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The Duchess of Sussex at 39: Her life so far

The Duchess of Sussex, formerly known as Meghan Markle, is an American-born member of the British Royal Family, a philanthropist, and a former actress.

From growing up in California to marrying Prince Harry, in honour of her 39th birthday, Royal Central is taking a look back at the Duchess’s life so far.

Growing Up

Rachel Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Her mother Doria Ragland is a former social worker and yoga instructor, and her father is Thomas Markle Sr., a retired television director of photography and lighting director. It has been said that Meghan often visited him on the set of tv sitcom Married…With Children. Thomas and Doria divorced when Meghan was six-years-old.


Growing up in Hollywood, Meghan attended private schools beginning at the age of two. Raised as a Protestant, Meghan attended Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girl Catholic private school in Los Angeles. She then went on to graduate from Northwestern University in 2003 with a double major in theatre and international studies. At Northwestern, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and participated in service and charity projects. She studied abroad for one semester in Madrid and worked an internship at the American embassy in Buenos Aires.

Acting Career

To support herself between acting jobs, Meghan worked as a freelance calligrapher and taught bookbinding to herself. She landed her first on-screen appearance, a small role as a nurse, on the daytime American soap opera, General Hospital. Meghan also appeared in several films including Get Him to the Greek, Remember Me, and Horrible Bosses. She was also known for being a suitcase girl on the American game show, Deal or No Deal.

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In July of 2011, Meghan landed her biggest role on the USA Network programme Suits, as Rachel Zane, a paralegal that eventually became an attorney. Meghan left the show after its seventh season in late 2017.

Personal Life

Race and ethnicity

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On Meghan’s mother’s side, she is descended from enslaved Africans, and on her father’s side, she is descended from European settlers. In a 2015 essay for Elle magazine, Meghan talked about her heritage and her mixed race.

“My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white…While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”

While Meghan has become known for embracing her mixed-heritage, the former-actress has openly discussed the difficulty she had getting acting roles early in her career.

“Being ‘ethnically ambiguous’, as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role…Sadly, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”


Before marrying Prince Harry, Meghan was formerly married to actor and producer Trevor Engelson. The two met in 2004 and married in Jamaica on 10 September 2011. A no-fault divorce was granted in August of 2013, with the pair citing irreconcilable differences.

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Meeting Prince Harry

In June of 2016, Meghan began her relationship with Prince Harry. While the couple has not confirmed who set them up, the two have openly admitted to meeting on a blind date set up by a mutual friend.

The relationship was kept fairly secret for some time. In November 2016, a statement was made by the Prince’s Communications Secretary in regard to racist comments Meghan was facing. Part of the statement read:

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm.”

In September 2017, the two made their first public appearance at an official royal engagement at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

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Months later, on 27 November, the couple’s engagement was announced by Clarence House and Kensington Palace. At this time, Meghan announced that she would retire from acting to begin the process of becoming a British citizen. She was later baptised into the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby on 6 March 2018.

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Royal Wedding and Baby Sussex

The couple wed 19 May at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. It’s estimated that 27.7 million people watched the wedding in the UK and about 29 million people watched in the US.


On the morning of their wedding, Queen Elizabeth II conferred upon Prince Harry the titles of Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton, and Baron Kilkeel. Once the ceremony had concluded, Meghan became the Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton, and Baroness Kilkeel.

Just days after the wedding, the Duchess’s first official engagement after becoming a member of the Royal Family came on 22 May when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attended a garden party honouring the patronages of Prince Charles.

Harry and Meghan during their tour of Australia in 2018. Picture by Stephen Lock/I-Images

Prior to a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand, the couple announced they were expecting their first child in October 2018. Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born on 6 May 2019 and is currently seventh in line to the British throne.

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Stepping back from the Royal Family

In January 2020, the Duke and Duchess announced they would be stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family. This announcement came with the couple saying they would seek financial independence, balance their time between the United Kingdom and North America, and continue to support their charities, as well as The Queen. The announcement earned the nickname of Megxit on social media – a play on words of Brexit.

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In February, it was confirmed by the couple that they would not use “Sussex Royal” as a brand name and that they would withdraw from public life in the spring. The couple made their final appearance as senior royals at Westminster Abbey for the 2020 Commonwealth Day Service on 9 March.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London. Picture by Pete Maclaine / i-Images

Since stepping back, the couple has lived in Canada and later moved to Los Angeles. In April, the couple started the paperwork in the US for their new non-profit organisation, Archewell (named after their son Archie and the Greek word arche – meaning source of action.)

About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.