As many know, Prince Harry is all set to marry his fiancée, American actress Meghan Markle, on May 19, 2018. And the ceremony itself will be watched by millions – among them, the family members and dignitaries that will witness the nuptials in person. But, as it turns out, one very significant person may possibly be missing from the guest list. Indeed, there is a chance that Queen Elizabeth II, the grandmother of the groom, may voluntarily opt not to attend… but why?
Well, the possibility that the Queen may not be at the ceremony itself is yet another interesting bit of speculation about a love story that has already provoked its fair share of media attention. And some of the earliest reports about Harry and Meghan’s relationship came in October 2016, when the British press began to talk about romantic rumors surrounding the pair. The prince himself, however, didn’t seem to appreciate the tone of certain publications’ coverage.
So, in November 2016, Prince Harry took the unusual step of releasing a public statement about the headlines. What’s more, the statement – written by Harry’s press secretary – took a very firm line indeed. Markle, the announcement read, had been “subject to a wave of abuse and harassment,” much of which had “racial overtones.” The prince wanted this to stop immediately. In addition, the message said, “Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her.”
That statement touched upon Markle’s status as a biracial woman, with a white father and black mother. And it’s something of which the actress is proud, as evinced in a piece she penned for Elle in 2015. In that, she also wrote, “Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.”
In the same Elle piece, however, Markle threw a light on the social attitudes of some in the early ’80s. She wrote, “And there was my mom, caramel in complexion with her light-skinned baby in tow, being asked where my mother was, since they assumed she was the nanny.” Markle’s parents would both ensure that their daughter became confident in her identity, though, even on one occasion altering her doll families so that they too were mixed race.
And when Markle and Prince Harry’s engagement was announced in November 2017, much media discussion was had about the significance of a biracial new royal. For instance, British daily newspaper The Guardian published an article entitled, “When Meghan weds Harry, Britain’s relationship with race will change for ever.” The sub-headline read, “Don’t underestimate the symbolism of a royal marriage. From now on, it will be impossible to argue that being black is somehow incompatible with being British.”
Then, in the couple’s first post-engagement interview on U.K. television, the subject was also brought up. In particular, a correspondent for the BBC asked Markle how it had felt to have her ethnicity come under scrutiny. She answered, however, “At the end of the day, I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from, and we have never put any focus on that.” And after that, the interview moved on to other topics, including – of course – Harry’s deep love for his fiancée.
“The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was sort of confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned,” Harry told the BBC cameras. “Everything was just perfect,” he added. “We’re a fantastic team. We know we are. And we hope to, over time, try and have as much impact for the things that we care about as much as possible.”
They also discussed Markle’s first meeting with the Queen. But, in fact, the actress was able to say that she had met with her future grandmother-in-law more than once. “She’s an incredible woman,” Markle said. “And the corgis took to you straight away,” Harry added, then joked, “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at. This one walks in – absolutely nothing!”
Indeed, in the couple’s media appearances around the time of the engagement announcement, everything about their relationship seemed ideal. The pair were pictured laughing, joking and giving every indication of being very much in love. But in the weeks afterwards, the press once again began to speculate on the details surrounding the royal romance. And they uncovered something major: there was a chance that the Queen, despite having apparently given her blessing to the match, might not actually go to the wedding.
This was for one very simple reason: Markle had been married and divorced once before. In 2011 she had wed Trevor Engelson, an American film producer and actor; the pair divorced two years later, however. Now, to many people, Markle being a divorcée is not a huge deal. But to the Queen – and to the institution of the British monarchy in general – it may have presented a bit of a conundrum.
That’s because, as the titular ruler of the U.K., the Queen is also the figurehead of the Protestant Church of England. And the Church of England strongly discourages divorce, believing it to be in opposition to God’s will. Indeed, this issue has been a problem for the British royal family before. Most notably, the subject arose when Prince Charles decided that he wished to marry Camilla Parker Bowles – herself also a divorcée.
Because of this, Prince Charles and Parker Bowles were not permitted to marry in a church. Therefore, when the couple tied the knot in 2005, they did so at a civil ceremony instead. And, despite the fact that Charles is her eldest son, the Queen did not attend the wedding. Reportedly, she felt that as the leader of the Church of England, she could not be seen at the actual union; the monarch was present at the blessing of the marriage and the reception party, however.
At the time, an anonymous friend of the monarch spoke on the record to U.K. newspaper The Sunday Telegraph. That source said, moreover, “The Queen feels she has to put her role with the Church before her role as a mother.” And senior officials in the Royal household, likewise speaking anonymously, gave their thoughts on the matter as well. One aide said, for example, “[The Queen] did not feel it was appropriate for her to attend.”
What’s more, Charles and his new wife even had to openly repent of previous sins during the blessing ceremony. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us,” they read. That is how seriously divorce and adultery are treated among the British royal family. After all, one day Charles himself will become head of the Church of England.
And, in fact, there is further precedence on the matter. Indeed, the concept of divorce caused a seismic shift in the royal family back in the 1930s. Then, King Edward VIII revealed his intentions to wed American socialite Wallis Simpson, who had been divorced twice. The Church of England and the British Government simply would not allow the union, though. As a result, the king abdicated in 1936 so that he could marry Simpson, passing the crown to his brother King George V.
So, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s marriage may be a rather more complex affair than presumably either of them would have wanted. Fortunately for the couple, though, the Church of England does now allow divorced people to marry in church, if the institution feels that the circumstances are appropriate. Markle will have to be baptized into the Church of England, however, before her nuptials take place.
And, in fact, some publications have reported that the Queen will attend the wedding after all. The Daily Mail claimed in November 2017, for example, that the monarch would be in attendance. However, the newspaper is considered by many to be a less than reliable source. And, perhaps more significantly, spokespeople for the royal household have been silent on the matter.
Many other media outlets have since added their own takes on the situation – some containing harsher views than others. Indeed, articles saying that Markle’s divorce made her unsuitable to marry a British prince soon popped up on the internet. But multiple commentators suggested that nitpicking over Markle’s marital status was possibly more of a coded objection to her ethnicity. As evidence, they pointed to the fact that most members of the British royal family now have divorces in their past.
One thing, however, is for certain: Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle will shake up the royal family in a way it hasn’t seen since the 1930s. Furthermore, the couple have also already shown that they are strong enough together to face media intrusion and public pressures head-on. So, whether or not the Queen graces the wedding, their union will still hopefully be a long and happy one.