Most of the the UK and huge swaths of the rest of the world this…
Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History? Could it really be possible? I wondered. I doubted.
I set out to contextualise the Meghan-mania of the 2020s by attempting to find other women throughout history who have incited such a divided response in the court of public opinion.
Meghan Markle. The name alone seems to conjure feelings of either adoration and awe, or fear and loathing, (and that is NOT a pop culture reference, Jeremy Clarkson… just to be clear from the onset). But why?
It seems that collectively, we love to hate (and many of us hate to love) Meghan – and therefore by extension Prince Harry, for allowing himself to be caught up in the web.
I have recently watched the Netflix series featuring the couple, and I have to say, they seem very personable, and dare I say, that given the circumstances, quite normal. While I understand that the program is a highly curated image that they want to present, I find it hard to ignore that within that there ought to be a few grains of truth.
Is it possible that it is just a love story? And they really just want to be good parents who make a living somehow? I mean, yes I appreciate that leveraging your birth right into a Netflix series may seem crass in the upper echelons of British Royal society, but believe you me, they definitely aren’t the first and it definitely isn’t the worst in history.
To read more about wicked wenches and mad maidens I would recommend this lovely book Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood? by Dee Gordon. It was an invaluable tool for me researching this article.
5 Women From History We Hated More Than Megan Markle
Meghan Markle and Other Hated Women Throughout History
It seems that there is a propensity for any women, blue blood or not, who dare to involve themselves with the British Royal family to be fair game for the public’s delight. And let’s be clear about that fact. Yes, it is, in this day and age, the fourth estate that seems to work tirelessly in bringing the salacious stories to the public, but that is to whom the paper’s (or blogs these days) are being sold. We cannot overlook our role in the equation, that it is this voyeuristic appetite of ours that is being fed by the paparazzi and bin searching journalists. We are in a reciprocal relationship with those whom the daily rag is about and the rag itself.
That being said, there does seem to be a disproportionate inclination toward condemning the female gender and not the male. After all, let’s take a look at how the women from recent royal history were portrayed by the media.
Royal Women and the Media
In addition to the obvious Lady Dianna’s fatal relationship with the media, we cannot forget that her once sister-in-law Fergie Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, when married to the now loathed Prince Andrew, was shamelessly referred to as the ‘Duchess of Pork’ or ‘Fat Frumpy Fergie’. Appellations which she was to later confirm she found to be soul destroying.
How about the stoic Princess Anne (of not bloody likely notoriety)? She was mercilessly criticised by the media for being a sourpuss, a misery, called misery-face and who was referred to as the worst of the Germans. Apparently it was not uncommon for the journalists who were assigned to write about her to openly dislike her as a person and refer to her as a ‘cow’.
And these are just the Royal women from the 20th century, the list of hated women throughout history is quite a bit longer if we would just look there. So, I did! I decided to look back in history to provide our modern-selves (with short memories) some context as to this Meghan-Mania that seems to have middle aged (or are they considered elderly now?) men so up in arms.
Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of Windsor (1896 – 1986)
Well, as soon as you say the name, you immediately know that when asking the question, Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History? the answer is of course, no.
We need only cast our minds back slightly to the scandalous days surrounding the courting of Wallis Simpson by the Prince of Wales and his subsequent abdication of the British throne in the 1930s to confirm that. It was said that, though he was not a supporter of her allegedly pro-Nazi sentiments and actions, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself commented that, “No-one has been more victimised by gossip and scandal”, as Wallis had been when she was branded scheming, vulgar and common.
It appears that in many ways, Wallis seemed to be a victim of her own ambition. Sound like a familiar charge? One might in fact take heed at the cautionary tale that is the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, especially where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are concerned. It wouldn’t be taking excessive liberties, I don’t think, to actually draw upon so many parallels in the stories. Such that the Sussex’s may have decided on a pre-emptive break-up with the British monarchy, based on the experiences of the Windsor’s. Afterall, it is a lot better to leave of your own accord than to be kicked out.
