It may be churlish to be unkind about a young couple who have just announced their engagement but needs must. Someone has to say it, though let me say at the outset that the engagement has made lots of people very happy. Not least journalists.
Prince Harry is fifth in line to the throne so constitutionally it doesn’t matter a hoot who he marries because neither he nor his children are going to become monarch, but, for what it’s worth, Meghan Markle is unsuitable as his wife for the same reason that Wallis Simpson was unsuitable: she’s divorced and Harry’s grandmother is supreme governor of the CofE. The last person who made any personal sacrifice for that particular principle was Princess Margaret, and you could argue it didn’t end terribly well.
In fact, the Queen is one of the few members of the immediate Royal Family who is not divorced; the general wave of goodwill for her and Prince Philip’s 70th wedding anniversary had an element of real admiration, because no-one even pretended that the marriage did not have its vicissitudes – did the Prince have the rumoured affairs? – which would have been the end of any modern union. As for the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla, it shouldn’t have been blessed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury at all, because they each had a role in the breakup of each other’s first marriage – indeed you could argue that Camilla was the primary reason for his divorce – and one of the few principles on this the CofE has left is that you shouldn’t sanctify the union of people who do this. By comparison, Meghan Markle seems rather less problematic, since she got divorced years before she met Prince Harry.
What the engagement will do is consolidate the real nature of the modern royal family, which is part of the entertainment and showbiz side of the nation. When the Queen dies, it will be pretty well impossible to invest the actual holder of the office of monarch with any real degree of respect. So, the personal won’t any longer be political – the qualities of duty, loyalty, discretion and regard for the sanctified aspect of monarchy will die when she does. In its place will be a hugely enjoyable soap opera with far more audience share than Suits – a development that Princess Diana began and her daughter-in-law’s advent will confirm. Some of us will simply detach our respect for the office of monarch from the person who holds it when the Queen goes.
Obviously, seventy years ago, Meghan Markle would have been the kind of woman the Prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife. Things have changed. She’ll now be the apotheosis of the union of showbiz and royalty, with a glorious subsidiary cast of embarrassing relations. But, like every self-respecting member of the acting profession these days, she’s got liberal political views. In an essay for Elle magazine last year, she wrote:
‘While most become starstruck by A-list actors, you’ll only see me in awe of leaders effecting change. Politician and diplomat Madeleine Albright, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. These are my heroes. These are my celebrities… When I gave a speech for International Women’s Day, and Ban Ki-moon led the standing ovation, I thought, ‘This right here is the point”.
She also expressed her admiration for Fatima Bhutto, poet and niece of the former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto.
Hmm. Great. You can see it now, can’t you: when President Trump calls, Princess Meghan will be almost visibly holding her nose. This is going to be a marriage with lots of possibilities from the point of view of journalism.
The immediate challenge though is for the CofE to devise a service to bless this particular union. Good luck with that.