Despite Some Obvious Parallels, Meghan Markle Is Not Princess Diana

The two women had very different experiences in the royal family.

princess diana meghan markle
(Image credit: Hearst Owned)

There's a scene in the fourth season of The Crown where, after Princess Diana reveals her profound unhappiness in her marriage to Prince Charles, the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and the Queen Mother discuss Diana's struggle to fit in with the royal family.

At first, the Queen gives Diana the benefit of the doubt. "We are rather a tough bunch in this family. We don't give out much praise or love or thanks. Perhaps someone like Diana is best placed to ... connect with the modern world, and isn't that how the Crown survives and stays relevant by changing with the times?" she questions the group.

But the Queen Mother isn't so sympathetic. "Diana is an immature little girl who in time will give up her struggles, give up her fight, and bend, as Philip did, as they all do. And when she bends, she will fit," she says."And if she doesn't bend? What then?" questions the Queen.

"She will break," Margaret answers rather presciently.

It's a scene that with a few tweaks could have easily been set decades later, about Diana's daughter-in-law, Meghan Markle.

the crown s4 picture shows diana princess of wales emma corrin filming location military hostel front, malaga

'Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The Crown.

(Image credit: Des Willie)

When Harry and Meghan announced their engagement in 2017, the media narrative sounded quite a bit the Queen's words in The Crown. Simply by joining the royal family, Meghan, a feminist, bi-racial American divorcée, would help to modernize the centuries-old institution. People who had never felt represented by the royals could relate to her for the first time and by association, the monarchy as a whole. The fact that she was different was a benefit and a hope—but anyone who has followed the Sussexes' story knows Meghan's time in the royal family, like Diana's, has hardly been a fairytale.

Stepping into the blinding royal spotlight (and then choosing to step out of it) can't be easy, no matter who you are, and there are certainly parallels between Meghan and Diana's stories (some of which are played up in this season of The Crown), but the two women shouldn't be conflated. It's important to recognize the nuance in each of their situations.

The Age Difference

To start, Diana was still a teenager when she accepted a proposal from Prince Charles, a man 12 years her senior whom she didn't know well at all. A part-time nursery teacher with no university degree, Diana immediately went from a life of relative obscurity to being one of the most famous women in the world: the future Queen of the United Kingdom. In contrast, Meghan had built her own career by the time she even met Prince Harry; she'd had previous relationships; and while she wasn't necessarily a household name, she was familiar with being in the public eye, and had experience dealing with the press. That doesn't necessarily mean Meghan was prepared for royal life, but her eyes were open to the world in a way Diana's were not. And, Meghan wasn't marrying the heir to the throne, but instead, a younger brother. It's highly unlikely that she would ever become Queen, and in a family where hierarchy is at its core, the import of that birth order is critical.

Treatment by the Press

Prince Harry has also been quick to draw conclusions between how Meghan has been depicted in the media, and what happened to his mother, even once writing, "My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother, and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

Emma Corrin, who plays Princess Diana in The Crownsaid something similar in Town & Country's November cover story. "You just want to shake these tabloids and say, can’t you see history repeating itself?" the actress said. But that argument flattens the incredibly complex, somewhat symbiotic relationship the royals have with the press, and how it has changed over the past few decades.

No one can deny that Diana endured and Meghan continues to deal with unrelenting scrutiny from the media. Diana was one of the first modern celebrities, and the appetite for photos of the Princess was unyielding. “Editors couldn’t get enough of her,” Ian Down, a former Daily Mirror picture editor, once told Time. But her death brought on change in the UK, a real shift in expectations of privacy for the royals and what constitutes harassment from photographers.

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'Meghan and Harry at one of their final public engagements as working members of the royal family.

(Image credit: Chris Jackson)

As such, Meghan wasn't hounded by paparazzi on the street during her time as a working royal. But she did face racist headlines, and particularly vicious online abuse, to the point that the royal family had to recalibrate their approach to policing comments on social media. That racism is significant, and fundamentally different from what Diana went through. To equate these two women's stories is to erase that.

Leaving Royal Life

But perhaps, the biggest divergence of all between Meghan and Diana's experiences was revealed in how they left the royal family. In January of 2020, Meghan and Harry announced their plans to step back from their roles as working royals, and they moved across the world eventually settling in Los Angeles. They left public royal life without entirely leaving the spotlight, just as Diana did when she divorced Prince Charles. But Meghan left with Harry, her biggest champion. Their endings are not the same, and that makes all the difference.


the prince and princess of wales leave gibraltar on the royal yacht britannia for their honeymoon cruise, 31st july 1981 the princess wears a donald campbell dress photo by jayne fincherprincess diana archivegetty images

(Image credit: Princess Diana Archive)
Caroline Hallemann

As the digital news director for Town & Country, Caroline Hallemann covers everything from the British royal family to the latest episodes of Outlander, Killing Eve, and The Crown.