In an ideal world, we wouldn't be talking about the Duchess of Sussex's newborn baby, because the Royal Family – a self-evidently pointless institution, built on hereditary privilege and an overly laissez-faire attitude towards cousin sex – wouldn't exist. But here we are, in 2019, talking about the Royal Family. Although I don't like it, I’m willing to accept that the Royal Family, like Amanda Holden's career or climate change, are sadly not going away.
On the 6th of May, the Duchess of Sussex – known to most as Meghan Markle – gave birth to her first child, son Archie Hamilton Mountbatten-Windsor. Or did she? Because in the latest addition to the many conspiracy theories involving the Royal Family, a faction of semi-literate racists are accusing Markle of actually giving birth two weeks ago, and passing off her son as a newborn in a subsequent Windsor Palace photo-call.
As House of Windsor truthers go, the Markle birther theory is by no means up there with the canonical Royal Family conspiracy theories (Diana was murdered; James Hewitt is Harry's real dad). But this isn't just some harmless nonsense, like the long-standing myth that Prince William was once hot or Prince Harry did anything useful in Iraq. The birther theory is a continuation of the long-running racist notion that Markle – the only mixed-race member of the Royal Family – is a scammer who has inveigled her way into the House of Windsor, and is pulling a long con on the British public.
The Markle birther conspiracy first started to gain traction after publications including the Daily Mail reported that there was a discrepancy between the announcement Kensington Palace made, stating that Markle had "gone into labour" at lunchtime on the 6th of May, and subsequent reports that the Duchess had already given birth at a private London hospital at 5.26AM earlier that same day.
"Why, if the duchess had a healthy baby at 5.26AM, was the world kept completely in the dark for more than eight hours?" the Daily Mail thundered. "And why was it announced first that she had gone into labour, when in fact the baby had been born?" There’s an obvious explanation for this, of course: the couple wanted to spend some time with their newborn before having to step into the white hot glare of the world’s press – but obviously that doesn’t sell newspapers, so here we are.
The anti-Markle contingent quickly began looking for reasons to explain this inconsistency. Some decided that Markle was never really pregnant to begin with, but had secretly contracted a surrogate and was wearing a fake bump throughout her pregnancy. Others glommed onto the idea that Markle had given birth weeks ago, and that the newborn baby they posed with in front of the world's press was in fact a two-week old. (In particular, conspiracy theorists seized on the fact that Harry had talked about how much babies change over "two weeks", indicating that they’d spent multiple days with the baby before presenting him to the world's press.) "I thought it was very weird when Harry said the baby's face is changing every day and 'who knows'…" one Mail commenter wrote. "I noticed that too and MM shot him a nervous panicked look. Her con artist ways are rubbing off on him. Poor Harry, everyone loved him before he married a disrespectful ego maniac," another replied.
While most sane people would simply assume that Prince Harry – a sleep-deprived new parent – stumbled over his words, it’s easier for the anti-Markle faction to assume that there’s some nefarious subterfuge at work. (Given that the Royal Family has been unable to stop Prince Phillip from pile-driving traffic or saying racist things for years, it’s hard to think they’d have the institutional nous to pull off a royal baby cover-up.) But to a certain section of the British public, Markle has the witchy power to make babies disappear, the Royal Family jump at her every command and Harry quit killing animals for sport, as is his wont and his birthright. As a nation, we pile more hate on Meghan Markle than we do on tax evaders and nonces, and it’s hard not to conclude – after watching the only mixed-race member of the Royal Family endure more bruising encounters with the press than Cheryl Cole after an album launch – that the reason is racism, pure and simple.
Leaving aside the point that criticising Meghan Markle for scamming the Royal Family misses the mark entirely – the Royal Family are the scammers here! We literally pay for them to exist! – there’s a older, creaking misogyny at work here. So much of the criticism of Meghan Markle in recent months has centred around her refusal to participate in the absurd circus around royal births, like having to stand outside a hospital, hours after giving birth, and grin for the world press, or disclose private medical matters like her birthing plan to tabloid newspapers that will immediately pick it apart. After Markle appeared at the British Fashion Awards in December of last year, she even got called out for holding her bump too much. The criticism comes from a long-standing belief that, as taxpayers, we’re entitled to our pound of royal flesh, or in this case, of umbilical cord, privacy be damned. (Tellingly, the Duchess of Cambridge – Markle’s white, Home Counties-bred sister-in-law – can do no wrong in the public’s eye, and is frequently set up as the ur-hero to Markle’s baddie.)
Say the Royal Family has no place in the modern world, or that Prince Charles' tampon fetish is really fucking odd. But don’t say that Meghan Markle is out-scamming the family that literally invented scamming on an institutional level. Because that leaves me stone-cold.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.