It was an extraordinary sight—as the queen and Meghan Markle sat on chairs watching a performance by a group of schoolchildren on Thursday, Meghan leant over and whispered something in her grandmother-in-law’s ear, and the monarch chuckled. Her Majesty then made a canoeing action, in friendly imitation of the kids’ performance, and laughed again.
The queen has a fairly simple policy on public emotion which is to not show it, ever, and this is not because she is some unthinking adherent to the principle of the stiff upper lip, but just because it makes life simpler, and avoids people being upset or reading things into it when she doesn’t smile.
Her usual stony countenance made the simple and touching display of connection between the two women, neither of whom could ever have imagined a few years ago they would have been related to such a person, one more confirmation of a rumor that Meghan and the queen are getting on like a house on fire.
When you stop and think what the queen has been through, the battles she has fought, the men she has faced down, and the changes she has ringed since she ascended to the throne at the tender age of 25, it is hardly surprising that she would have empathy and connection with a strong, self-made, and independent woman like Meghan Markle, even if some sections of British society and some sections of the media still have a problem with her.
But the open display of warmth between the queen and the woman who recently married her grandson was a real surprise.
Their relationship began on exactly the right note when Meghan was invited to join the queen for tea at Buckingham Palace, slipping in a discreet side entrance, just a few weeks before her engagement to Harry became public.
The tea party in the queen’s private suite of rooms, which overlook Constitution Hill was, by all accounts, a great success.
Core to their recognition of each other as kindred spirits was their love of dogs; the queen is said to have been thrilled that her corgis accepted Meghan immediately.
Harry himself confirmed this rumor when he told BBC interviewer Mishal Husain: “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at; this one walks in, absolutely nothing.”
Meghan herself said the dogs were, “Just laying on my feet during tea, it was very sweet.”
The royal writer Christopher Andersen, author of multiple royal biographies including the best-selling and newly reissued e-book Diana’s Boys says the centrality of dogs to their relationship should not be underestimated.
“Everyone in the Royal Family, without exception, detests the Queen’s corgis, and the corgis return the favor. Charles, Philip, Anne, Andrew, Edward, William, Harry, all have gone on record saying they cannot abide Her Majesty’s dogs. They bark, they nip, they pee everywhere, and they are famous for sweeping into a room and tripping people up. But they love Meghan. And the Queen has practically adopted Meghan’s adorable rescue beagle, Guy.”
Indeed, there are photographs of a dog looking remarkably like Guy sitting next to the queen in a royal car as she headed for Windsor just days before the wedding. No Meghan in sight; just (allegedly) Guy and the queen.
Andersen also says that Meghan has won the queen’s respect by respecting her.
“Meghan is quite articulate and thoughtful,” says Andersen. “To put it bluntly she comes across as a class act compared to some of the other in-laws the Queen has had to contend with. Meghan apparently asks all the right questions. She seems eager to learn all she can about England and the dynasty she’s now a part of.”
The attention paid to Meghan this week by the queen is unprecedented. Kate Middleton had been married almost a year before being invited to accompany the queen, at the start of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012, for a day in Leicester.
But Meghan was not just invited to be at the queen’s side on this week’s engagement, she also had another remarkable honor bestowed on her when she was invited to travel to the event with the queen on the royal train, a glorious chain of locomotive carriages, dating from the reign of Queen Victoria, which feature luxurious rolling accommodation, with bedrooms which include full-sized baths.
The royal sleepover began when the queen and Meghan were driven to Euston on Wednesday evening, traveling through the night to Runcorn in Cheshire.
The journey only takes a few hours, so the train would have parked up in an isolated siding shortly before dawn, moving to its final destination at the last minute.
Robert Lacey, writer and historical consultant for the Netflix series The Crown, says, “Being invited to travel on the royal train is a completely different level of intimacy to being asked to travel on some billionaire’s private jet. It’s more like being invited to stay at someone’s private home. It’s a real gesture of inclusion, since it is very much the Queen’s space, and she wouldn’t share that space with just anyone.
“Of course, we can never really know how much of all this is personal, and how much is part of the job—welcoming a recruit who is very good business for the family image. But she and Meghan do genuinely seem to have hit it off. Meghan has clearly made Harry happy, and that has made the queen happy as well.”
The significance of Meghan being invited to spend a night with HM on the royal train won’t be lost on those courtiers who continue to grumble, with thinly disguised racism, about the royal family letting an outsider like Meghan in.
She’s more than good enough for me, the queen is not-so-subtly stating, so get over yourselves.
In setting her face against such small-mindedness, the queen is playing her own very significant part in dragging the House of Windsor into the modern age.