Again, drawing parallels with Megs, Wallis was an American divorcée who had pulled herself up in the world from humble beginnings in Baltimore, USA where she was born in a hotel, and out of wedlock. Her parents did marry but less than a year afterward, her father died of the consumption (now known as tuberculosis) leaving her and her mother alone in the world. Her mother went on to marry a second time, to a prominent politician in the area.
As she grew, it appeared that dear Wallis was not only attractive but that she had a well cultivated mind. The brother of her late father funded her attendance at the best school in Maryland, and it is said that she pushed herself hard to do well. In the end it is more than likely that her intellect, rather than her appearance is what struck a chord with HRH The Prince of Wales. Furthermore, it was while at school that she had the opportunity to rub shoulders with future socialites such as heiress Renée du Pont among others.
Wallis’s ambitions in the area of marriage also seemed to be apparent as she tied the knot, as they say, in total three times including to the, then, former King of England. Interestingly, and in parallel with Meghan’s own experience in the UK and with the Royal establishment, after the marriage Wallis was denied a title, thus never being referred to as Her Royal Highness (HRH for short). And furthermore, after the abdication, Edward and Wallis were effectively exiled from British shores. In their instance they lived in a number of locations in France, and in fact, the wedding took place there. During the Second World War they travelled to Spain and Portugal, and for a brief period to the Caribbean, but they ultimately ended up back in France once the war was won.
It is on this point that I find the most interesting. It is from the point of view of the departure of Meghan and Harry from the UK that I feel the lessons had been learned from the experiences of Wallis and Edward. In the case of the predecessors, they were effectively shunned from British Royal life and circled being relegated to an insignificant Château and overlooked and kept at arms length on purpose. This may, in part, be due to their politically unacceptable views on Nazism (they actually revered Hitler and even visited him in Germany on one occasion!). However, some say that this was done in spite of the disrespect that they feel they were shown by the, now infamous, firm.
Meghan and Harry took one step that, while it made them unpopular, did ultimately provide them with one enormous benefit over the Windsor’s. They left of their own accord in a manner and to a location, of their own choosing. This assertiveness has made them unpopular, however, what kind of life do you think they would be living if they had ended up in Africa as had originally been proposed by the establishment? Yes the idea is veiled in philanthropy and to promote the British Commonwealth, and there surely would have been an element of that in their relocation there, assuredly. However, it is also an excruciatingly convenient location to hide away a couple (and their children) that don’t quite fit in with the status quo.
Luckily, Harry is sharp as a tack and seems to have a propensity to learn from other’s mistakes. It is quite possibly this initial suggestion back in 2019 that started the ‘Megxit’ ball rolling. Who knows.
In a point of divergence with the story Meghan, it turned out in posthumously discovered letters penned by Wallis to her former husband, that she didn’t love the former King and it seemed that she was bitterly unhappy living all those years in exile. But how can you leave the man that abdicated the English throne for you and you alone? It was a great burden to bear. In the end, her downfall seemed to be her limitless ambition. In fact she didn’t want t divorce her second husband but as with Icarus, she flew too close to the bright sun. She seems to have experienced the ultimate fairy tale that turned into the ultimate tragedy. Wallis herself is reported to have summed up her life in a sentence: “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.”
Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (1912 – 1993)
If you want to talk about scandal then you have to mention this fine lady. Margaret had an eclectic upbringing and it is possibly where this sowed the seed of her unconformity. She was born into wealth as her father was a Scottish millionaire which meant that she was privileged enough to be sent off to New York for at least part of her education. It was said that it was during this period of her young life that she in fact lost her virginity to the acclaimed actor David Niven at age 15!
