Thomas Markle and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. Pictures: Reuters and AP

Only the flintiest of hearts could not have sympathy for the Duchess of Sussex. For nine months she has had to endure in silence as her family have traded cheap shots at her expense.

Half-brother, half-sister, nieces, nephews and distant cousins have toiled away to come up with the most lurid of claims.

Yet with commendable grace, Meghan has largely managed to stand aside from many of these insults. But her estrangement from her father has been an altogether different matter.

One foolish act — his mistake in conniving with paparazzi photographers ahead of last May’s Royal wedding — was followed by another: informing Meghan he wouldn’t attend her wedding via the showbusiness website TMZ.

Now, trust has eroded to such an extent that there is an impossible chasm between father and daughter.

Time after time, Thomas Markle has used the platform of publicity through the media — both television and newspapers — to communicate with Meghan.

But the leaking of the heart-breaking letter Meghan wrote to her father, one that revealed the depth of her despair over their rift, is a new low.

For this was much more than the private thoughts of a wounded young woman. It was a cry for help from someone adjusting to a bewildering new life many thousands of miles from home.

At the moment there seems no end in sight to this painful tit for tat between father and daughter. We know Mr Markle decided to leak extracts from the letter in reaction to last week’s article in the U.S. celebrity magazine People, in which he felt he was unfairly maligned.

That article, apparently based on the testimony of five of Meghan’s friends, was a clumsy attempt to set the record straight about the former actress’ troubled relationship with her father, and to address criticism of her style as a duchess.

One close friend — not one of the five — has since let it be known that Meghan was not, in fact, aware of what they were doing.

Unfortunately, the reaction from Mr Markle stirred hypocrisy into the pot, claiming that far from being a conciliatory gesture, her letter — written last August — had left him feeling ‘devastated’.

As contemptible as his retaliation undoubtedly is, one thing is clear: there is a pattern of betrayal in Mr Markle’s behaviour, and it has sparked the deep distrust his daughter now feels towards him.

This surely explains the carefully calibrated language Meghan uses in her letter. She knew, or at least those around her did, that there was every chance her father might make its contents public.

What is perhaps more intriguing is that he has chosen not to release its full contents. One reason, I am told, is because the rest of the letter is more revealing about his bizarre behaviour and presents him in a less than flattering light. 

So what on earth will happen next? There is no question that the matter could have been handled better.

Nine months on, exactly who did and said what hardly matters. The fact is that matters were not handled well.

Meghan, too, cannot wholly escape blame. The fact she chose to invite only two family members to the wedding — her mother and father — was, of course, up to her.

But the absence of her wider family was bound to provoke media interest — and resentment among her relatives. If they needed any spur to speak out, the wedding snub was just such encouragement.

All this still begs the question of why Harry and Meghan have never travelled to Mexico to see the duchess’ father. Their failure to do so has only added to the sense of isolation that Mr Markle feels.

But for now, the Duchess of Sussex has another more pressing matter. Does she make one final attempt at reconciliation with the father she clearly loves, or does she give him up as a lost cause?

After his latest stunt, many will feel the latter is rapidly becoming her only sensible option, if only to protect herself.

Daily Mail