This is a thoroughly modern
THE LAST TIME AN AMERICAN DIVORCEE MARRIED INTO THE ROYAL FAMILY, IT WAS A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS. ANGELA MOLLARD REVEALS HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED.
Wallis Simpson wore blue for her wedding to Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor in 1937 – her Mainbocher gown was famously dyed to match her eyes.
Victoria and Albert’s cake was the first to be decorated with figures of the bride and groom on it.
AS Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took to the dance floor at Frogmore House last night few onlookers would’ve been aware of the significance of the venue. For just metres away in the grounds of the 17th-century estate lie the graves of King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American whose love for the monarch led to his extraordinary abdication and the pair being exiled.
That one previously married bride should be so warmly embraced by crown and country while the other was treated with disdain and condemnation is illustrative of the striking evolution of the monarchy on the subject of divorce.
More than 80 years after the King and his divorced lover caused a royal crisis, Markle has suffered no such ignominy. The Queen not only approved her grandson’s marriage but broke long-held traditions to welcome his fiancee into the family, including inviting her to spend last Christmas with the Royal family at Sandringham, a privilege previously bestowed only on married couples.
While her softening stance reflects changing societal values, it’s all the more remarkable when you consider she is only on the throne because of the monarchy’s deep intolerance of divorce. As the daughter of the second son of King George V, she was never expected to be queen, but when her uncle gave up his birthright for love, is brother, Elizabeth’s father, acceded to the throne.
While Simpson was considered a “sorceress” by her mother-in-law back in 1936, decades on Markle’s divorce from first husband Trevor Engelson barely warrants a mention and has proved no obstacle to her relationship with the sixth in line to the throne.
As royal biographer Andrew Morton notes: “While the first American duchess, Wallis, divided the nation; Meghan, simply by being herself — bi-racial, divorced and American, and certainly not from the upper classes — is a uniting figure.”
This astonishing change of perspective for an institution that venerates history, clings to tradition and puts duty above all, reflects both the rise in the number of divorces, public attitudes, changes within the church and the monarch’s own experiences.
Three of her four children have divorced, proof that even princes and princesses are not guaranteed a fairytale ending.
Marrying divorcees was unthinkable back in 1953 when, shortly after the Queen’s coronation, news broke that her sister Princess Margaret was in love with her divorced equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend. As the recent Netflix series The Crown dramatically portrayed, the Queen would not support them marrying as the Church of England forbade remarriage of
divorcees if their previous spouse was still alive. Margaret had been told she would forfeit her royal privileges and income if she were to marry Townsend and together the pair made the heartbreaking decision to abandon their engagement. “I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend,” the Princess said in an official statement. “Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others.”
Prioritising duty above love was to have lasting consequences for the princess. Margaret went on to marry photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, with whom she had two children, but the relationship deteriorated and they announced their divorce in 1978.
It was the first dissolution of a marriage in the immediate royal family since King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled in 1540.
While the Queen was distressed by her sister’s relationship woes,
The first royal wedding to be held in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was that of Edward, Prince of Wales – later King Edward VII – and Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.
she had more troubles to come. A decade later her daughter Princess Anne separated from Captain Mark Phillips, yet the public response reflected changing times.
Instead of being maligned for her failure, Anne was regarded with compassion, the victim of an emotionally barren marriage. She remarried in 1992 in Scotland because she could not be remarried in the Church of England. The same year the Queen’s third son Andrew separated from Sarah Ferguson, who was effectively frozen out of the royal family following her toe-sucking antics with American financier John Bryan.
But nothing shook the monarchy as deeply as the separation of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He was the heir to the throne, she was a global sensation and each used the media to publicise their bitterness, blame and rancour. While Charles’s relationship with Camilla ParkerBowles was well known, after Diana’s death a concerted campaign by the palace was required to make their relationship acceptable to the public. Even though the Church of England had dropped their rules on remarriage in 2002, Camilla was fearful of public sentiment when she married Charles in 2005. As royal biographer Penny Junor reveals, she hid under the doona on the morning of her wedding.
“She absolutely refused to come out. She was so frightened, she had to be coaxed out of bed. She was terrified and quite rightly. Nobody knew what reception she was going to get.”
Last night, as the Queen toasted another divorcee entering the royal family’s ranks, she more than most will have acknowledged how times have changed.
Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII of England, and his wife Wallis Simpson, at their wedding in 1937. LOVE COMES FIRST
ROYAL SMILES Wedding photo of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.
AMERICAN BEAUTY Wallis Simpson.
Princess Margaret never really recovered from her forbidden romance with Peter Townsend. LOVE ON THE ROCKS
Princess Margaret with Group Captain Peter Townsend, the man she was forbidden from marrying. THWARTED LOVE
Prince Charles finally married the love of his life, Camilla, in 2005. CHARMILLA