Dear Margaret definitely started as she meant to go on because it wasn’t long before she was officially or unofficially linked to the 7th Earl of Warwick, Prince Aly Khan, George the Duke of Kent, Lord Beaverbrook’s son Max Aitken, Charles Sweeney (brother of the American Golfer Bobby) whom she married and then a Texan Banker who was also the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She ended up becoming the third wife of the Duke of Argyll in 1951 but when he sued her for divorce in 1963 he impertinently introduced into the public record a list of 88 men with whom she had supposedly been unfaithful which included government ministers of the day, and of course, royalty.
As if this wasn’t sufficient, the Duke also introduced into evidence at the hearing Margaret’s personal diary, which he had apparently stolen from her, which described in some detail the, ahem, physical attributes of her lovers, as if, as one author put it, she was ‘running them at Newmarket’. However, the coup de grâce for Margaret was the infamous Polaroid photographs of her performing what can only politely be described as a sex act (if you know what I mean) wearing nothing more than her signature pearl necklace.
Needless to say, she was publicly reigned after being declared by the presiding judge to be a completely promiscuous woman and wholly immoral‘. In the years that ensued the trial she proceeded herself to sue whomever she could including her own daughter, her landlord, her bank, her stepmother and her servants, but it was to no avail. The damage had been done.
Despite the Duchess attempting to maintain her lifestyle in the years that followed it appeared that the reputational and therefore financial burden of the trial had been all too costly and she was ultimately forced to sell her palatial home 48 Upper Grosvenor, which is currently valued at around £23 Million. She subsequently moved into the apartments at Grosvenor House but misfortune continued and she was ultimately evicted in the 1990s for unpaid rent and she finally saw out her days in a nursing home in Pimlico.
Mary Anne Clarke (1776 – 1852)
When I was researching for this article Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History? I was amazed when I stumbled over this young lady Mary Anne Clarke. Again the word ambition is abound when describing her which seems to be a very common theme throughout all these women’s stories. Mary was also an actress, if you don’t mind, and from humble beginnings and previously married. Wow, they say history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme, (Mark Twain).
Mary’s story starts in East London where she married, at the tender age of 18 or so, a rather good looking and seemingly successful lodger who was residing in the family home. At this time she was establishing herself as an actress in London’s West End. However, unfortunately for Mary, her husband Joseph was living beyond his means, as they say, and had all but bankrupted himself. At this time he and Mary had two children and being the diligent mother, Mary noted that her profession gave her access to the glitterati of London society and subsequently left him.
Enter British Royalty. May had a very significant admirer in the audience who was none other than the Duke of York. Not delaying and seizing her opportunity Mary was fairly promptly installed in a lavish London apartment with, supposedly, an allowance of £1000 per year. Though, alas, there is always a problem. The payment of the allowance was irregular at best and unfortunately this left Mary with few other options than to use her, ahem, position to some fiscal advantage. With debts mounting she was in dire need of a solution and being industrious and savvy to the ways of the world, she was left with few other choices.
It was said that Mary, for a price, would lobby for promotions for people who were on the make in Regency society. Be it military, civil or clerical posts that were sought, Mary was happy to wield her influence with the Duke. However, as is usually the case, the story of this unscrupulous behaviour emerged in 1809 and turned into, what can only be referred to as, the Watergate of its time.
The fact was though, that the person in the firing line was actually the Duke of York, considering he was the person who was actually making the appointments behind the scenes and it was Mary who was listed as a witness for the prosecution in the corruption trial that ensued.
Notwithstanding, the Duke amazingly emerged innocent of the corruption charges, but Mary did not fare so well. She was then cast aside by the Duke, thrown into poverty and had her reputation ruined in the eyes of the public. So hated was she that it actually generated little rhyme of her own. Unlike that of the Duke of York, Mary’s went more like: ‘Mary Anne, Mary Anne, cook the slut in a frying pan!‘ Yeah, not as child-friendly I suppose. But don’t doff your hat in lamentation for Mary just yet.
