Why This Royal Wedding Actually Matters
For me the most surprising thing about today’s royal wedding is that I watched it. I have not paid much attention to such things for a long time, although I have always been an Anglophile. Being a bit puritanical by nature, I have probably considered such events to be frivolous an a waste of time. In fact, I may be writing this post partly to give myself an excuse for spending time watching it. But the truth is that there are also some things about this particular event that I think gives it some importance, especially since almost two billion people around the globe are estimated to have watched it.
First of all, it was a beautifully programmed and executed piece of theatre that showed the British monarchy in a good light. The institution itself has been under a lot of criticism for some years now, a situation only exacerbated by the less than exemplary behavior of some members of the royal family. Personally, I have always been a fan of the monarchy. That probably began when I was about twelve years old and my family spent the summer in England right after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The whole country was still abuzz with it. I remember putting together a paper model of the procession, complete with the magnificent royal carriage.
As I got older, that initial affection for the monarchical trappings grew into an actual preference for constitutional monarchy over American-style democracy. I still believe in the advantage of separating the ceremonial functions of the state from its actual governing function. Prime ministers come and go, but the King or Queen stays in place for decades as a symbol of national cohesion in spite of political changes. I hope that this Royal Wedding will inspire people to support that system. But there are also some very significant features of this particular royal wedding. Several of them have to do with Meghan Markel herself. For those of us old enough to remember when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer of Monaco, the comparison is unavoidable. Back then supposedly every little girl dreamt of being a princess. For American girls it seemed a really impossible dream since, well, America doesn’t have princesses. But Grace Kelly, beautiful and already extremely popular as a movie star, actually did it. As a result, the tiny country of Monaco glittered in an aura of glamour for the next few years. Meghan too is an actress effusing all the glamour that goes with the job. But she brings more than glamour. She brings an actor’s knowledge of how to play a role. And today she made it clear that she understands her new role an intends to play it with great skill.
Meghan is also an American. The last time an American got that close to the throne in England the result was the abdication of King Edward VIII. Of course Wallis Simpson was also a divorcee, but at the time being an American would have been bad enough. The seemingly warm reception of Meghan Markel by the both the royal family and the country signals a real change by both.
And lest we ignore the elephant in the room, Meghan is also black. Although it is not likely to happen, she could become the first black Queen of England, and even the voters could not stop it. Nor did the wedding planners make any attempt to downplay the importance of the racial issue. The attendees and participants included a conspicuous array of prominent blacks, including the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, who gave an extremely powerful address about the power of love. To me the racial significance of this marriage is of special importance in a country that achieved its world prominence in large part by colonizing non-white populations throughout the world. Now a non-white is in the family of the monarch of England, rather than in a colony ruled by the monarch.
Of course Meghan is only half of the royal couple. Harry is both the other half and the only reason anyone is paying attention to the wedding. He is the prince. He is the one in the line of succession. But let’s face it. Being the younger brother of an heir to the throne pretty much sucks. Especially if your brother has children, as does Prince William.. But Harry seems prepared to make the best of it. He has earned respect in the military and admiration through his support of important charities. Together, he and Meghan appear poised to carve out a significant role for themselves in the royal family, England, and the British Commonwealth.
People are calling this royal wedding both unique and modern. And it was, in many ways. It did mark a departure from the past in many of its elements, but it was the best kind of departure, retaining that is traditional and blending it skillfully with much that points into the future. It may well usher in a new era for the royals, their country, and perhaps their country’s image in the world. And it may help me continue to be an Anglophile and a fan of the monarchy.