Harry & Meghan: a union that was once forbidden
Remember the last time a British prince wanted to marry an American woman? No, of course you don’t, unless you’re a similar age to Elsie Christenson and Charlie Butler, two Prince George residents who celebrated their 100th birthdays this month.
They both would have been 18 years old when King George V died in January 1936. Prince Edward became king but the 41year-old was madly in love with Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American.
When the British prime minister, as well as his fellow prime ministers in Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth, said they would not stand for the marriage, Edward abdicated the throne that December to his younger brother Albert (who became King George VI), refusing the crown in favour of the woman he loved.
Eighty years later and Prince Harry doesn’t have to make such a choice. Nobody cares that Prince Harry’s fiance is an American actress, a divorcee with a living former spouse (this was a big issue for Wallis Simpson) or the first person of mixed race (her mother is African American) to marry into the upper echelon of the British royal family.
She’s also three years older than her prince. Not only have things changed in society in England and elsewhere, they have obviously changed in Buckingham Palace. Under royal protocol, an heir to the throne’s marriage must be approved by the monarch.
In this case, Harry — fifth in line behind his father, his brother Will, his nephew George and his niece Charlotte — needed his 91-year-old grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, to give her blessing.
The fact that Monday’s announcement was about Harry and Meghan’s spring wedding and not about his surrendering of his claim to the throne in order for them to be married shows that blessing was given. Thankfully so. The Royal Family (they are Canada’s Royal Family, as well) may not have survived a scandal where a popular prince was forced to divorce himself from the increasingly remote likelihood of ever being king because his grandma didn’t like his fiance. Even if Elizabeth had her own reasons for withholding her blessing, Markle’s race would quickly have been cited as the issue.
The resulting uproar would have been devastating.
At her age, Her Majesty would have childhood memories of the controversy about her uncle and how her father became king. She has lived through Diana, the marriage to Charles, the divorce and her tragic death. She had to deal with Prince Andrew’s marriage, separation and divorce of Sarah Ferguson. And Camilla. When it became public, that long affair with Prince Charles was deeply humiliating both to the future king and the entire Royal Family, especially in the wake of Diana’s death.
The public’s view of both Charles and Camilla improved, thanks largely to the extensive humanitarian work they have done, both at home and abroad. The Queen gave her blessing for their marriage in 2005, but they could not hold a royal wedding, since the head of the royal family is also the head of the Church of England. The church allowed the marriage to proceed but the ceremony was a small, civil one.
While Camilla will never be queen (her official title will be “princess consort” after Charles takes the throne when his mother dies), she is part of the family. As Markle now finds herself. Much has changed during the second Elizabethan Era, now into its 66th year, including both the monarchy and the monarch herself. While she is Her Majesty, with all of the responsibilities that title confers, it is her role to see that the monarchy remains loved and revered by its people, both now and into the future. Yet she is also a grandmother (and great-grandmother), eager to see her family live full lives, filled with joy and love.
Long may they - joy and love, that is reign.
A young man, who lost his mother as a child, who bravely served his country in combat in Afghanistan and who has publicly acknowledged his challenges with mental health, has fallen in love with a successful professional woman with a university education.
And she loves dogs, just like the Queen does.
Whatever Markle’s official title and role be, her ties to Canada are already strong, thanks to her years working in Toronto as a cast member of the legal drama Suits.
As a member of the Royal Family, she will not only make that family better and stronger, she will inevitably be part of our family here in Canada.
A prince and a princess have found love in each other.
As with any young couple proclaiming their love to the world, they deserve our best wishes for a beautiful life together.
Sadly, that option wasn’t offered to another prince and his American love in a different era.
Neil Godbout is managing editor of The Prince George Citizen. This column appears weekly.