As we started this piece by saying, ambition hallmarks the recounts of Mary’s life and she was not going to take the misfortune lying down. Mary, and now get ready for this, threatened to write a tell-all memoir in an attempt, as she put it, to pay for her children’s futures. Can you believe the resemblance of this story to that of Harry and Meghan? No, neither could I.
I digress… Luckily for Mary, the Duke of York was a reasonable man and realised that this memoir would likely cause a scandal far greater than the one that had preceded, and, thus stepped down as Commander in Chief of the Army (though he was later reinstated) and agreed to pay Mary £7000 annuity for the rest of her life, and a further £200 for each of her children. Historians are sure of this commitment by the Duke as it was drawn up in a legal document between the two.
Unfortunately, however, Mary had really developed a taste for writing scandalous material and was ultimately imprisoned for penning a libellous piece for 9 months. After her release she really couldn’t show her face in London or really in the UK any longer and she moved to France where she ultimately died. On a happy note, however, the Duke kept his promise to her and Mary’s son, George was appointed to the 17th Light Dragoons embarking on a career that would be the making of him and assure his place in London society.
Alice Keppel (1868 – 1947)
When I sat down to write this study, Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History? I was quite surprised when I stumbled over the story of Alice Keppel. Although she was born in London she grew up in Duntreath Castle on Loch Lomond, Scotland along with her eight older siblings. It was there that she met and married an officer George Keppel who was in fact the son of an Earl. Despite this lovely title, however, there wasn’t an abundance of money available for the couple. And, as usual, this is where the trouble starts.
Alice and George apparently decided that the lovely Alice would provide ‘services’ to gentlemen from the upper crust crowd with whom they socialised. It is very important to distinguish in this instance that Alice had become what is known as a courtesan and was not a prostitute. The difference may seem like mere semantics to some but the etymology of the word assists us with gaining a deeper understanding of the distinction.
A courtesan is the female version of the French courtier, a person who attended the court of a monarch or other powerful person. Thus, there is an inextricable association between a courtesan and her breeding, education and nobility. This is in contrast to a prostitute who could be a woman (usually) of any class in society, though usually the lower.
In any case, the fact remains that Alice Keppel took lovers for money as was agreed with her husband in order to financially support them both. It seems that for better or worse, Alice did a pretty good job and she slowly began working her way, as it were, up the social ladder until she ingratiated herself to the Prince of Wales (yes I know, not another one!).
In this case however the pair managed to keep the relationship and for that it endured through the period of his coronation and into his official reign as King Edward VII. It was due to Alice’s education and intelligence that she managed to negotiate the royal court so successfully that she was, in fact, able to bring up her two daughters, supposedly her husbands but no one can be truly sure, within the royal entourage.
It is recorded that Alice really did do a phenomenal job of being a courtesan and she maintained herself as the King’s favourite mistress for many years in fact out lasting all others. She would accompany him on travel abroad and keep him abused with her quick wit and intelligent conversation. The King was so pleased with her that they were afforded a home in Grosvenor Street (yes, that Grosvenor street).
Unfortunately, once the King had died, the Queen was not quite so enamoured of Alice and apparently despite being the Kings chosen companion in the later years of his life Alice was immediately removed from the court and was not even allowed to sign the book of condolences before being ejected from the palace. Not long after this scene Alice, George and the family moved to Florence where they resided more or less until her death there.
Now, that in itself doesn’t necessarily seem like a very scandalous story I’ll admit but it is the postscript in the legacy of Alice Keppel that the real nuggets of gold are to be found. It would turn out that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Keppel family as it was Alice’s daughter Violet Trefusis who went on to become the lover of Vita Sackville-West, and it is her great granddaughter who is none other than long time amanté of the former Prince of Wales (yes I know not another one), Camilla Parker-Bowels, Queen consort to the current King of England, King Charles III. Wow, that is exhausting.
Jane Shore (c. 1445 – c. 1528)
I felt compelled to include the lovely Jane Shore in this list of women when I began researching for this article Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History? As I mentioned previously, this list of unfortunate women all have something in common without dear Meghan, and Jane’s misfortune was not only to be beautiful but also to be accomplished. I know, how dare she?
