Read by Charles Armstrong
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Women who smash the royal mold have always fascinated the public, from Grace Kelly to Princess Diana. Now acclaimed royal biographer Andrew Morton, the New York Times bestselling author of Diana: Her True Story, brings us a revealing, juicy, and inspiring look at Meghan Markle, the confident and charismatic duchess whose warm and affectionate engagement interview won the hearts of the world.
When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were set up by a mutual friend on a blind date in July 2016, little did they know that the resulting whirlwind romance would lead to their engagement in November 2017 and marriage in May 2018.
Morton goes back to Meghan’s roots to uncover the story of her childhood growing up in The Valley in Los Angeles, her studies at an all-girls Catholic school, and her fraught family life-a painful experience mirrored by Harry’s own background. Morton also delves into her previous marriage and divorce in 2013, her struggles in Hollywood as her mixed heritage was used against her, her big break in the hit TV show Suits, and her work for a humanitarian ambassador-the latter so reminiscent of Princess Diana’s passions. Finally, we see how the royal romance played out across two continents but was kept fiercely secret, before the news finally broke and Meghan was thrust into the global media’s spotlight.
Drawing on exclusive interviews with her family members and closest friends, and including never-before-seen photographs, Morton introduces us to the real Meghan as he reflects on the impact that she has already had on the rigid traditions of the House of Windsor, as well as what the future might hold.
In Search of Wisdom
For years she was troubled by a nagging question at the back of her mind: Where does my family come from, what is my history? For Rachel Meghan Markle—known as "Bud" and "Flower" by her family—it was an endlessly perplexing issue. The fact that her mother, Doria Ragland, was an African American and her father, Thomas Wayne Markle, was a white Pennsylvanian only added to the confusion.
As a member of the so-called Loving generation, those mixed-race Americans born after 1967 when miscegenation—that is, marriage between races—was no longer a crime, Meghan felt she had to find her place, where she belonged, in both the black and the white worlds. In the hierarchy of color that still defines place, position, and proximity in American society, she was light-skinned and therefore seen as "whiter" than her black cousins. From birth she loved both white and black skin, not a familiar occurrence in American society. So, along with her perplexity came a fluidity, a readiness to view the world from different perspectives, from both sides.
She had listened wide eyed as her uncle Joseph had told and retold the story of the Raglands' cross-country drive from Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles in a borrowed car when her mother, Doria was a babe in arms. Their adventure turned nasty when they pulled into a one-horse town in Texas in the teeth of a blizzard. They were looking for a room for the night, but soon realized they were not wanted in the redneck town. One guy pointed off into the snow and yelled: "The highway is that way. Get going. You are not welcome here." Another version of the story has them picking up Kentucky Fried Chicken from the "colored" door at the rear of the restaurant.
While it may be family lore—the road from Cleveland to Los Angeles goes nowhere near the Lone Star state—for Meghan's uncle, then around seven or eight, it represented his first real experience of racism. As Meghan was to learn, the history of her mother's family was one of exploitation, discrimination, and injustice. Some of it she would experience firsthand, such as when she felt the rush of blood to her cheeks when someone in a parking lot used the N-word to her mother because she did not leave briskly enough. It was a word that her humble ancestors—slaves who worked on the cotton plantations of Georgia—would have heard on a daily basis.
