Friday, 18 May 2018

Making her mark: How Meghan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry breaks with royal tradition

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry tie the knot Saturday in a ceremony that is expected to be a departure from traditional royal weddings.

UBC lecturer in Victorian literature and royal expert Sarika Bose explains how the marriage could mark the beginning of a modern new era for the Royal Family.

How does the union of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry break with royal tradition?

The biggest break in tradition has been in the choice of a commoner who is American, Catholic, divorced, an actress and bi-racial. Meghan Markle is not the first American to marry into the Royal Family. Wallace Simpson, a divorced American woman married the former King, Edward VIII, but their marriage was only possible after he abdicated his throne. Simpson was never accepted into the Royal Family and was never given an “HRH” (Her Royal Highness) after her title of Duchess. Being able to marry a divorced American today, about 80 years later, shows how much the monarchy and Royal Family have adapted to modern values.

The choice of an outside preacher for the ceremony is also a significant departure from tradition. Bishop Michael Curry—an African American episcopal bishop from Baltimore who has not yet met the couple—will preach alongside the Dean of Windsor, the spiritual head of St. George’s Chapel, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church.

The couple is also breaking with tradition in their requests for wedding presents, asking for donations not only to charities they regularly support in England, but also to charities elsewhere that fall out of their regular patronage.

The choice of lemon and elderflower cake to be served at the wedding breakfast is also a departure from tradition. The cake will be baked by Claire Ptak of Violet Bakery in East London, a bakery favoured by the bride. However, it will be one of at least two cakes made, with the second one being a fruitcake. The tradition of serving fruitcake at the wedding is practical because a small slice of cake can be carefully sliced, packed and sent to every wedding guest, and can stand up to packing and mailing.

Even people who aren’t royalists are getting swept up in the royal wedding excitement. What is it about this wedding that appeals to people?

No matter how cynical members of the general public claim to be about the Royal Family, when significant royal occasions take place, vast numbers of people still attend. Huge crowds lined up along the mall to catch a glimpse of Prince William and his bride, and of the Queen during her Jubilee. Even in 1999, when the Queen’s youngest son got married, the public got the day off and held picnics and street parties all over England. The public is drawn to that sense of a special break from the mundane and toward the glamour and spectacle.

In the case of this particular wedding, there is a sense that this is a historic occasion. The Royal Family has chosen to present this wedding as a grand spectacle full of glamour and excitement, while at the same time humanizing it through framing the event as a family wedding of a lesser member of the Royal Family.

The identity of the bride appears to bring this one step closer to creating a bridge with the public, due to her humble origins. For years, the public has called for the Royal Family to be more like members of the general public. Prince Harry’s choice of an outsider fits into the kind of modernization the public has been clamouring for.

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