Jane was born in London and had fortunate-enough parents to have been well educated as well as instructed in musical instruments and she was fluent in Norman French, the bourgeois language of the day. It is recalled that she was indeed so lovely that she became known as the ‘Rose of London’. Apparently it was not uncommon for members of the royal court to frequent her fathers drapery shop in order to catch a glimpse of the rare beauty sewing obliviously in the corner.
But this innocence was not to last. It wasn’t too long before Lord Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain of the day, tried to seduce the young maiden – but to no avail. From there, though, her father, who was no doubt mindful of the importance of reputation, arranged a marriage for her to a well off but ill suited husband, William Shore.
Alas, the marriage was not a success and it wasn’t long before Lord Hastings had renewed his affections for the young beauty. It was as a result of him singing Jane’s praises to the then King of England, Edward IV, that she was cordially invited to a masked ball. Unsurprisingly, this is when the real shenanigans began. Edward apparently took a liking to our young Jane and henceforth her liaison with HRH. And, unfortunately that is where the story really begins to unravel, though not just yet.
Jane and King Edward IV were officially-unofficial lovers at this time, however, this did not stop any other suitors from calling upon her such as (still) Lord Hastings and now also the King’s younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (of the Princes in the Tower infamy). However, it was not until the King’s death that the real trouble began.
Now Jane was no fool and knew that she needed the financial and societal patronage of a powerful man, so she took up with the Marquis of Dorset after the King’s death, but she also finally gave in to the repeated efforts of Lord Hastings.
Apparently, though, this was not well received by the late King’s brother who was to become Richard III, the most wicked of kings, after he allegedly did away with his two nephews whom he had ordered locked in the Tower of London after having them declared illegitimate.
It is at this time when Richard seemed to change his position on Jane completely, perhaps scorned by her repeated rejections in favour of alternative suitors and the trouble for Jane really began. The new King wielded his influence and managed to have Jane and her lover Lord Hastings accused of treachery, witchcraft and plotting against him and for which Hastings was executed and Jane was imprisoned. It seemed though that Richard’s appetite to incite vengeance upon poor dear Jane and further accused her of harlotry (which is basically an antiquated word for prostitution). She was indeed found guilty and was sentenced to public penance.
Now, remember when I started this story by saying that each of these women had something in common with our dear Meghan Markle? Yep this is that bit…It is this form of public penance that Jeremy Clarkson so erroneously referred to wishing upon Meghan Markle in his recent opinion piece for The Sun in which he expressed his desire to see the Duchess of Sussex her being paraded naked through the streets.
Why Is Meghan Markle The Most Hated Woman in History?
As we can easily see from the above slew of other hated women throughout history, there have been far worse offenders who have come a lot closer to the British crown than Meghan. So why then would we even consider that Meghan would be the most hated woman in history?
It seems from reading this list that there are actually a lot or traits that these women had in common with Meghan and it is perhaps that combination that the naysayers seem to fear the most. Ultimately, this speaks more to them than it does to Meghan but they would never admit that. Let’s look at what the characteristics are that can get you hated if you are a woman.
Beauty and Brains – A Dangerous Combination
It may just be the case that Meghan has such difficulty because she is both smart and pretty – how dare she! In order to support this point, we can take Meghan in contrast to Kate. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cornwall and Cambridge is very attractive, some may say pretty and I am sure that she is undoubtedly smart as well, and here lies one key difference regarding the Kate and Meghan divide. We almost never hear Kate speak and when we do it is never an opinion. She is a product of the institution into which she married and she does perform her role dutifully. She is seen and not heard.
But let us think about that for a moment? Isn’t that an archaic phrase that we reserved for chastising children? I wandered so I looked it up which itself is a modern euphemism for ‘I googled it’. Notwithstanding, the results were in keeping with my expectations.
