Britain’s Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace on Nov. 27, 2017. Toby Melville/Reuters
Is the royal marriage story we’re being sold really a fairy tale come true? Or is it a story spun by Buckingham Palace for its own self-interest, one shrouded in myth and make-believe?
In the coverage of next summer’s marriage between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, two main narratives have emerged.
One is Markle’s mixed-race, American background and how her “acceptance” to the royal family signals a monarchy willing to loosen its rigid rules.
The other is an improbable love story: A girl from South-Central Los Angeles is plucked from the streets by her dashing Prince Charming (“How Meghan went from a seedy Los Angeles tenement to a Palace,” as one Daily Mail story put it).
While both have elements of truth, they also ignore the royal family’s complicated history with race and “blood” and its insistence on continuing outdated traditions. As a sociologist who researches questions of race, power and ideology, I believe we are missing the real significance of this marriage.
The “modern royal family” narrative overlooks the fact that the monarchy continues to embody a fundamentally traditional idea of British identity, a patriarchal institution steeped in nostalgia for the days of the empire.
In their carefully choreographed first joint interview with the BBC, Markle – a self-described feminist – confirmed that she was giving up her acting career in order to take up her new “role” as the wife of Prince Harry.
Meanwhile, the British establishment’s long history of anti-Catholicism – deeply entrenched in its customs, laws and rituals – was on full view. Buckingham Palace was quick to announce that Markle would be baptized into the Church of England before the couple is married, presumably to assuage any lingering concerns that she might actually be Catholic. (As a teenager, she had attended the private Catholic Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.)
In a nod to tradition, Meghan Markle will be baptized into the Church of England. Adrian Dennis/Reuters
Finally, despite some media reports, Meghan isn’t actually about to become a princess. Because she doesn’t come from “royal blood,” the arcane rules and protocols of the British aristocratic system mean she will likely be given the title “Her Royal Highness,” rather than “Princess Meghan.”