It is no wonder that Meghan was left bewildered by her family tree. Tracing her family back through her mother's line is a difficult business. Prior to emancipation, evidence about the lives of black people in the South was inevitably scarce. There were few written records, and most information was passed on by word of mouth. What we do know is that for years the family was the property of a Methodist, William Ragland, whose family originated from Cornwall in the southwest of England, before emigrating to Virginia and then North Carolina. Ragland lived in Chatham County, North Carolina, with his slaves before moving to the rural town of Jonesboro in Georgia, where land was regularly given away by the authorities in lotteries to encourage settlement. Traditionally, slaves were only known by a first name, given to them by their owner, and on occasion they also took their owner's surname. The scanty records that are available show that the first "black Ragland"—that is to say, a direct ancestor of Meghan—was born in Jonesboro in 1830. This was Richard Ragland, who married a woman named Mary. Though much of his life was spent in enforced servitude, at least his son, Stephen, who was born in 1848, lived to see the emancipation that came when the Union, the anti-slave Northern states lead by President Abraham Lincoln, triumphed over the pro-slave Confederacy in 1865. At the end of the war, Stephen Ragland became a sharecropper and remained in Jonesboro, according to records unearthed by Massachusetts-based genealogist Elizabeth Banas. But this was merely slavery by another name, as the overwhelming majority of what was produced by sharecroppers was taken by the white landowners in rent and other dues, leaving an average sharecropper such as Stephen Ragland constantly in debt.
Though freed at the end of the Civil War, it was not until the 1870 census that former slaves could officially register a name for themselves. Stephen Ragland stuck with his former master's surname and his given name—not quite as romantic as "Wisdom," the name Meghan believes her great-great-great-grandfather Ragland chose when he was given the chance to make a fresh start. As she wrote: "Perhaps the closest thing to connecting me to my ever-complex family tree, my longing to know where I come from, and the commonality that links me to my bloodline, is the choice that my great-great-great grandfather made to start anew. He chose the last name Wisdom."
Sadly, the professional genealogists and researchers who have carefully investigated her history point out that the records, albeit sketchy and contradictory, show that he kept his original name. They also reveal that his first wife was named Ellen Lemens, and that the couple married on August 18, 1869, and went on to have four children: Ann (who was also known as Texas), Dora, Henry, and Jeremiah, born in either 1881 or 1882, who is Meghan's great-great-grandfather. Based on census and tax records it seems that for some years Stephen and Ellen continued to live on the plantation of white former slave owner Lemuel Ragland and his wife, Mary. In fact, when Lemuel Ragland died on May 19, 1870, Stephen Ragland was recorded in the census as working for the widow Mary, then age sixty. Other family members living in the vicinity, probably in the same plantation bunkhouse or rough-hewn wooden shacks, included Vinny and Willy Ragland, as well as Charles, Jack, Jerry, Mariah, and Catherine Lemens.
For a time the extended Ragland family lived in the vicinity of Jonesboro, the town now famous as the setting for the epic novel about the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind, before moving the short distance to Henry County, an agricultural district noted for its rich soil and premium cotton. Stephen and his sons, Henry and Jeremiah, worked the land as either sharecroppers or hired hands. However, beyond the cotton profits, Henry County also had a darker reputation, as an outpost of the Ku Klux Klan, which was formed in Tennessee in the spring of 1866. The Klan's first action in the county was to lynch former slave Dave Fargason during a local conflict centering on educating black children. Stephen's son Henry Ragland was also later confronted by a gang of armed white men but managed to escape with his life. Local historian R. H. Hankinson observes that soon afterwards the KKK was disbanded—although it remained hazardous to be black in the vicinity.
The threat of violence and grinding poverty prompted many to migrate north or west in search of a better life. Sometime after the turn of the century Stephen Ragland's daughter Ann and her husband, Cosby Smith, whom she married in 1892, together with their six children decided to make the three-thousand-mile journey to start a new life in Los Angeles in the days when oil and oranges were more important to the town's economy than making movies.
Their decision to move inspired Stephen's youngest child, Jeremiah, and his wife, Claudie Ritchie, daughter of the wonderfully named Mattie Turnipseed, and their growing brood to leave Georgia as well. Around 1910, when Claudie was twenty-five, they made their way to Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the hope of building a better life for themselves.
It is likely that neither Ann nor Jeremiah would see their father, Stephen Ragland, whom Meghan believes renamed himself "Wisdom," ever again, even though he lived to the relatively ripe old age of seventy-eight, breathing his last in the town of Paulding, Georgia, on October 31, 1926.
