The British royal family is overrated

Topic overview

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry get married on Saturday at Windsor Castle. Since the announcement of the engagement, the interest in the future noblewoman has remained unbroken, partly because she does not correspond to the usual notions of a "royal". Not only is Markle three years older than Harry, she's also divorced and the daughter of an African American. In an interview with ORF.at, experts from the British royal family say that the wedding is a signal of change in the monarchy.

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Known from the TV series "Suits", Markle was an actress until recently. When the couple announced their engagement at the end of November, the discussion sparked whether this meant a modernization boost for the monarchy - and whether the public was ready for it.

But the British people themselves do not seem to care much about the attributes “divorced”, “Afro-American” and “not British”. A YouGov poll found that a majority of Brits would have no problem with Markle joining the royal family. "There is no question that the monarchy has adapted to the 21st century," said aristocracy expert Richard Fitzwilliams to ORF.at.

APA / AFP / Paul Ellis

The British are benevolent towards the new Royals member

Major changes in the recent past

Society has changed a lot over the past 100 years and so has the British royal family at its head, Fitzwilliams continues. For example, Prince Charles ’future wife had to meet a number of strict requirements in 1981. For example, she had to be a virgin and noble. Neither Duchess Kate, Prince William's wife, nor Markle would have been considered because they come from middle-class families.

Debate:How up-to-date is the monarchy?

“But you have to remember that Harry is sixth in line to the throne, that gives him a lot more freedom and independence. He and Meghan will be a very dynamic, charitable duo, ”said Fitzwilliams, giving the younger prince more social leeway. So Harry is also able to do something that his father Prince Charles was denied until his wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005: a wedding out of love.

"Divorce was a dirty word"

Dickie Arbiter, a former press secretary of Queen Elizabeth II, was also convinced to ORF.at that the British monarchy had continuously developed and changed values ​​in the thousand years of its existence. "Times have changed and so has the monarchy," says Arbiter. In 1936, the wedding plans of Edward VIII and the American, who was divorced twice, Wallis Simpson, resulted in Edward, who was also head of the Anglican Church, having to abdicate only a few months after his accession to the throne. "Divorce was a dirty word, you didn't talk about it, you whispered it," says Arbiter.

Church of England became more liberal

The love between Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister, and Peter Townsend in the 1950s did not come to a happy end either. Because, like Simpson, Townsend had already been married. The princess would only have been able to marry him if she had given up her claim to the throne. Yet in just a few decades the attitude of the nation and the Church of England has changed dramatically. Since the beginning of the 21st century, divorced couples have been allowed to marry in church in Great Britain - and now three of Elizabeth II's four children are divorced.

Diversity reflected

Still, Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, had to get his grandmother's approval to be engaged to Markle - a mere formality. Because, according to her engagement interview with the BBC, the actress at the time gets along wonderfully with the Queen. Neither Markle's divorce nor her ethnicity are believed to have played a role in Buckingham Palace.

On the contrary: Numerous experts see Markle as a tremendous ethnic asset to the nation. Because with it, the royal family will better reflect the diversity of its people. After all, according to statistics from the Think Tank Policy Exchange, by 2050 a third of Britons will be “black” (dark-skinned) and “minority ethnic” (belonging to a minority).

“Positive signal to the outside world” - or not?

The historian Ted Powell said in the "Observer" that one can hardly overstate "how important it is to have a member of the royal family who is 'mixed raced' and proud of his legacy." The monarchy stands for continuity, stability and Unity. A woman like Meghan, who campaigns for the rights of women and minorities, is a positive signal for the world, especially in times of turbulent “Brexit” negotiations.

Reuters / Kirsty Wigglesworth

Visiting athletes with disabilities

Kehinde Andrews, a sociologist at the University of Birmingham, contradicts the British "Guardian": It is "really offensive" to see the marriage between Markle and Prince Harry as a new beginning in British society. "The royal family is one of the main symbols of whiteness, empire, bloodlines and colonial times," said Andrews. Progress cannot be defined in terms of ethnically mixed married couples, says Andrews, referring to Brazil, which has the largest number of such couples in the world and yet an extremely high level of racism. Markle also looks like Pippa Middleton and dresses like Diana.

Royals always abusive

With his statement, Andrews probably alluded to Harry's grandfather Prince Philip, whose racist missteps in the country are considered a public secret. For example, he asked Aborigines in Australia whether they would still throw spears one after the other, and he warned British exchange students in Beijing that they would all get slanting eyes if they stayed in China any longer. Prince Charles was also accused of making racist comments just last month. He said of an English woman with Guyanese roots that she didn't look like she was from Manchester.

More racist attacks

It is undisputed that there has been a worrying increase in racist attacks and religiously motivated crimes in British society in recent times. UN Special Envoy Tendayi Achiume spoke in a speech about the fact that the mood before, during and after the “Brexit” vote had made “ethnic minorities more vulnerable to ethnic discrimination and intolerance”.

Even the bride-to-be herself has been the victim of verbal racist attacks, which Harry condemned in the strongest possible terms. The British Daily Mail had the headline “Almost Straight Outta Compton”, a slang expression for the fact that someone is of dark-skinned origin.

Donations instead of wedding gifts

However, the couple also announced in their engagement interview that they were not focusing on either the positive or negative reporting, but rather on their relationship and their mutual charitable plans. With this in mind, they would like donations instead of wedding gifts.

Seven non-political organizations were selected, including those that work for the homeless, children with HIV and women in Mumbai's slums. Markle is already the UN spokeswoman for women's rights. It can be expected that she will continue to take these and other charitable functions seriously, according to Fitzwilliams in the ORF.at interview.

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Katja Lehner, from London, for ORF.at