Rachel Meghan Markle was born on August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is a former social worker and yoga instructor living in View Park–Windsor Hills, California. Markle has often been described as having a very close friendship with her mother. Her father, Thomas Markle Sr., lives in Rosarito, Mexico, and is a retired television director of photography and lighting director whose profession resulted in his young daughter often visiting the set of Married...with Children. Markle's parents divorced when she was six years old. Her older paternal half-siblings are Samantha Markle and Thomas Markle Jr., from whom she is reportedly estranged.
Markle grew up in Hollywood. She was educated at private schools, beginning at age two at the Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse. Nick News with Linda Ellerbee profiled her successful campaign at age 11 to get Procter & Gamble to change a national television commercial that she viewed as sexist. Raised as a Protestant, she nonetheless attended Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girl Catholic private school in Los Angeles. Markle was then admitted to Northwestern University, where she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and participated in community service and charity projects. She also served an internship at the American embassy in Buenos Aires, and studied for one semester in Madrid. She earned her bachelor's degree from Northwestern's School of Communication in 2003, with a double major in theater and international studies.
Early in her career, Markle worked as a freelance calligrapher and taught bookbinding to support herself between acting jobs. Her first on-screen appearance was a small role as a nurse in an episode of the daytime soap opera General Hospital. Markle had small guest roles on the television shows Century City (2004), The War at Home (2006), and CSI: NY (2006). She also took on several contract acting and modeling jobs, including a stint as a "briefcase girl" on the US game show Deal or No Deal. She appeared in Fox's series Fringe as Junior Agent Amy Jessup in the first two episodes of its second season.
Markle appeared in two 2010 films, Get Him to the Greek and Remember Me, and one 2011 film, Horrible Bosses. She was paid $187,000 for her role in Remember Me and $171,429 for her role in the short film The Candidate. She also appeared in episodes of Cuts; Love, Inc.; 90210; Knight Rider; Without a Trace; The League; and Castle.
In July 2011, Markle joined the cast of the USA Network show Suits. Her character, Rachel Zane, began as a paralegal and eventually became an attorney. She completed work on the seventh season in late 2017. According to a critique in The Irish Times, Markle "actively re-positioned" her character from ingénue to "the show's moral conscience" and gave viewers the unique portrayal of a daughter whose African-American father is in a position to help her career and advance her "desire to crack both racial and gender glass ceilings". While working on Suits, Markle lived for nine months each year in a rented house in the Seaton Village neighborhood of Toronto. Fortune magazine estimated that Markle was paid $50,000 per episode, amounting to an annual salary of about $450,000.
Markle began a relationship with actor and producer Trevor Engelson in 2004. They were married in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, on September 10, 2011, and concluded a no-fault divorce in August 2013
Markle was a counselor for international charity One Young World. At the 2014 summit in Dublin, she spoke on the topics of gender equality and modern-day slavery. Also in 2014, she toured Afghanistan and Spain with the United Service Organizations.
In 2014, Markle founded the lifestyle website The Tig, where she wrote about food, fashion, beauty and travel, and profiled inspirational women. As the website grew, Markle brought in experts such as dieticians, make-up artists, and fitness and yoga instructors. The website's audience consisted primarily of the fans of Markle and Suits. Markle reinforced Tig's messages of self-love, positivity, and spirituality on social media, reaching 3 million followers on Instagram, 800,000 on Facebook, and 350,000 on Twitter. She closed The Tig in April 2017, taking all of its articles offline, and deleted her social media accounts in January 2018. It was estimated that, as a lifestyle blogger, Markle earned about $80,000 annually from endorsements and sponsorships.
Markle's subsequent relationship with celebrity chef and restaurateur Cory Vitiello lasted almost two years, ending in May 2016.
Markle had some difficulty getting roles early in her career. In 2015, she wrote: "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."
Markle is descended on her mother's side from enslaved Africans, and on her father's side from European settlers. She described her heritage in a 2015 essay for Elle magazine: "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.".
Markle was politically vocal before joining the British royal family. She backed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 United States presidential election and described Clinton's opponent, Donald Trump, as "misogynistic" and "divisive". The same year, when the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union resulted in 51.9% of voters being in favor of Brexit, Markle expressed her disappointment on Instagram and posted a placard saying: "If EU leaves me now, you take away the biggest part of me." This, as well as her recommendation of Noam Chomsky's book Who Rules the World?, led Emine Saner of The Guardian to write that Markle would become "the most leftwing member of the royal family". Members of the royal family are politically neutral by convention, and Dickie Arbiter, former press secretary to Prince Charles, expects the Duchess to follow suit. Historian Robert Lacey said she was the most "feisty and spiky" person to marry into the royal family since her grandfather-in-law Prince Philip.
