Let Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding be a great national occasion
A divorced, mixed-race, Hollywood actress who attended a Roman Catholic school is to marry the son of the next King. Such a sentence could simply not have been written a generation ago.
The forthcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and his American fiancée Meghan Markle are emblematic of a nation that has changed utterly, no longer hidebound by stuffy tradition and populated by Establishment courtiers seeking to prove Shakespeare’s observation that the course of true love never did run smooth.
Perhaps it might have been different had the would-be groom been Prince William and at just one remove from the throne. But arguably we have changed enough to recognize that what matters nowadays is whether the couple want to spend their lives together, not whether the background of an individual is considered to be insufficiently aristocratic or religiously problematic.
If anything, it is the Church of England that has caused difficulties in the past over Royals marrying divorced people, which is something of an historical irony since it was founded upon a Monarch’s desire to end his marriage.
The abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 was a consequence of his falling in love with a divorced woman. Princess Margaret was told in 1955 she could not marry the divorced Group Capt. Peter Townsend and retain her privileged Royal status. She ended the relationship declaring she was “mindful of the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble”.
The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, both of whom had been divorced, were married in a civil ceremony in Windsor despite initial concern that this would not be legally permissible. The Princess Royal remarried in a church wedding, but in Scotland.
However, since 2002 the marriage of a divorced person whose spouse is still living has been possible in the Church of England, at the discretion of the member of clergy conducting the ceremony.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, indicated yesterday that special dispensation will be given for a Church of England wedding for Prince Harry. “Marriage is a special and joyous commitment, one that Jesus celebrated together with friends at the wedding in Cana. I am so happy that Prince Harry and Ms. Markle have chosen to make their vows before God,” he said.
Constitutional questions are inevitably raised whenever a senior member of the Royal Family marries, but there are no impediments for Prince Harry now he is no longer close to the throne as fifth — soon to be sixth — in line. But above all, this is a story about the happiness of a young couple who deserve our congratulations and best wishes.
For Prince Harry in particular, the country will be delighted to see him settling down to the responsibilities and obligations of married life. Earlier this year he disclosed in this newspaper how his mother’s death when he was just 12 had such a destabilizing impact on his life.
But despite a sometime playboy reputation in his twenties, he has not been idle.
After his time in the Army he has become a champion for disabled ex-servicemen and women, playing a prominent role in helping to set up and promote the Invictus Games, which were staged for the third time in Toronto in September. Their success is a tribute to Prince Harry’s hard work and commitment to the cause.
He has recently turned his attention to mental health in the Armed Forces, recognizing that not all injuries suffered by military personnel are of a physical nature.
His fiancée has come to prominence through appearing in a number of hit American TV programs; but she, too, has used her fame and fortune to help others. Her work as a global ambassador for the Canadian charity World Vision has involved developing clean water projects in Africa.
The echoes of Princess Diana’s charitable roles are hard to escape. Miss Markle’s beauty seems to be matched by a maturity and grace that will endear her to the country. Together they should make a formidable team as they set out on what will be a lifetime of service and commitment to public duties.
After a long period of political uncertainty and the seemingly interminable controversy over Brexit, the country now has a Royal wedding to look forward to; and if there is ever an event that can draw our fractured nation together then this is it. As we were reminded by the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, the style and pageantry are hard to beat.
It is not yet clear where the couple intend to marry and they may prefer a low-key affair. That would be a shame. The monarchy has shown its ability to adapt to the realities of the modern world but there remains an important place for tradition, spectacle and color. The wedding is set for next spring. Let it be a great national occasion in a great national church.
The Telegraph of London