If the late Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, could have foreseen the future she’d have been astonished to glimpse the day would come when an American divorcée could marry an English prince and the entire nation – and world – would be celebrating.
Times are different, as are circumstances, as are the personalities involved. Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancée, has had one previous marriage, lasting two years, to film producer Trevor Engelson: Wallis Simpson had two ex-husbands.
Edward VIII was the heir to the throne. Harry will soon be displaced – by the Cambridges’ new baby – to sixth in line.
The Church of England (and even more ferociously, the Church of Scotland), as well as most of the Commonwealth, were strongly opposed to Mrs Simpson. With Meghan, the churches seem to have taken a tactful stance. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, is prepared to bless the couple – although there will be some Anglicans who have doubts about the orthodoxy of a divorced bride. The divorce issue, which once so rocked the Royal Family – and which, in living memory, seemed to threaten the institution of the monarchy itself – has apparently melted into invisibility. The general attitude to Meghan and Harry’s betrothal is joy for the couple, and anticipation of the jollity of a royal marriage. That’s a kindly attitude: this couple seem very sweet and in love, and who wants to rain on their parade?
The beautiful Meghan being from a mixed-race background is a fact greeted with positive acclamation, whereas previously, we’re told, it might have raised eyebrows. Personally, I’m not sure that mixed ethnicity would always have elicited disapproval: people today don’t quite understand that religion was often more emphasised than race, historically. In the 18th century, being a Protestant was more important than skin colour.
Even today, it’s an interesting question: if Meghan were an observant Catholic, would there be more obstacles for her? Like Autumn Kelly, Peter Phillips’s wife, a move to Anglicanism might be considered more diplomatic.
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