In June 2016, Markle began a relationship with Prince Harry, whom she had met on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. At the time, he was fifth in line to the British throne; his grandmother is Elizabeth II, queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms, as well as head of the Commonwealth. In November, the British royal family's communications secretary released an official statement that addressed sexism, racism, and defamatory stories directed toward Markle
In September 2017, Markle and Prince Harry appeared together in public for the first time at an official royal engagement at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
Markle's engagement to Prince Harry was announced on November 27, 2017, by Clarence House and Kensington Palace. The announcement prompted generally positive comments about the possible social significance of a mixed-race member of the royal family. Markle announced that she would retire from acting, and began the process of becoming a British citizen.
After the engagement, Markle's first official public appearance with Prince Harry was at a World AIDS Day walkabout in Nottingham on December 1, 2017. Markle and Harry marked International Women's Day by attending an event in Birmingham hosted by the Stemettes. Along with the Queen and other members of the royal family, she attended the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on March 12. The couple made their first visit to Northern Ireland on March 23. Markle carried out a total of 26 public engagements prior to the wedding.
In December 2017, Markle caused a surge in interest in Scottish retailer Strathberry after carrying one of their handbags to a public event shortly after her engagement. This was reported as an indication that her fashion choices would produce her own version of the Kate effect. After Markle and Prince Harry's first appearance as a couple, brands Mackage, Birks, R&R Jewelers, Crown Jewelers, and Everlane noted an upswing in their website hits and sales. It has been speculated that Markle's effect would be greater, as she has a strong appeal in America. She caused a boost in the sales of yellow gold in the first quarter of 2018 in the United States.
In preparation for the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, baptized Markle and confirmed her into the Church of England on March 6, 2018. The private ceremony, performed with water from the River Jordan, took place in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace. The marriage ceremony was held on May 19 at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
The Duchess's first official engagement after the wedding came on May 22 when she and her husband celebrated the charity work of his father, Prince Charles.
Her first trip abroad at the request of the British government was to Dublin, Ireland, in July 2018.
After the wedding, the Duke and Duchess originally lived at Nottingham Cottage in London, on the grounds of Kensington Palace. The couple later moved to the more than two-centuries-old Frogmore Cottage in the Home Park of Windsor Castle. The Crown Estate refurbished the cottage at a cost of £2.4 million, paid out of the Sovereign Grant, with the couple picking up expenses beyond restoration and ordinary maintenance. Their office was moved to Buckingham Palace.
The Duchess takes part in her husband's work as a youth ambassador to the Commonwealth, which includes overseas tours. The first such trip was to Australia, Fiji, Tonga, and New Zealand in October 2018. Despite public debate on the future of the monarchy in Australia, the couple was greeted by crowds in Sydney, and the announcement of the Duchess's pregnancy hours after their arrival was received enthusiastically by the public and media.
In 2018, Tatler named the Duchess on its list of Britain's best-dressed people, praising her for redefining "modern royal style with every subsequent appearance". Following the announcement of her pregnancy, the Duchess appeared in a Karen Gee dress that resulted in the breakdown of the designer's website. She was ranked one of the best-dressed women in 2018 by fashion website Net-a-Porter and was nominated for the 2018 Teen Choice Awards in the category Choice Style Icon. In 2019, British brand Reiss reported a growth in profits, after the Duchess was seen wearing a mini-dress by them on International Women's Day.
In 2018, Time magazine included Markle on its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and placed her on its shortlist for Person of the Year. She was also chosen as one of the most influential women in the United Kingdom by British Vogue magazine. As part of setting up their separate office or 'court' in 2019, the Duke and Duchess created an Instagram social media account, which broke the record for the fastest account to reach 1 million followers.
During their visit to Morocco in February 2019, the Duke and Duchess focused on projects centered on "women's empowerment, girls' education, inclusivity and encouragement of social entrepreneurship".
On May 6, 2019, the Duchess gave birth to Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, who is seventh in line to the throne.
In August 2019, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were criticized by environmental campaigners for using private jets regularly when taking their personal trips abroad, which would leave more carbon footprint per person compared to commercial planes. The criticism was in line with the reactions the royal family faced in June 2019, after it was revealed that they "had doubled carbon footprint from business travel".
In 2019, the Duchess became a contributor and guest editor for the September issue of British Vogue and highlighted the works of 15 women from different areas, who were described as "Forces for Change". In the same issue, it was revealed that she had collaborated with a number of British fashion houses and stores to launch a capsule collection, called The Smart Set, in September 2019 to benefit the charity Smart Works, of which she is a patron. The collection sought to help "unemployed and disadvantaged women", through selling items "on a one-for-one basis, meaning an item is donated for each item purchased". Taking advantage of "the Meghan effect" (driving consumer purchases), in 10 days the collection provided a year's worth of clothes for the charity.
In 2020, the couple announced their intention to step back as senior members of the royal family. Following a decision to step back from royal duties, she and her husband have agreed that they will not use the style "Royal Highness" from early 2020, although they will still retain them.