Markle sparkles in ‘global’ royal wedding
Saturday saw Prince Harry wed former US actress Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, in a ceremony that underlined how the UK monarchy has become an increasingly global institution. Fusing together the worlds of US celebrity culture and UK royalty is only the latest phase in this story, with Saturday’s guests including Oprah Winfrey, Elton John and George Clooney.
Saturday’s big event — watched by a global audience of hundreds of millions, with an energetic address by the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the first African-American presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church — will give the monarchy a new surge of popular appeal. This coincides with the birth last month of Prince Louis, the third child of Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Saturday’s pomp and pageantry wedding underlined that more than two decades on from the royal family’s high-profile problems in the 1990s (including the divorce of Harry’s parents Princess Diana and Prince Charles), Queen Elizabeth II and her immediate family have now successfully recovered from the worst troubles of her reign as the longest-serving UK monarch. And it is Harry and William, who served as the best man on Saturday, who have helped power the ruling clan’s growing prominence and popularity in recent years.
Aside from the queen and her husband Prince Philip, polls show that William, Harry and Kate are often regarded as having made the strongest contribution to the royal family. The popularity of Harry, who is sixth in line to the throne, is now likely to be bolstered by his marriage.
Charles, at 69, is already at an age when many people are retired, and is the longest-waiting and oldest heir to the throne in UK history. A YouGov poll earlier this month showed that 46 percent would prefer “someone else” to succeed the queen than Charles, with some advocating the monarchy to skip a generation to William
A former US TV star, Markle is also likely to make her mark with much of the UK public, unlike the last US citizen who married a UK royal: Wallis Simpson (like Markle, a divorcee), whose marriage to King Edward VIII ultimately led to the 1936 abdication crisis.
Moreover, given the parallels between Diana and Markle, it is possible that the latter could become very popular too, internationally, in her own right. Harry said upon his wedding engagement last year that his mother and bride “would be as thick as thieves” (indicating they have much in common), and Markle has now given up her career as an actress to focus on royal duties, and wider humanitarian campaigning, in a way that may prove comparable to Diana in the 1980s and 1990s.
The royals’ renewed popular appeal has been buttressed by a modernized monarchy, with many of the UK populace believing it has changed for the better. Key recent reforms include ending the rule of male primogeniture on the throne, which means girls now born to members of the royal family have equal rights to boys in the succession to the throne; and ending the prohibition on Elizabeth’s successors marrying a Catholic.
The entrance of Markle, who attended a Catholic school in California and is of mixed race, is only the latest chapter in this transformation process that brings it into line with wider changes in UK society at large.
Correspondingly, polls tend to show that less than a quarter of the UK population want a republic, with many people believing it is better to have a non-divisive, non-political head of state. This factor may become even more important in the future, given that the nation appears to potentially be becoming increasingly divided on geographic lines, especially given increased pressure for independence in Scotland.
On the face of it, therefore, the monarchy seems in good stead to prosper in the post-Elizabeth II period. The queen, now 92 years old, might choose to abdicate before she dies, and has already stepped back from some duties, including those requiring long-distance flights.
However, unlike Harry and William, their father Charles (the immediate heir to the throne) does not share their full popularity. Charles, who walked Markle down the church aisle on Saturday, and his second wife Camilla tend to trail well behind Elizabeth, Philip, Harry and William in terms of popularity. This underlines that a rockier road may lie ahead for the monarchy once the queen dies.
Charles, at 69, is already at an age when many people are retired, and is the longest-waiting and oldest heir to the throne in UK history. A YouGov poll earlier this month showed that 46 percent would prefer “someone else” to succeed the queen than Charles, with some advocating the monarchy to skip a generation to William.
Taken overall, Saturday’s wedding showcased the global appeal of the UK royals, and will boost the popularity of Harry and the wider ruling clan. However, while the monarchy has recovered its public standing from the 1990s, significant uncertainties remain about the post-Elizabeth II period, especially given popular sentiment toward Charles. This means the monarchy could yet face a more perilous pathway ahead once she dies.
- Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics