While the British royal family has cycled through highs and lows of favorability in previous eras, the past decade brought the Windsors an amount of change and modernization not seen since Princess Diana.
The younger generation of royals worked hard to start conversations about mental health, fully embraced social media, and welcomed its most modernmember into the family in 2018, a hopeful sign of things to come. Though the past few years have particularly bright ones for the royals — with the notable exception of Prince Andrew — things looked bleak for the monarchy not too long ago.
The ’90s were a terrible decade for The Firm, as the family refers to its senior members who call the shots. Affairs became public, phones were tapped, embarrassing photos surfaced, a fire threatened to engulf Windsor Castle, and multiple couples separated and divorced. The monarchy seemed under siege.
After the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the royal family’s fairytale exterior was completely shattered. Many believed the queen didn’t respond correctly or swiftly enough after Diana died. And, separately, the monarchy seemed archaic, hidden behind palace walls and in danger of falling even further behind the times.
But in the years that followed, the positive attitudes about the royals slowly returned, as the younger generation grew up. William went off to St. Andrews University, where he met Kate Middleton and began a well-documented courtship. After graduating, he served in the Army and then in the Royal Air Force. Harry — who made headlines for wearing a costume featuring a Nazi swastika in 2005 — developed a reputation for his raucous partying ways, then entered the military himself and deployed to Afghanistan for two tours.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, née Shand, were also rebuilding. The now-Duchess of Cornwall, who was once one of the most hated people the world and had been blamed for the demise of Charles and Diana’s marriage, made her first public appearance alongside the Prince of Wales in 1999. The two later married in 2005.
For the first time in many years, the scandals were minimal (or at least, more manageable) and the monarchy seemed stable. Just before 2010, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle — who represented change, hope and modernization in America — met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, which led to the half-hug seen ’round the world.
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But things ramped up at the beginning of the decade when, after many years of dating (so much so that it earned Kate Middleton the mocking nickname Waity Katie in the tabloids), Prince William proposed.
Below, we look at the decade that was for the royal family, during which Americans fell head over heels for them once again.
After eight years of dating, William finally proposed to Kate Middleton in October while they were in Kenya, though the two waited until mid-November to announce the exciting news.
The beginning of the royal rebirth featured a healthy dose of emotion and nostalgia, as the prince proposed with his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring. The dress Kate wore when they shared the news with the public sold out within five minutes, kicking off the “Kate effect” that has continued ever since.
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The ring led to a fairytale wedding, which took place at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. Over 1,900 people were invited to the ceremony and hundreds of thousands of fans and well-wishers took over London, where shops were packed with memorabilia.
An estimated 2 billion people watched the nuptials on TV around the globe, cheering on the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the future king and queen. Just a few months after their wedding, the pair traveled to Canada and the U.S. on their first royal tour outside the U.K.
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This was a busy year for the Windsors, as the royal schedule was filled with celebrations for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee (which marked the 60th year of her reign) and events related to the Summer Olympics, which were held in London.
The queen made a very well-received cameo during the games’ opening ceremony alongside James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) and her trusty corgis. The appearance was particularly shocking given her general reputation as a stuffy, tradition-bound monarch. It was truly an entrance to remember.
At all of the Olympic celebrations, William, Kate and Harry were a welcome sight, frequently smiling and laughing together.
Harry, however, might have brought a bit too much fun to the family, as he was photographed in the nude and videotaped drunkenly swimming with American swimmer Ryan Lochte during a debaucherous trip to Las Vegas in August.
But the most exciting news by far came at the end of the year, when Kensington Palace revealed in December that William and Kate were expecting their first child together, drawing months of speculation to a close.
Stefan Wermuth / Reuters
Prince George is here! The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced on July 22 that they welcomed their first child together, a son.
Third in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles and William, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge instantly became the cutest heir.
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Will and Kate brought their little one along on a tour of New Zealand and Australia in early 2014, and royal onlookers used every chance to get a glimpse of Prince George. In September, the couple announced that they were expecting their second child.
Prince Harry remained busy and launched the Invictus Games, a Paralympic-style, multi-sport event, in March.
In December, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge flew across the pond for a short, three-day trip to New York. While at a basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Will and Kate chatted with American royalty: Beyoncé and Jay Z. The two also met with the king of basketball himself, LeBron James.
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In March, Prince Harry announced he was leaving the military after 10 years of service.
Just a few months later, he stepped in to make relations between the Brits and Americans even friendlier. The prince met with first lady Michelle Obama during her visit to Kensington Palace in June to promote her “Let Girls Learn” initiative.
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Prince Harry later returned the favor and visited the White House in October to meet with the Obamas and promote the Invictus Games.
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In 2016, royal fervor in the U.S. swelled once again. President Obama met Prince George, the future king of Britain, while the toddler was dressed in a tiny bathrobe.
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The two countries also traded lighthearted barbs over Harry’s Invictus Games, which included another playful cameo from the queen and a goofy “mic drop” moment.
