to India as a global ambassador for World Vision. "On paper Meghan's everything you don't want to be—an older woman, a divorcée—but actually her more positive qualities could suit her well for the role of royal consort," Vickers explained in a Vanity Fair excerpt. "She has a certain worldly experience and can stand very well on her own two feet. I think she would make a very good partner for Prince Harry."
Queen Elizabeth agreed. As Nicholl writes, "When Harry asked his grandmother for her blessing in the fall of 2017, she gave it without hesitation. I was told by one of the Queen's closest aides shortly after the engagement announcement that the monarch was genuinely delighted that Harry had found someone who made him so happy. Despite rumors to the contrary, there was no issue over Meghan's racial heritage or concerns that she was older or divorced. Exceptionally close to her grandson, the Queen trusts Harry."
She trusts first impressions, too. And by all accounts, Markle made a good one. Though Harry's older brother Prince William waited some five years to introduce Kate Middleton to his grandmother, the onetime Apache helicopter pilot ushered the then-actress into Queen Elizabeth's summer residence at Scotland's Balmoral Castle last September, 14 months after they met on a blind date. "It went well," a source reported to Us Weekly. "It'll no doubt be the first of many encounters."
Indeed, Markle scored an invite to tea at Buckingham Palace in October, mere weeks after she and Harry made their first official joint appearance together at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, with a source telling E! News at the time, the pair were "as good as engaged now. They've spoken about their marriage plans openly with each other."
By the time they were discussing them openly with everyone else—making their engagement announcement in November—Markle was comfortable enough to gush about her connection with the Queen. "It's incredible, I think, you know, a.) to be able to meet her through his lens, not just with his honor and respect for her as the monarch, but the love that he has for her as his grandmother," she said in their BBC interview. "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. And we've had a really — she's an incredible woman."
Come December, the Queen was so fond, she bucked years of no ring, no bring tradition, extending an invite for Markle to attend the annual three-day yuletide fete at her sprawling Sandringham spread. While William didn't bring Kate until after their 2011 vows, "Harry asked the queen for permission," a source told Us Weekly, "and she is delighted to have Harry bring his fiancée. It is a family occasion, after all, and Meghan is very much family now."
Packed full of mandatory activities and requisite wardrobe changes, Christmas with the Queen can be a bit of a pressure cooker for a rookie, but Harry says his bride sailed through. "It was fantastic. She really enjoyed it. The family loved having her there," Harry said on BBC Radio 4's Today program Dec. 27, adding that they enjoyed bunking at William and Kate's 10-bedroom Anmer Hall estate "and running around" with Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 3.
While he conceded there were "plenty" of family traditions to explain (chief among them: gag gifts only for present exchanges), "She's done an absolutely amazing job, she's getting in there and it's the family that I suppose she never had."
Along with nailing her attire and table manners, Markle also successfully captivated Harry's intimidating clan. A family friend told Nicholl the Northwestern University theater and international studies double major "charmed" Prince Philip, impressing him with her intellect and the fact that she's incredibly well-read.
And, of course, the Queen's corgis were fans from the start. In their joint BBC interview, Harry reported the pups took to dog lover Markle "straight away. I've spent the last 33 years being barked at. This one walks in, absolutely nothing." The pooches, added Markle, were "just laying on my feet during tea, it was very sweet."
With her closest companions, convinced, the Queen literally opened her home—Windsor Castle is one of her favorite residences—for Harry and Markle's May 19 vows.
As they put together the nuptials, Nicholl told ET, the monarch was quite accommodating: "She has said to the couple, 'This is your wedding, this is your day. Plan it as you want.'"
The fairytale-like day was fitting for a prince who feels he's living his dream life with a woman warmly embraced by his famous kin.
"The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was sort of confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect," he told BBC. "It was this beautiful woman just sort of literally tripped and fell into my life, I fell into her life. The fact that she—I know the fact that she will be unbelievably good at the job part of it as well is obviously a huge relief to me because she will be able to deal with everything else that comes with it. We're a fantastic team."