Royal weddings: The times they are a-changin’

Royal weddings: The times they are a-changin’
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You’d have to live on Mars to be unaware that His Royal Highness, Prince Henry (Harry) of Wales, will marry Meghan MarkleMeghan MarklePrince Harry talks about 'unconscious bias' and racism with Jane Goodall Christian group warns against rise of 'Christian nationalism' Meghan Markle to interview Michelle Obama as guest editor of British Vogue MORE on Saturday. Like all weddings, this event is an occasion for celebration and pride, but while most marriage ceremonies engender those feelings in a close circle of family and friends, British royal weddings inspire interest throughout the globe. This particular one has especial interest for the United States, since the prince will take for his bride an American woman.

There are many striking aspects of this union. A biracial, divorced American actress, Markle is an unlikely royal bride. Fifty years ago, just one of those characteristics might have rendered her ineligible to be the bride of one in the direct line of succession. But times have changed and restrictions have relaxed, perhaps to align with modern public opinion.

Whether one is supportive or skeptical of this coupling, the only parties who matter are the spouses-to-be. Oh, wait — this is decisively not the case, since the monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is required by the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 to approve of family marriages to protect against forces that could “diminish the status of the royal house.”  Moreover, “the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 states that up to the sixth-in-line to the throne (Harry was fifth at the time he sought permission, now sixth with the birth a few weeks ago of Prince Louis) must have the queen’s permission.


Happily for the Wales-Markle union, Queen Elizabeth gave her blessing in an official statement: “My Lords, I declare my consent to a contract of matrimony between my most dearly beloved grandson Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle, which consent I am causing to be signified under the Great Seal and to be entered in the books of the Privy Council.”

If we take the formerly disqualifying issues of Ms. Markle’s situation separately, each one in turn has been overcome.

Regarding her divorced status, a rather memorable precedent exists in the form of Wallis Spencer Simpson, aka the Duchess of Windsor. Everyone knows this story. Edward VIII, an errant and somewhat irresponsible king, fell smitten to the charms of Mrs. Simpson to the horror of Edward’s family, the government, the nation and the Commonwealth. The king only wanted his bride-to-be to be his queen — and the queen of his nation. But after lengthy debate among Parliament and commonwealth heads, it was clear there was no appetite for an American divorcee to accede as queen consort.

A further departure from the Mrs. Simpson case, in 1936, the year Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis, the obstacle was the rule on divorce and remarriage in the Church of England, of which the monarch of the United Kingdom is head. The church’s ban on remarriage for a divorced person whose previous spouse is alive applied to King Edward, and still held for Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, in 1953. She was told she could not marry the man she loved, Capt. Peter Townsend, because the Church of England would not countenance it.

In the case of Ms. Markle, the acceptance of the public and the monarchy show how much views on divorce have changed in the United Kingdom, Andrew Morton, a British journalist and author of the biography, “Wallis in Love,” said during an interview with Fox News published on Tuesday. “It’s a very, very significant moment,” he said.

Significant, too, is that The Most Reverend Primate Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his blessing: “I wish them many years of love, happiness and fulfillment, and ask that God blesses them throughout their married life together.” Ms. Markle professed adult faith and baptism in the Anglican Church in March.

As far as her race, nationality, and even her formerly disrespected profession, a lack of legislative prohibitions and more relaxed public opinions mean that even such unthinkable obstacles have been removed.

While monarch, church, and much of the public are supportive, not everyone is thrilled about this marriage and some are skeptical about it. However, one thing remains certain: the closest relationship enjoyed between two sovereign nations is about to get even closer. To the soon-to-be royal couple, let us extend all of our good wishes.

Lee Cohen is a senior fellow in western European affairs at the London Center for Policy Research, and the New York director of the Anglosphere Society. He was formerly the director of the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.