Harry also followed in his mother’s footsteps, dedicating himself to HIV awareness efforts.
In July, the prince underwent a live HIV test on Facebook that garnered over two million views and later generated a large spike in orders of a free at-home test. In December, during a royal trip to the Caribbean, Harry and singer Rihanna got tested for HIV together, in an effort to de-stigmatize getting tested.
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In May, Harry, Will and Kate also launched Heads Together, one of their most groundbreaking and successful campaigns to date. The program aims “to end stigma around mental health” and continues to be one of the royals’ most well-received initiatives.
On the personal side, Prince Harry ― who’d had a string of relationships that didn’t last for more than a few years — was rumored to have found love again. In a Grace Kelly twist, it was reported to be with American actor Rachel Meghan Markle. The two were photographed for the first time together in December.
Meghan was then best known for playing Rachel Zane on the show “Suits,” and their relationship seemed to signal that the monarchy was ready to accept a mixed-race, divorced actor into the mix.
But while most of the family might appeared ready to embrace Meghan — with the obvious exception of at least one minor royal — some of the public was not.
A statement from the prince’s communications secretary in November confirmed that the prince had been dating the Toronto-based actor for some months, and went on to include a stinging rebuke of social media trolls and some in the press for their sexist, racist attacks against Meghan.
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In 2017, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially relocated to Kensington Palace after years of being based in Norfolk for William’s role as a pilot with the East Anglia Air Ambulance.
Just a few months later, the couple announced that they were expecting their third child. Their eldest, Prince George, headed off in September for his first day of school at Thomas’s Battersea. (Princess Charlotte would later join him there in 2019.)
Cambridges aside, it was clearly the year of Harry and Meghan, who were an obsession for royal watchers and the media alike. The two made their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September.
And after months of speculation, the inevitable and unforgettable happened: Harry and Meghan announced their historic engagement on November 27.
Meghan would be the first American to marry a British royal, and was also a women of color joining the royal family. It seemed like a clear signal to many that the monarchy was modernizing.
And, as it happened with Kate, the “Meghan effect” — demand for her outfits that caused certain clothing items and accessories to sell out instantly — was real.
Toby Melville / Reuters
Following the announcement, Meghan said she would be leaving acting behind. Considering her lifelong commitment to feminism and humanitarianism, it appeared that this second act might be her best — and most challenging — role yet.
In an unprecedented move, Meghan spent Christmas with her fiance’s family, appearing in photos alongside Will, Kate, Charles, and the queen, among others.
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In 2018, Kate gave birth to her third child, Prince Louis, on April 23. And just a few weeks later, Meghan and Harry married at Windsor Castle on May 19.
Once again, billions of people tuned in, watching celebrity guests Oprah, Serena Williams, Elton John, David and Victoria Beckham and George and Amal Clooney roll in. The wedding itself was a modern event infused with an American spirit, made possible by a gorgeous choir and a rousing sermon that included quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The royal fervor didn’t die down after that (and neither did family drama involving Meghan’s half-sister and father, Thomas Markle). But in September, another groundbreaking wedding took place: Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, Lord Ivar Mountbatten, married his now-husband, James Coyle, celebrating the monarchy’s first same-sex wedding.
In October, the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced during a trip to Australia that they would be welcoming their first child together in the spring.
In 2019, the Duchess of Sussex took over patronages from the queen and fully settled into her role as a royal. She and Harry had a particularly exciting spring, with the birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor on May 6.
The new family of three later embarked on a particularly successful tour of South Africa, which included a poignant moment where Harry walked the same Angola minefields his mother toured in the ’90s.
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But despite the royals’ overall success in re-polishing their reputation over the past decade, 2019 was not an entirely rosy year for the Windsors.
After the Mail on Sunday published excerpts of a private letter Meghan wrote to her father, the duchess filed a lawsuit against the tabloid’s owner.
Shortly thereafter, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex participated in a candid ITV documentary that detailed their struggles with the press. In it, Prince Harry publicly acknowledged a rift with his brother and Meghan teared up talking about how difficult she’s found the media spotlight, especially after giving birth. The two ended the year by taking a six-week break from royal duties.
The elder Windors had controversies of their own making. Prince Philip was involved in a car crash with a woman and her 9-month-old baby earlier this year and faced backlash for taking days to apologize to the woman, who broke her wrist.
Prince Andrew, the longtime black sheep of the royal family, announced he was stepping away from his public role in November. The move came after the media renewed its focus on a 2015 lawsuit filed in the U.S. that accused the prince of rape and alleged that the plaintiff had been trafficked by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, an associate of Andrew’s.
As the queen acknowledged during her annual Christmas Address, this past year was a “bumpy” one for the family, to say the absolute least. Given all this, it’s unclear what 2020 — let alone the next decade — will bring for the royals.
Meghan and Harry’s battle against the British tabloid press will certainly continue but, on a brighter note, the two are rumored to be expecting their second child.
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