The royal fam­ily

Ahead of the big wed­ding, five myths about Bri­tain’s first fam­ily

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Au­tumn Brew­ing­ton Twit­ter: @Au­tumn­san1 Au­tumn Brew­ing­ton, a free­lance jour­nal­ist in Wash­ing­ton, was an editor at The Wash­ing­ton Post from 2001 to 2014 and an­chored The Post’s Royal Wed­ding Watch blog in 2011.

The wed­ding of Bri­tain’s Prince Harry and Amer­i­can Meghan Markle is Satur­day, and royal fever is run­ning hot. A Harry­and­Meghan­themed pop­up bar opened in Wash­ing­ton on May 4, and Ge­orge­town Cup­cake is sell­ing lemon­el­der­flower treats all month in honor of the cou­ple’s wed­ding cake. If U.S. tele­vi­sion rat­ings for the nup­tials of Harry’s brother (about 23 mil­lion view­ers) and par­ents (17 mil­lion) are any guide, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans will wake up early to watch Markle’s tran­si­tion from tele­vi­sion ac­tress to real­life roy­alty. For all the U.S. in­ter­est, though, the Bri­tish crown re­mains sur­rounded by mis­con­cep­tions.

The monar­chy has em­braced a new, pro­gres­sive at­ti­tude.

Two gen­er­a­tions ago, royal love af­fairs with di­vorced per­sons sparked crises. Only in 2002 did the Church of Eng­land — of which the sov­er­eign is supreme gov­er­nor — al­low di­vorced peo­ple to re­marry. (By then, as di­vorce grew more com­mon in Bri­tain, three of the queen’s four chil­dren had di­vorced.) In 2005, the (di­vorced) heir to the throne mar­ried a di­vorcee. This helped smooth the path for Harry and Markle, who is di­vorced. “The House of Wind­sor is tear­ing up the rule­book and bring­ing it­self into the 21st cen­tury,” wrote one royal bi­og­ra­pher.

Mean­while, the crown up­dated the rules of suc­ces­sion a few years ago to end male prece­dence over fe­male heirs. The change made his­tory in April when new­born Prince Louis did not su­percede his older sis­ter, Princess Char­lotte, in line to the throne.

The an­cient in­sti­tu­tion is mod­ern­iz­ing — but that doesn’t make it modern. It re­mains the world’s most iconic ex­am­ple of hered­i­tary aris­toc­racy (sit­ting atop a class- and race­con­scious so­ci­ety), a sys­tem long since dis­carded in most lib­eral and demo­cratic na­tions. And elim­i­nat­ing gen­der bias in the suc­ces­sion to the throne merely re­flects 20th­cen­tury norms, not 21st-cen­tury pro­gres­sivism. An­other prob­lem, as a New York Times op-ed put it, is whether “more peo­ple of color will come to feel they have a stake in the coun­try’s most old-fash­ioned in­sti­tu­tion” — Markle’s bira­cial back­ground notwith­stand­ing. Au­thor Anita Sethi wrote last month that Prince Charles had re­marked in con­ver­sa­tion that she, a woman of color, didn’t “look like” some­one from Manch­ester.

The Wind­sors are multi-bil­lion­aires.

How-rich-are-the-roy­als sto­ries are rou­tine. Yes, they are wealthy. A Reader’s Di­gest write-up pegged the net worth of Prince Ge­orge, 4, at $3.6 bil­lion and 3-yearold Princess Char­lotte at $5 bil­lion. A busi­ness con­sul­tancy’s re­port con­cluded last year that their net worth is about $88 bil­lion. The as­tro­nom­i­cal sum in­cludes the com­bined value of as­sets such as Buck­ing­ham Palace, the crown jewel col­lec­tion and the Wind­sor “brand” that at­tracts tourists to Bri­tain each year.

The queen has a per­sonal for­tune of about $425 mil­lion, Bloomberg es­ti­mated in 2015. The monarch did not make the 2017 Sun­day Times list of Bri­tain’s 300 rich­est peo­ple. She per­son­ally owns Bal­moral Cas­tle in Scot­land and San­dring­ham House in Nor­folk, Eng­land. But of­fi­cial res­i­dences such as Wind­sor Cas­tle are not her pri­vate prop­erty. They’re part of the Crown Es­tate, a sys­tem for­mal­ized in 1760 un­der which King Ge­orge III signed crown lands and as­sets over to the gov­ern­ment in ex­change for a salary. The queen couldn’t sell Buck­ing­ham Palace, and she is not wholly re­spon­si­ble for its up­keep. Sim­i­larly, while the roy­als have per­sonal jew­elry, the re­galia worn at coro­na­tions and state oc­ca­sions such as the open­ing of Par­lia­ment passes from monarch to monarch.

When Charles is king, his wife, Camilla, won’t be queen.