By then Jeremiah and Claudie had raised five children; one died in childbirth. Claudie, who was at the time officially designated in the census as a mulatto or of mixed race, worked as a maid at Miller Brothers department store, then the biggest store in the region. Her husband, Jeremiah, found casual jobs working in a barber shop and as a saloon porter before setting up his own tailoring business. At that time black people were barred from well-paying jobs or obtaining loans. Self-employment was the only route for self-improvement.
Just as the women in the family raised the children, they also made more of their opportunities, as they became available. Jeremiah's daughter and Meghan's great aunt Dora was the first Ragland to go to college and the first to set herself up as a professional, becoming a schoolteacher. Her younger sister Lillie did even better. She studied at the University of California as a mature student before training as a real estate agent and setting up her own business in Los Angeles. She was so successful that she was listed in the African American Who's Who.
Their brothers did not climb so high: one worked as a waiter, while Meghan's great-grandfather Steve found employment as a presser in a cleaner's shop in downtown Chattanooga. As Meghan's uncle Joseph admits: "Culturally, our family did not have male figures." Steve married Lois Russell, the daughter of a hotel porter, when she was fourteen or fifteen. In the census of 1930, the couple were recorded as living with their baby son, Alvin Azell, who would become Meghan's grandfather, as well as Lois's father, James Russell, and assorted nieces and roomers.
When Alvin was old enough he made his way to Cleveland, Ohio, in search of work. There he met Jeanette Johnson, the daughter of a bellboy and elevator operator at the five-star St. Regis Hotel. Soon after the end of the Second World War, Johnson had married professional roller skater Joseph Johnson, by whom she had two children, Joseph Junior and Saundra. It was not long before Johnson, who traveled from town to town to show off his skills, skated out of her life, leaving Jeanette to raise their children on her own. Enter the smooth-talking, snappily dressed Alvin Ragland, who soon had Jeanette's heart beating a little faster.
They married and moved into a basement apartment in a three-story building in downtown Cleveland. Their first child, Doria, Meghan's mother, was born in September 1956, and it was soon afterward that Alvin uprooted the family and embarked on that famous cross-country ride to begin a new life in Los Angeles, where their Ragland relations had settled. For a time, he worked for his aunt Lillie in real estate and then opened his own bric-a-brac and antique store in downtown Los Angeles. However, by then his marriage was over, and Jeanette was once again left holding the baby. He married for the second time on May 6, 1983, and his new wife, Ava Burrows, a teacher, gave birth to their only son, Joffrey, a few months later.
By this time, Doria Ragland was all grown up and with a child of her own. Two years earlier she had given birth to her daughter, Rachel Meghan Markle, at 4:46 in the morning of August 4, 1981, in West Park Hospital in Canoga Park in Los Angeles. Meghan's arrival would change the narrative of her family forever.
The blooming of Meghan's family from picking cotton under the blazing sun to seeing one of their own taking her wedding vows to a royal prince under the camera lights is an extraordinary story of upward mobility. And what a sublime contrast it makes with the not so distant past. The last American to marry a member of the British royal family was Wallis Warfield Simpson, who hailed from Baltimore, Maryland. Though she was twice divorced with two husbands living, King Edward VIII insisted on marrying her despite overwhelming opposition from the church, the government, and the empire, who objected to a divorcée becoming royal consort. As a result, he abdicated the throne, marrying Wallis at a modest ceremony in a French chateau in June 1937. Billed as the royal romance of the century, the king gave up everything for the woman he loved.
Fast-forward eighty years. While the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as Edward and Wallis became, would have been delighted that the House of Windsor had embraced the reality of divorce, they would have been astonished that Prince Harry's bride was to be of mixed race. Wallis's family, the Warfields, had built their various fortunes on the back of slave labor.
For their part they did consider themselves benign and enlightened masters. Wallis's third cousin Edward Warfield, who was elected forty-fifth governor of Maryland in 1903, gave several speeches on the topic of "Slavery as I Knew It." However, Edwin's tolerance only went so far; in the election for governor he stood on a platform of white supremacy, believing that ill-educated blacks should be denied the franchise.
