The British monarchy, though, is not most families. So the announcement on Monday morning that Markle was engaged to Prince Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, signifies more than just a wedding in the spring of 2018 and a surefire media frenzy. It’s also a sign that by accepting Markle—a divorced, biracial American who had a Catholic education—the monarchy is ready and willing to change. Markle, 36, is the first American set to marry into its ranks since Wallis Simpson sparked a constitutional crisis in 1936.
The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms. Meghan Markle. pic.twitter.com/zdaHR4mcY6
— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) November 27, 2017
The phrasing of the statement seems noteworthy; the Queen, it reveals, was “informed,” while Markle’s family was the one whose approval was actively “sought.” Nevertheless, a Twitter account representing the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh announced that both were “delighted for the couple and wish them every happiness.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the principal leader of the Church of England, reportedly gave his blessing several months ago for Markle and Prince Harry to have a church wedding. And a spokesperson for Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were married in 2011, reiterated that the General Synod Ruling of 2002 approved marriages for divorcées within the Church of England.
The Royal Family’s resistance to “Catholics, commoners, and divorcées,” as Vanity Fair puts it, endured for several more decades. During the 1950s, Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, was forbidden from marrying Captain Peter Townsend, who had previously been married and had two children. Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son, dated an American actress named Koo Stark in the 1980s, but the media interest in their relationship, and the Queen’s reported disapproval of Stark’s role in a “racy” film, led to his marrying Sarah Ferguson instead. And even for prospective partners who fit the bill, the requirements of the monarchy often overrode personal desire. Prince Charles’s current wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was deemed an unsuitable choice for the future King when they first fell in love in the 1970s.