Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: Breaking royal conventions

Maddie Boone, Opinions Co-Editor

The news that broke on the morning of November 27 of the engagement of Ms. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry brought excitement to many around the world. Although engagement rumors had been heating up for months, particularly after Markle joined His Royal Highness in Toronto last month for their first joint-appearance at the Invictus Games, many were surprised to see the British royal family stand so strongly, so quickly, behind a woman who will shape the face of royalty for years to come.

Markle will make history as the first biracial member of the British royal family. The couple, who will likely be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are set to wed in May at Windsor Castle, after a year and a half long courtship. The spring will be a busy time for the royal family, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s third child is due in April.

Markle, an actress best known for her role in the USA TV show “Suits,” is not only biracial, but also American and a divorcée, and thus a unique addition to the family. Like the Duchess of Cambridge, Markle came from relatively humble beginnings, and like her future sister-in-law, is a commoner.

Markle was born in Los Angeles to Doria Ragland, an African American yoga teacher and psychotherapist, and Thomas Markle, a Caucasian, Emmy-award winning lighting director. Because Markle is a divorcée, her entrance into the royal family is reminiscent of that of Wallis Simpson, the famous American socialite and divorcée who married King Edward VIII.

Markle’s status as a divorcée also adds to the active destigmatizing of divorce that has grown since Princess Diana split from Prince Charles in 1996.

Aside from her work as an actress, Markle is largely known for her charitable work as a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, and for being a major advocate for both gender equality and women’s empowerment. She has also spoken out a number of times on racial issues, most notably in her 2015 essay for Elle magazine.

Although Prince Harry has long been known as the “bad boy” of the British royal family, he has also served on active duty in the British military for about a decade, within which he rose to the rank of captain and completed two tours to Afghanistan. In recent years, he has also become involved with promoting the awareness of mental health diseases and the HIV virus, which has further altered his public persona. In 2006, he co-founded Sentebale, a charity that provides aid to orphans in Lesotho, Africa. Today, he is considered perhaps the most popular member of the royal family.

Markle and the Prince have had their fair share of scrutiny from the press. For instance, Markle has been subject to plenty of sexist and racist commentary, some so bad that at one point Harry himself made a statement denouncing the “racial undertones” of the coverage of Markle.

The couple began dating in July 2016 after being set up on a blind date together. To avoid constant commentary and critique, the couple spent much of their early relationship avoiding public outings, having “cozy nights in, in front of the television, cooking dinner…in [their] little cottage rather than going out for dinner and being seen in public.” In an interview that aired Monday evening following a photo call at Kensington Palace, HRH added that the extensiveness of their private time together “has made [them] a hell of a lot closer in a short space of time.”

This engagement is indicative of the shift that has been seen in the royal family since the time of Princess Diana. As the New York Times put it, “they are a part of a new generation of royals eager to project themselves as modern, inclusive, and down-to-earth.” Indeed, the engagement of Prince Harry to Markle, a biracial and divorced American, has been hailed as the royal family’s entrance into the 21st century. It will be interesting to watch how the marriage of this couple continues to transform current conventions of both royal marriage and the royal family.

One thing is for sure: all eyes will be on Markle. How she and Harry steer through wedding planning, what designers (American? British? Canadian?) Markle embraces in the public light, and how she transitions from an American to a UK citizen, will all be indicators of the role she will play in this new era of British royalty.

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