How Prince Harry’s fiancé gives a modern face to the British royal family

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

Prince Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles the heir to the British throne, will get married to his finance Meghan Markle who is of “mixed-race” ethnicity on 19th May next year. The announcement has been received in the UK with enthusiasm and as a symbol of Britain’s multi-cultural society.

Technically, Markle has everything wrong with her to be a British royal bride. She is older than Prince Harry, 36-year-old to his 33. She is divorced, an American, a Hollywood actress who has played raunchy scenes and most importantly is of mixed race with a white father and a “100 percent black” mother.

A previous British monarch, King Edward VIII and Prince Harry’s great-uncle had to abdicate from the throne for much less to marry “the woman that he loved”.

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The object of Edward’s desire was Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American heiress who was divorced from her first husband and seeking a divorce from her second. The possibility of such a marriage threw the Britain of 1936 into a constitutional crisis with the prime minister and parliament opposing the match.

As the titular head of the Church of England, Edward’s marriage with Mrs Simpson would have also conflicted with the Church’s disapproval of remarriage after divorce if a former spouse was still alive. Edward chose love over the throne and stepped down.

Since then Harry’s own father Prince Charles has broken the divorcee taboo when in 2005 he was granted permission to marry Camilla Parker Bowles, his long-time love and a divorcee, in a civil marriage ceremony followed by a church blessing. Charles, himself divorced from the late Diana, Princess of Wales, will eventually become king and Camilla will be his queen consort.

Prince Harry & Meghan Markle engagement memorabilia for sale in gift shops Royal engagement memorabilia, Windsor, on 23 Dec 2017. (AP)
Prince Harry & Meghan Markle engagement memorabilia for sale in gift shops Royal engagement memorabilia, Windsor, on 23 Dec 2017. (AP)

Broken boundaries

However, Harry, fifth in line to the British throne, has broken barriers beyond his father and what most Britons expected. After the announcement of their engagement in November, British tabloids did make much of Markle’s mixed-race heritage so much so that in an interview with the BBC the actress described it as “disheartening” and “discriminatory”.

The couple said “they were completely unprepared for what happened” and Harry was forced to rap the British conservative press on the knuckles for bringing “racial overtones” into his relationship, and told them to ‘lay off’ in no uncertain terms. Since then the press has done exactly that.

In the 1,300-year history of the British monarchy Markle will become the first person of mixed-race to enter the royal family. This is no mean feat considering that European royalty have always talked of being “blue blooded”, which basically alluded to the fact that the aristocracy should be so white that their blue veins could be seen through their pale skin.

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In a modern changing world, the British monarchy had often seemed old fashioned, stuffy and an out of touch elite. Harry’s mother Diana had brought a more human modern face to the royal family and the emotional response to her tragic death from ordinary people had made the House of Windsor wake up to the need to evolve.

Harry and his elder brother Prince William have played an integral part in the rehabilitation of the royals in the last two decades and given a contemporary face to an old institution, making it more relevant. Harry’s marriage to a half-black Markle is seen as a continuation of this.

The Queen’s break with tradition by inviting Markle to spend Christmas at Sandringham Castle this year with the rest of the royals before marriage is seen as her wholehearted acceptance of Harry’s fiancé into the family.

With Harry only being fifth in line to the throne – soon to drop down to sixth at the birth of William and Catherine’s third child next April – there is very little likelihood of Markle ever becoming queen.

Had William, a definite future king of England, picked a bride with Markle’s credentials it is quite possible that the response from all would have been very different.