Meghan Markle's family drama, explained: Who's bashing the royal family and why

Meghan Markle's whirlwind romance has seen the beautiful Suits star find love in the arms of a handsome prince and become a Duchess after a gorgeous royal wedding. However, like all fairy tales, there's an estranged jealous sister and a whole lot of family drama.

Before Meghan and Harry ever exchanged vows, the 37-year-old actress was already facing a slew of negativity from her sister, Samantha Grant, as well as her brother, Thomas Markle Jr.

Meghan's father, Thomas Markle Sr., joined in on the drama with a number of scandals and his eventual decision to not walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Then, after she officially became the Duchess of Sussex, Thomas Sr. decided to really up the royal family shade-throwing.

The web of lies, confusion, tension and mud-slinging can get pretty complex the more the family feud unfolds, so we're here to break down the biggest parts of the conflict and examine who's saying what and why.

First, let's get familiar with this particular drama's cast of characters.

The Main Players

Meghan Markle: Actress-turned-Duchess of Sussex, she's married to Prince Harry and she's the daughter of Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle Sr.

Doria Ragland: Meghan's 61-year-old mom, who supported her daughter at her wedding in May. Doria divorced Thomas Sr. when Meghan was six.

Thomas Markle Sr.: Meghan's 74-year-old father, and a retired TV lighting director who lives in Rosarito Beach in Baja California, Mexico. Markle was not on hand to walk his daughter down the aisle -- ostensibly due to heart surgery -- and has been an outspoken critic of the royal family ever since.

Samantha Grant (née Markle): Thomas Sr.'s daughter from a previous marriage and Meghan's half-sister, 17 years her senior. Samantha, 53, has been the most contentious about her estranged relationship with the duchess.

Thomas Markle Jr.: The 51-year-old son of Thomas Sr. and half-brother of Meghan. Like his paternal sister, Samantha, Thomas Jr. has been a near-constant detractor of both Meghan and the royal family as a whole.

What Samantha Has Said About Meghan

While Samantha has said some incredibly negative things about Meghan over the last 18 months, she was singing a very different tune in November 2016, right after Kensington Palace confirmed Meghan and Harry's relationship.

Speaking with ET, Samantha marveled at her sister's humble roots and classiness, sharing, "She's got the eloquence of a Condoleezza Rice, and the grace of Princess Diana."

"She was studious, she was brilliant in her studies, she was brilliant on stage, she is world traveled," Samantha shared at the time. "At a young age, she was thrust into this position of requiring her to be articulate and graceful and worldly and mature… She's definitely strong enough to embrace gracefully whatever challenges come her way."

However, since Harry and Meghan announced their engagement, Samantha has made it her business to call out her younger sister in as many public venues as possible. Whether it's on Twitter, in tabloid interviews or on TV, Samantha has gone after her for everything from what she perceived as Meghan insulting her dad to acting like she was too good for her (former) siblings.

Speaking with InTouch in an interview published on Jan. 10, she accused Meghan of leaving Thomas Sr. high and dry after he filed for bankruptcy in 2010. "Meghan’s education, her connections in the entertainment industry that got her first job on Suits and even before then...he gave her so much of who she is," Samantha claimed.

In February, Samantha sat down with the Australian news program A Current Affair, and threw shade at Meghan's altruistic endeavors and philanthropic interests -- including her well-documented gender equality advocacy and her role as a Global Ambassador for the international children's charity World Vision. "[There are] a lot of situations where celebrities visit a place that is poverty stricken and they’re wearing impeccable clothing. They themselves are wealthy, and it really feels like a photo opportunity," Samantha shared. "So it’s a little exploitive in my mind."

Some of her attacks are a little more pointed. On Aug. 3 -- one day before Meghan's birthday -- Samantha took to Twitter to slam her for not reaching out to Thomas Sr. on his birthday. In her lengthy Twitter rant, she also referred to Meghan as "Cruella Deville" [sic] and "witchy poo."

What Thomas Jr. Has Said About Meghan

Thomas Jr. first spoke to the mainstream press about Meghan's relationship when he dished to the Daily Mail in December 2017. At the time, he didn't (yet) have anything bad to say about Meghan -- whom he admitted hadn't talked to him in at least a decade.

He said there was "no pressure" on Meghan to invite him to her wedding, but added, "I wouldn't mind seeing my little sister have the biggest wedding in the world – that would be incredible." He also said that if his father didn't end up walking her down the aisle, "then I will." (Prince Charles ended up having that honor.)

Just 17 days before the royal wedding, Thomas Jr. penned a letter to Prince Harry in May, imploring him not to go through with marrying the actress. "It's not too late. Meghan Markle is obviously not the right woman for you," Thomas Jr. wrote in the letter shared with InTouch. "As more time passes to your royal wedding, it became very clear that this is the biggest mistake in royal wedding history."

Needless to say, Harry wasn't compelled to heed Thomas Jr.'s warning and married Meghan anyway. Now, months later, the bitter Thomas Jr. doesn't understand why the royal family isn't welcoming towards Meghan's estranged extended family.

