Harry and Meghan Are Suing a Tabloid: Why That’s So Surprising And Why It’s Sort Of Not

"I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

The Duke & Duchess Of Sussex Visit South Africa
Pool/Samir Hussein

It’s no secret that a certain segment of the notoriously unruly British tabloid industry haven’t taken much of a shine to Meghan Markle ever since she joined the royal family, but what has been secret for a number of months is that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and her husband Prince Harry have taken the rare (but not entirely unprecedented) step of fighting back by filing a legal action against one tabloid in particular. In a strongly worded letter penned by Harry himself, the royal points to a campaign of “relentless propaganda” against his wife by a group of “select media outlets.” The prince also notes that, “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

Lest he come off like some thin-skinned politician attacking the “fake news media,” Harry seems aware of the current anti-press climate, and notes that, “As a couple, we believe in media freedom and objective, truthful reporting. We regard it as a cornerstone of democracy and in the current state of the world—on every level—we have never needed responsible media more.” The couple is also not taking legal action against the tabloids for simply being mean either (libel is not mentioned), but rather against a specific tabloid for a specific story and alleged breach of copyright.

Back in February, The Mail on Sunday (the Sunday-only sister paper of The Daily Mail, which is perhaps better known on this side of the Atlantic thanks to its notoriously gossipy website) published portions of a private letter Markle had written to her father Thomas Markle after her wedding.

“The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question,” wrote Harry. “In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year.”

The suit will be privately funded by the Sussexes, and any funds won in the case would be donated to an anti-bullying charity.

“Given the refusal of Associated Newspapers to resolve this issue satisfactorily, we have issued proceedings to redress this breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and the aforementioned media agenda,” a spokesperson for the law firm representing the couple confirmed to E! News.

Since copyright of a private letters is retained by the author, the couple may have a particularly strong case in the matter.

While members of the royal family taking direct legal action against the press may be rare, it’s not particularly unprecedented. Everyone from Kate and William to Princess Diana to the Queen Herself have legally squabbled with tabloids in the past. Here, a select rundown of some of the more noteworthy incidences in the past.

Kate and William Sued a French Tabloid in 2012 For Publishing Private Vacation Photos

When paparazzi staked out the royal couple’s vacation and captured photos of a topless Kate Middleton with a telescopic lens from over a kilometer away, the French edition of the tabloid Closer decided to publish the photos (the British edition steered clear of the issues, and chose not to publish them). In 2017, a French court ruled in the Royals’ favor on the grounds the their privacy had been invaded under French law.

Princess Diana Took Action Against The Daily Mirror For Publishing Secret Photos of Her Exercising in 1993

In 1993, the owner of a gym where Diana privately worked out secretly took photos of the Princess working out and sold them to the tabloid. Diana swiftly took legal action against the gym, its owner, and The Daily Mirror. The paper ended up losing some advertisers after a public outrage, and ended up paying £1m for Diana’s legal fees and donated another £200,000 to a charity.

Queen Elizabeth Sued Over Leaks

The Queen herself has also taken legal action against The Sun on two separate occasions in 1988 and 1993, though neither were particularly outrageous enough where we can assume they’d definitely wind up in later seasons of The Crown. In one instance the tabloid published a leaked photo of Duchess Sarah Ferguson and her daughter Beatrice that were to be used in the royal Christmas card, in another the paper published the entire transcripts of the Queen’s Christmas day broadcast address. In both cases The Sun settled out of court with any money going to charity.

In both the Queen and Diana’s cases, while those actions focused on specific incidences, they also came at times where it was perceived that the Royal family had grown wary of the tabloid’s heated coverage.

There’s also been cases when the Royal family have gotten involved to prevent former employees who had signed confidentiality arrangements from selling or publishing stories about the family.

So, while Harry and Meghan’s strongly worded public statement may be rare, the Royal family striking back at the tabloids isn’t exactly.