Hereditas Historiae

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The Times (Editorial comment) - 28 November 2017 

Match Point

Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle and its enthusiastic welcome reflects decades of change in the royal family and the institution of marriage 

'The last time a member of the British royal family proposed to an American divorcee, a full-blown constitutional crisis ensued. This time it is cause for congratulations reaching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from every corner of the real and digital worlds. Closer to their respective homes, Ms Markle’s parents, an African-American social worker and a retired Hollywood lighting director, are “incredibly happy”. The Queen is “delighted”. Prince Charles is “thrilled”. The Archbishop of Canterbury has wished the couple years of love, happiness and fulfilment and indicated that he would be content to officiate at their wedding if invited.

This is all as it should be, but it is also progress. Besides being foreign-born and previously married, Ms Markle was raised a Catholic and has carved out a singular career as an actress and humanitarian. Her unalloyed welcome into a family not known for its diversity reflects decades of slow but ultimately positive change on two fronts. One is the royal family itself. The other is the institution of marriage. Both need to evolve in order to survive and both are duly evolving. The former Apache pilot known as Captain Harry Wales and the star of Suits, known to its followers as Rachel Zane, are living proof.

The Queen’s celebration of her 70th wedding anniversary with the Duke of Edinburgh earlier this month was exceptional in more ways than one. For much of the past century the House of Windsor has aspired to be an advertisement for marriage but endured a chequered relationship with it in real life. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s late sister, had to choose between marriage and her royal status as a young woman because the object of her affections had been divorced. Three of the Queen’s four children have also been divorced, acrimoniously and in the glare of unrelenting publicity in the case of Harry’s parents.

Their match was made not in heaven nor even in a student disco but with the pre-approval of far too many courtiers. It is no wonder that Diana, Princess of Wales, urged her sons to marry for love. It seemed a simple thing to hope for. Even so, Harry would not have been able to contemplate marrying Ms Markle in an Anglican place of worship but for the Church of England’s gradual acceptance of the idea of divorcees marrying on its premises. Had it not been for the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, he would not have been able to marry a Catholic and remain in line to the throne.

Harry and his brother have thrived by being as normal as their abnormal circumstances allow. Just how abnormal royal life can be, his fiancée is about to find out. She has had an introduction to the intrusions that come with the territory, and has withstood them by keeping a dignified silence while leaving her boyfriend to condemn what he called “a wave of abuse and harassment” directed at her via social media.

The level of public scrutiny will only intensify. Two of Harry’s early girlfriends have admitted finding even their first taste of it unbearable. Ms Markle has more experience of life than either of them, but also of celebrity, being one in her own right. Those who wish her and Harry well will hope they find strength as well as happiness in each other’s company.

For all his occasional lapses, Harry is a gifted communicator who has performed real public services as a champion of military veterans and as a sufferer of mental illness who is not afraid to talk about it. Ms Markle is said to be ready to do less acting and more humanitarian work. If they put their minds to it they could update what it means to be a “full-time royal” at a time when the public wants to know. If they have children, however, they should be spared this burden. The life Ms Markle has taken on and that Harry has had thrust upon him is not for the faint-hearted.'