"They have [brought outsiders in] before in the past like with the Middletons. I don’t see why our family is any different," Thomas Jr. told The Daily Mail on Aug. 21.

Thomas Sr. and the Paparazzi Photo Scandal

While Samantha and Thomas Jr. evoked their bankrupt and supposedly ailing father in their frequent attacks against Meghan and her newfound role as a royal-to-be, Thomas Sr. remained largely quiet about the whole thing.

That is, until, he was photographed by paparazzi in April 2018, conveniently reading books about England while sitting in a Starbucks. He was also snapped lifting weights, apparently in anticipation for flying to England for his daughter's wedding and getting fitted for a suit.

In May, however, it came to light that Thomas Sr. staged every one of the photos with the help of a paid photographer. Following his plan's exposure, Thomas Sr. told TMZ that he regretted his decision, and was no longer planning on walking his daughter down the aisle. Despite this, a source told ET at the time that Meghan was "devastated" by her father's actions, but she still wanted him to come to the wedding.

At the same time, while sitting down on the British daytime talk show Loose Women, Samantha took responsibility for encouraging her father to stage the photos and claimed he only received a "pittance" of $1,500.

Why Thomas Sr. Finally Chose Not to Attend the Royal Wedding

Amid the controversy surrounding the staged photo ops, Thomas Sr. reportedly suffered a major heart attack and needed to undergo surgery in which they placed a stent in his heart.

Speaking with TMZ, Thomas Sr. said that he felt so bad for embarrassing Meghan and Harry that he wanted to not mar their special occasion with his presence, but changed his mind when he got texts from his daughter asking him to still come. However, having to undergo major surgery threw yet another monkey wrench into the works, and was the final straw in the back and forth regarding his presence at the wedding.

Meghan and Harry tried to stay above it all, releasing a statement calling for understanding for her father. "This is a deeply personal moment for Ms. Markle in the days before her wedding," the statement reads. "She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr. Markle in this difficult situation."

<div>Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images</div>
Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Thomas Sr. Begins to Change His Tone

For the most part, Meghan's dad was very complimentary toward Harry and the royal family in the lead-up to the wedding, but after Meghan became a Duchess, Thomas Sr. decided to speak his mind, frequently and with anyone who would listen. And this time around, he wasn't feeling quite so pleasant.

On June 18, Thomas Sr. sat down for his first post-wedding tell-all with Good Morning Britain. The 30-minute interview where he went over everything -- Meghan's reaction to him backing out of the wedding, Prince Harry's private political thoughts, what's next for the couple and more.

His comments got significantly more critical the following month when he sat down with The Sun and declared his belief that his daughter is miserable living life as a royal.

"I think she is terrified," Thomas Sr. claimed. "I see it in her eyes, I see it in her face and I see it in her smile. I’ve seen her smile for years. I know her smile. I don’t like the one I’m seeing now. This one isn’t even a stage smile – this is a pained smile."

He also lamented the royal family's decision to "shun" him, telling The Sun, "The reason I am being shunned is because I made a profit on the staged pictures. Anyone who makes a profit off the royal family becomes shunned."

On Aug. 12, Thomas Sr. just kept digging the hole when he wrote an op-ed published by The Daily Mail in which he attempted to dispel rumors and tabloid reports about his health, writing, "I’m not 'the weirdo schlubby dad living in a shack in Mexico drinking beer and eating McDonald’s.'"

<div>Steve Parsons - Pool / Getty Images</div>
Steve Parsons - Pool / Getty Images

Doria Ragland's Role in All This

Meghan's mom has been nothing short of the epitome of class and elegance throughout her daughter's high-profile relationship and all the constant mudslinging.

Doria was the only member of Meghan's immediate family to actually earn an invitation to the wedding at all, and Prince Harry said he thinks she's "amazing." The Los Angeles-base yoga teacher spent her time at the royal wedding lunching with Oprah Winfrey, chatting with Prince Charles and generally watching her daughter live out a real-life fairytale with the grace and beauty of a royal in her own right.

Through it all, Doria has done the exact thing that no one else in Meghan's family has managed to do: stay quiet and not embarrass Meghan. Additionally, she's reportedly planning to move to England to be by her daughter's side when she needs it.

How the Royal Family Is Dealing With the Negativity

For the most part, the Duke and Duchess have remained silent about the string of "tell-all" interviews and insulting Twitter rants.

However, that's not to say that the royal family isn't making moves behind closed doors and out of the public arena.

"The Palace, who normally takes a firm policy of not commenting on personal matters, is now considering a more aggressive strategy to deal with the situation with both her father and her sister," a source told ET. "No one wants to see this continue."

However, Kensington Palace is "less concerned" about Samantha than Thomas Sr., the source noted, "Because she has never had a real relationship with Meghan."

The source also said that Meghan and Harry have no current plans on meeting with her dad, and that she's distraught over his behavior.

"She has gone through periods of difficulty with her father in the past, but she does love him," the source said. "That’s what’s been so difficult about this."

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