While Wallis was brought up in relative neediness—she and her mother were the poor relations of the wealthy Warfield family—she enjoyed the services of a black nanny, butler, and maids. They were part of her life, albeit as downstairs folk who never crossed a line of familiarity. Indeed, she once observed that the first time she shook the hand of a nonwhite person was when she and her husband, the Duke of Windsor, glad-handed the crowds in Nassau during his time as governor of the Bahamas during World War Two. People of color simply did not feature in the life of Wallis or her husband except to hold out a tray of drinks. She was from a class, an age, and a region where, quite unself-consciously, Wallis and her friends were nonchalantly racist. In letters and table talk she casually used the N-word and other derogatory terms for people of color. When Wallis was born in 1896, Meghan's great-great-great-grandfather Stephen Ragland was scratching out a meager living as a sharecropper. The very idea that a biracial woman would marry a prince of the realm in the august setting of St. George's Chapel, the scene of numerous royal weddings, including that of King Edward VII and more recently the queen's third son, Prince Edward, would have been unthinkable.
Surprisingly, there are recent precedents. In 2004 the daughter of a prince, Lady Davina Windsor, married sheep shearer, surfer, and father Garry "Gazza" Lewis, a Maori, or New Zealand native, in a private ceremony at Kensington Palace. Now twenty-ninth in line to the throne, Lady Davina and her husband were invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and look set to be present at Harry and Meghan's betrothal. The royal family barely blinked an eyelid at this union between the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and a member of New Zealand's second-largest ethnic grouping. Unsurprisingly, not all members of Britain's aristocracy are quite welcoming of persons of color. When the glamorous food writer Emma McQuiston, the biracial daughter of a Nigerian oil tycoon, married Viscount Weymouth, the heir to the famous Longleat estate, in 2013 his mother's reaction was: "Are you sure about what you are doing to four hundred years of bloodline?"
Ironically, Meghan herself is not such an outsider as some may think, and her European bloodline is way older than four hundred years.
Popular interest in Meghan has inevitably largely rested on her family's history of slavery and how, through hard work and endeavor, her ancestors made a life for themselves in an unforgiving world. What is less familiar is that Meghan has, through her father's family, links to the royal families of Scotland, England, and beyond. When she wrote, "Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating," she never realized for a moment that the blood of kings as well as slaves ran through her veins.
For starters, it is possible to trace a direct line through twenty-five generations to Robert I of Scotland, perhaps the most colorful of all Scottish kings. Better known as Robert the Bruce, he is the legendary warrior who, as he hid in a cave to avoid capture by the English enemy, watched a spider trying to spin a web. The spider repeatedly tried and failed to swing itself up from a long thread, a sign of Bruce's own failure on the battlefield. He gave the spider one last chance. If it succeeded in swinging itself up, he would wage a final battle to liberate his country.
The spider triumphed, and so did Robert the Bruce, defeating the English at the bloody Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. He remained king until his death in 1329, and is acknowledged as one of the most successful and best-loved of all Scottish kings.
This fascinating connection to this distant world of kings comes through her father's family, whose bloodline tells a story shared by so many—ancestors whose roots were in the Old World but who sailed west to seek a better life.
The Markles, who have their origins in Germany and Holland, lived in Pennsylvania for generations working as farmers, lime burners, carpenters, miners, soldiers, and, in the case of Meghan's great-grandfather the giant Isaac "Ike" Markle, a fireman for the Pennsylvania Railroad company. Ike's son Gordon Arnold, Meghan's grandfather, started his own filling station business, worked in the shoe industry, and wound up in an administrative position for the post office in the small town of Newport. In March 1941, just months before the US entered the Second World War, he married Doris Mary Rita Sanders, who hailed from New Hampshire.
It is the lineage of Meghan's grandmother that can be traced directly to the Scottish royals and more. Through her ancestor Roger Shaw, Meghan's trickle of blue blood was ultimately transported to America. The son of a wine merchant and shipper in the City of London, Shaw sailed from Plymouth in the west of England to Massachusetts around 1637.
