When Prince Harry released a statement Tuesday announcing that he and his wife, Meghan, were suing the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a private letter the Duchess of Sussex had sent to her estranged father, the British press was divided. While some journalistic quarters have accused the prince of being “sanctimonious” and “playing the victim card,” others have defended the right of the Sussexes to protect their privacy.
But whatever you think of the lawsuit, it’s clear that public opinion has never really been on Meghan’s side. Indeed, ever since Harry and Meghan announced their engagement in November 2017, the American actress-turned-duchess has faced a constant barrage of criticism in the British press and from much of the British public. There have been stories about feuds with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, reports of diva-like behavior in the run-up to her wedding, accusations of hypocrisy and profligacy. But it is the estrangement from her father, Thomas Markle, which has attracted much press attention, and which has been the cause of substantial criticism toward her.
Culturally in the United Kingdom, the “family is family” refrain still has incredible potency. No matter how toxic the relationship, or how damaged the parent, plenty of people still believe that you should stick by your relatives whatever the cost to your personal well-being. In a 2015 survey out of the University of Cambridge, 68 percent of U.K. respondents said there was social stigma around family estrangement, and that they had felt judged for contradicting societal expectations after cutting off contact with a family member.
Meghan’s acrimonious relationship with her dad — as well as with other members of her wider family — is a public rift many British people find distasteful, as the commentary in many newspaper articles attests, not to mention social media. It is an affront to so-called traditional family values, and neglects the Biblical commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother;” indeed, in today’s Daily Mail, Piers Morgan accuses Meghan and Harry of being “heartless” in the way they’ve “banished” Thomas Markle from their lives. Whatever the private context for the rift between Meghan and her father — and none of us know what that context is — it is invariably Meghan who bears the brunt of the blame.
This specific criticism hits a very personal nerve with me. When I became estranged from my father 25 years ago, I was the recipient of similar judgmental attitudes. You only have one father, people used to tell me, as though perhaps I might have forgotten. It was, in fact, a truth of which I was painfully aware: I only had one father, and mine — an aggressive alcoholic — hadn’t lived up to the task.