The expression ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is an old English proverb, dating from the 15th century. In the original form it was specifically young women who were expected to keep quiet. This opinion is recorded in the 15th century collection of homilies written by an Augustinian clergyman called John Mirk in Mirk’s Festial, circa 1450.
So now we are clear on that point, we can start to think about what that actually means for Meghan. I actually find it equally alarming as I do reassuring that this phrase, and therefore the entire concept of that behaviour, is seen as desirable for the ‘in law women of the Royal family’. After all, let’s remember who has been branded with this iron in the past. Our beloved Lady Diana almost erupted emotionally with her need to be herself in a real sense, and interestingly, this is what endeared her so much to the public of the entire Commonwealth. As an antipodean I can say that. We loved her.
A Personal Life That’s Judged
By conducting the research for this piece, one thing has become overwhelmingly apparent. That an imperfect private life is so entirely commonplace that it is astounding that anyone could take exception to it ever. However, therein lies that problem. It is too commonplace. Yes, we all know people or are people who have had multiple marriages or short lived romances over the years, however, we are not attempting to cavort with Royalty.
It seems that, while the Royal men themselves may do as they like, the women are held to a much higher standard. Anything that deviates from the maternal conduct set out by the mother Mary is liable to get you hated in the world at large, if you are pretty and heaven forbid smart.
Ambition and Drive
Ambition is a word that has been mentioned a lot throughout this article. Initially I thought that it was a modem idea for a woman to be ambitious. After all, we are only just the daughters or granddaughters of the first wave of feminism, so how can we be getting accused of the same undesirable character trait as women who were alive centuries earlier? Well I guess we didn’t invent it and it has always caused problems. Needless to say, especially if you are smart and pretty.
Meghan Markle has been accused of the same but is that just? After all, in a Kim Kardashian world, is it really fair to hate Meghan Markle for getting her hustle on? Please note the alliteration of the names there for future offspring naming inspiration. Does it come back to the point that preceded this section that the real threat is that where there is ambition there must be intelligence. Where there is intelligence there is resentment, especially if there is a beautiful woman as well.
Meghan Markle is the Most Hated Woman in the World? Maybe For the Moment.
As it would turn out, this seems unmistakably to be true. I feel that it is important to stress at this point that I personally do not hate Meghan or Harry for that matter. I am not really sure why or how supposedly intelligent people can actually profess to hate someone – especially when they have never done anything to them personally. However, it seems it is possible as Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan have repeatedly voiced their disapproval to the point of violent imagery.
If you do want to know what I think, I think that the above evidence confirms that this problem is age old and has nothing to do with Meghan personally. That may sound daft considering that the attacks on her are of a very personal nature, but I believe that Meghan is the symbol. Our society is in a state, as it often is, of immense change and emotions run high. Women are striving as always to forge a path which is to our liking, and that may make the paths of our daughters and granddaughters less burdensome than our own. This isn’t a bad thing to do, it is called being maternal. It’s in born – we’re not sorry.
Unfortunately, if there are only 360 degrees in the pie and we are taking a large slice of it for ourselves, this by default means that whoever had the majority of the pie earlier now has less. That is simple arithmetic. And I empathise. If I was getting stiffed on my pie portion I would probably be pissed too, but here is the weird part. All us women have fathers, husbands and brothers. Do they begrudge us having more pie? Or are we exceptions in their eyes?
One thing is clear, we haven’t got it all figured out just yet. Society is changing and there is no rule book. Comfortingly, there never was. But we managed to figure it out before and I am sure that we will manage to do so again. My pearl of wisdom in this instance would be to all take a deep breath, step away from the keyboard – especially if you have an op ed column in The Sun. After all, in this algorithm-driven world, the worst burn of all is to say nothing about someone.
For more articles like this, make sure you view our Femspiration content here.
To read more about wicked wenches and mad maidens I would recommend this lovely book Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood? by Dee Gordon. It was an invaluable tool for me researching this article.
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