Like many other young men, Roger Shaw saw America as the land of promise and opportunity. Thanks to his father's influence, the authorities gave him license "to sell wine, and any sorts of hard liquor, to Christians and Indians, as his judgement deemed, on just and urgent occasions, and not otherwise." In time he became a substantial landowner, a farmer, and an acknowledged pillar of the community.
It was his family, who originated from Yorkshire in the north of England, who are the critical link to royalty. Locally, they were well-respected landowners, and it was the marriage in 1490 of one of the clan, James Shaw, to Christina Bruce, the heiress daughter of Sir David Bruce, 6th Baron of Clackmannan, a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, that sealed the royal connection.
Going back down the generations, Meghan's grandmother Doris can also boast another interesting connection to royalty, this time through her ancestor Mary Bird, who appeared in the household records for Windsor Castle in 1856 and probably worked as a maid. There is some satisfaction here in that like some latter-day Cinderella, Mary's descendant will marry her own prince.
This, though, is not the only royal bond. Meghan is also descended from the American immigrant Christopher Hussey, who lived on the whaling island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts, as well as the Reverend William Skipper, who landed in New England in 1639. His royal connections and subsequent links to the Markle family ensure that, according to Boston-based genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts, Meghan is a twenty-fourth generation descendant of the medieval King Edward III. Born at Windsor Castle, he successfully ruled England for fifty years until his death in 1377.
Furthermore, according to Roberts, Meghan is distantly related to most European royal families thanks to her English kinswoman Margaret Kerdeston, who lived during the fifteenth century and was the paternal grandmother of Anne of Foix-Candale, queen of Hungary and Bohemia.
As Roberts observed: "Much of American and English history is reflected in her diverse ancestry."
Of course many Europeans can claim distant links to royalty, and Meghan has been curious about both sides of her family. During a visit to Malta, she was keen to trace her family roots. Her ancestor Mary Bird, who worked at Windsor Castle, was married to a soldier named Thomas. When he was stationed on the Mediterranean island, Mary joined him. Their daughter, also named Mary, married George David Merrill and eventually emigrated to New Hampshire in New England. It left another family branch for Meghan to explore.
Her mixed European and African American heritage has constantly reminded her, especially when she was growing up, about her difference and distinction. It is a difference she has learned to embrace and acknowledge.
Growing Up Markle
Growing up Markle in the 1950s was like a chapter from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Young Tom Markle, Meghan's father, and his two older brothers, Mick and Fred, enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the small Pennsylvanian town of Newport, where they lived in a modest clapboard house. (Royal trivia: Newport is just 90 miles north of the birthplace of the last American to marry a royal prince, Bessie Wallis Warfield Simpson.) The boys played on monkey vines in the woods at the end of their dirt road, went fishing for catfish in the Juniata River, and in summer picked blackberries, their mother, Doris, turning their trove into delicious pies and jellies. As a teenager Tom earned his pin money literally, setting the pins in the local bowling alley. Or he would join his father, Gordon, who worked in administration for the post office, watching his beloved Philadelphia Phillies score home runs on their black and white television.
By the time Tom graduated from Newport High School, his brother Mick had joined the United States Air Force, where he worked in telecommunications, though some say he was eventually recruited into the Central Intelligence Agency. Brother Fred headed south, found religion, and eventually ended up becoming the presiding bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church in America, located in Sanford, Florida, where he is known as Bishop Dismas.
Tom took a different attitude toward his future. After graduating, he left small-town Newport and drove to the Poconos, a mountainous resort area in northeastern Pennsylvania. There he worked at the local theater, learning the technical backstage side of the business and gaining valuable experience that gave him a step up the professional ladder. He then traveled to Chicago after getting a job as a lighting technician at WTTW, the local affiliate for the Public Broadcasting Service. He also worked at the Harper Theater alongside the new owners, Bruce and Judith Sagan, who wanted to give the Hyde Park district, also the eventual home of Barack Obama, a vibrant new cultural center. He soon became the theater's lighting director, working on the controversial musical Hair, dance shows, and classic Russian dramas as well as jazz and chamber music concerts.
