Just over a year ago, it became official: Prince Harry was engaged to Meghan Markle, and the British royal family was gaining a new member. It was a celebratory moment, but also a monumental one: As a biracial divorced American, Markle shattered stereotypes about what “type” of person belonged in the House of Windsor.
And that was just the start. Numerous appearances, speeches, trips, and one hell of a wedding later, the Duchess of Sussex has shown that she’s quite the royal tour de force. Below, some of the ways Markle made her mark on the monarchy in 2018.
The royal family can’t weigh in on political issues—that’s why you don’t hear the Queen taking a stance on Brexit, and why Prince Charles’s black spider memos were such a thing.
Although the Me Too movement isn’t, and shouldn’t be considered, political, the royal family still treated the subject carefully. Kate Middleton, for example, did not wear black to the 2018 BAFTAs, despite most female actresses doing so (she did, however, wear a dark green dress with a black sash). And, yes, Prince William alluded to it in his BAFTAs speech—“As president, I am proud of the leadership BAFTA have shown on this; in a year which rocked the industry as many brave people spoke up about bullying, harassment, and abuse despite the risk to their professional careers and reputations”—but he didn’t name the movement.
Markle, however, took a clear stance during a February appearance. “I hear a lot of people speaking about girls’ empowerment and women’s empowerment—you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices,” she said. “I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it, and people need to be urged to listen.
“Right now, with so many campaigns like Me Too and Time’s Up, there’s no better time to continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people supporting them.”
Declaring Herself a Feminist
Long before she met Harry, Markle was an advocate for women’s causes, even delivering a passionate speech at the UN about female empowerment. (“It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. May we empower each other to carry out such vision because it isn’t enough to simply talk about equality. One must believe it. And it isn’t enough to simply believe in it. One must work at it,” she said.)
And she showed that, as a royal, she would continue that work. Her official royal family bio quotes her as saying, “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”
Showing Grace Under Pressure
To say that Meghan Markle had a stressful lead-up to her wedding is perhaps an understatement. Days before, a media storm erupted when it was revealed that her father, Thomas Markle, staged paparazzi photos of himself. Then he pulled out of the wedding, leaving her to walk down the aisle alone.
But as it turns out, she didn’t need an escort. Her solo walk down the aisle was one of the most poignant moments of the wedding, as the beautiful and confident Markle waltzed to meet Prince Harry at the altar. Halfway there, Prince Charles joined her in a touching gesture.
Her Financial Honesty
The royal family can often seem removed from everyday life: After all, how many people have crown jewels and castles at their disposal? But not Meghan Markle. While giving a speech at the University of Fiji, she opened up about college affordability and how, like so many others, she needed financial help. “It was through scholarships, financial aid programs, and work-study—where my earnings from a job on campus went directly towards my tuition—that I was able to attend university. And without question, it was worth every effort.” It was a sincere, relatable moment that reminded the audience of Markle’s life before she became an actress, then a duchess.
Staying True to Herself in the Process
Before she met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle had a lifestyle blog, The Tig, and an active social media presence to go along with it. But soon her accounts all shuttered—and with them, it seemed, a part of Markle herself.
But as it turns out, Markle doesn’t need a blog to show off her love of food and cooking. One of her first big projects as a royal was a cookbook, Together, for which she wrote the intro. Then she started posting her own photos to Kensington Palace’s social media accounts. Turns out the old Markle hasn’t gone anywhere after all.