When the cou­ple be­came en­gaged in 2005, Clarence House (Charles’s res­i­dence) an­nounced, “It is in­tended that Mrs Parker Bowles should use the ti­tle the Princess Con­sort when the prince ac­cedes to the throne.” The cou­ple sought to min­i­mize neg­a­tive re­ac­tions from Princess Diana fans and oth­ers of­fended by their long-run­ning af­fair, which Diana pub­licly blamed for the fail­ure of her mar­riage to Charles. So Camilla be­came known as the Duchess of Corn­wall, eschew­ing Diana’s ti­tle, Princess of Wales.

Yet while polls sug­gest that many Bri­tons op­pose the idea of Camilla as queen, Queen El­iz­a­beth II sig­naled her ap­proval in 2016 by adding her to the Privy Coun­cil, a se­nior group of ad­vis­ers to the sov­er­eign. The language about Camilla be­com­ing princess con­sort has been re­moved from the Clarence House web­site, and ar­ti­cles and bi­ogra­phies of Charles and Camilla have sug­gested that Charles in­tends for his wife to be queen.

Markle’s child could be a royal and run for U.S. pres­i­dent.

Some mag­a­zine and news­pa­per ar­ti­cles ar­gue that any off­spring of Harry and Markle “could be both Pres­i­dent of the United States and heirs to the Bri­tish throne,” point­ing to a 2016 Har­vard Law Re­view anal­y­sis of the term “nat­u­ral-born ci­ti­zen” by for­mer U.S. solicitors gen­eral Neal Katyal and Paul Cle­ment. Markle plans to be­come a Bri­tish ci­ti­zen, Kens­ing­ton Palace has said, though it’s not known whether she in­tends to re­tain her U.S. cit­i­zen­ship. Chil­dren of Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing those with dual cit­i­zen­ship, have U.S. ci­ti­zen sta­tus at birth.

But with­out an ex­emp­tion from Congress, any child of the cou­ple who is in line for the Bri­tish throne would run afoul of the for­eign emol­u­ments clause: Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 9 of the Con­sti­tu­tion says that “no Per­son hold­ing any Of­fice of Profit or Trust un­der [the United States], shall, with­out the Con­sent of the Congress, ac­cept of any present, Emol­u­ment, Of­fice, or Ti­tle, of any kind what­ever, from any King, Prince, or for­eign State.” So even if a fu­ture daugh­ter broke with the royal tra­di­tion of steer­ing clear of pol­i­tics, she would need to re­nounce the throne — or get spe­cial per­mis­sion from Congress to main­tain her claim. It’s hard to imag­ine a can­di­date win­ning an elec­tion with­out first hav­ing pledged ex­clu­sive al­le­giance to the United States.

It is un­pa­tri­otic to care about the wed­ding or the roy­als.

To some, royal cov­er­age is more than merely an­noy­ing. After the royal en­gage­ment was an­nounced last year, Sonny Bunch ar­gued in The Wash­ing­ton Post that “Amer­i­cans right­fully and vi­o­lently over­threw our tea-sip­ping stamp-tax­ing over­lords in large part so that we should not have to gen­u­flect in front of the al­tar of royal blood­lines.” CNN’s Moni Basu re­cently wrote about strug­gling to un­der­stand Amer­i­can in­ter­est in the wed­ding: “They are not, after all, our kings or queens, princes and princesses . . . . We gave blood to be free of the Bri­tish monar­chy.”

A lot has changed since 1776. The pow­ers that Bri­tain’s monar­chs once wielded have largely shifted to Par­lia­ment. It might of­fi­cially be Her Majesty’s mil­i­tary, but the queen doesn’t or­der forces into bat­tle. When she opens a ses­sion of Par­lia­ment, the queen reads a speech writ­ten by the elected gov­ern­ment. Taxes are col­lected in her name, but the leg­is­la­ture sets rates. Bri­tain has evolved from an em­pire of colonies to mem­ber­ship in a Com­mon­wealth of al­lied gov­ern­ments.

Mean­while, Amer­i­can in­ter­est in the roy­als is noth­ing new. Queen El­iz­a­beth II, 92, first made the cover of Time mag­a­zine at age 3 in 1929. A fas­ci­na­tion with the Duchess of Cam­bridge’s wardrobe or char­ity work does not threaten U.S. cit­i­zen­ship or gov­er­nance. And that’s partly why so many en­joy it. For Amer­i­cans, fol­low­ing royal char­ac­ters has none of the com­pli­ca­tions of pol­i­tics or re­spon­si­bil­ity for the monar­chy’s costs. Some see the roy­als as a real-life fairy tale; oth­ers see them as a long-run­ning soap opera. For some in a celebrity-ob­sessed cul­ture, princes and princesses are sim­ply a higher caste.


A pub near Wind­sor Cas­tle is dec­o­rated for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wed­ding next week­end. Some see the nup­tials — Markle is bira­cial and di­vorced — as a sign of the monar­chy’s mod­ern­iza­tion.

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