Tom worked hard and played hard, spending downtime with his student friends from the prestigious University of Chicago. During one rowdy party at the on-campus International House in 1963, Tom, then nineteen, met eighteen-year-old Roslyn Loveless, a student who worked as a secretary in the nearby Amtrak offices. Both tall—she is five foot nine; he is six foot four—and with similar red hair, the attraction was immediate, Roslyn amused by his quirky sense of humor and "light air." They married the following year. Their only daughter, Yvonne, was born in November 1964 and their son, Tom Junior, two years later, in 1966. In those early years, life was a grind, Tom often working eighteen-hour days and Roslyn holding down a secretarial job herself while bringing up two children. It was a constant juggling act, and Roslyn's mother, Dorothy, helped out when she could.
Despite the daily pressures they still enjoyed a busy social life and had a fun circle of friends, Tom keeping everyone amused with his offbeat brand of humor. Roslyn remembers one time at a Greek restaurant when he pretended to have a parrot called Stanley and passed the imaginary parrot from one person to the next, imploring the waitresses not to stand on him. "It was hilarious," she recalls. When Yvonne and Tom Junior started to lose their milk teeth, he sent them long letters from two tooth fairies, Hector and Ethel, who described their lives and explained what would happen to their teeth. From time to time he'd take the children to work with him. It was a thrill, especially as at that time he was lighting the hugely popular puppet show Sesame Street. A trip to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs baseball team, driving his dad's car in the parking lot at WTTW, being lifted into the air on the studio lighting gantry, hunting for quarters on a stage filled with foggy dry ice: these were some of the good times Tom Junior treasures.
In his eyes, Tom Senior was the fun dad, the dad who played the best games and made you laugh the hardest—when he was around. Which, sadly, was not often. Childhood expectation was invariably tinged with disappointment. He was consumed by his work, the fruits of his labor coming in local Emmy nominations—and a fat paycheck. The price he paid for such success was his marriage; the constant late nights, the boozy cast parties, and endless distraction and fatigue took their toll. One of Tom Junior's earliest memories is the sound of raised voices, slamming doors, and angry words. At some point in the early 1970s, when the children were still in elementary school, the couple decided to go their separate ways.
For a time, Tom lived in Chicago and had the children on weekends. But it didn't last long. He had a dream, and that dream was Hollywood. Sometime before their divorce in 1975, Tom left his estranged wife and children behind as he started his new life on the West Coast. The children would not see their father again for several years.
At the urging of her brother Richard, who lived in New Mexico, Roslyn and the children traveled to Albuquerque to make a new life. For a while it was a happy time. Uncle Richard was not his father, as far as Tom Junior was concerned, but at least he was around, teaching him to drive his VW Bug in a parking lot and showing him how to shoot. Plus, Richard and Roslyn got on well together. For the first time in their lives the children did not have to live with a rancorous atmosphere at home.
The downside was that as the only redhead at his new school, Tom Junior found himself bullied and picked on by his new classmates. Fellow pupils would steal his lunch money, while others started fights. He used to dread going to school, often coming home with yet another black eye. Worse was to come. One night he went to see the movie Smokey and the Bandit with his mother and her new boyfriend, a martial arts expert called Patrick. They arrived back home to find a full-scale robbery in progress. When Patrick tackled the thieves, he was shot in the stomach and the mouth, the bullets whistling past Tom Junior. Although Patrick survived, Tom Junior was traumatized.
Between bullying and burglary Tom Junior decided to leave Albuquerque and go live with his father, who was now enjoying life at the beachfront town of Santa Monica in Southern California. He arrived in time to enroll in high school.
Though he still idolized his father, there was one big fat fly in the ointment of his new life: his sister, Yvonne. She had moved there a few years earlier when she was fourteen. They had always fought like cats and dogs. "The sibling rivals from hell," their despairing mother called them.
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