Opinion

Mixed reviews on Harry’s engagement

  • Happy couple: Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement on Nov. 27. The two are expected to marry in the spring of 2018 (Photograph by Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)

Prince Harry is engaged to marry American actress Meghan Markle and will wed in spring 2018, the royal palace announced yesterday morning, ending days of feverish speculation in the tabloids over when their nuptial plans would be revealed.

The 33-year-old ginger-bearded prince is fifth in line to the throne. The 36-year-old Markle is a well-regarded actress who was born and raised in California.

The couple will live at Harry’s snug two-bedroom bachelor pad, Nottingham Cottage — known as Not Cot — on the Kensington Palace grounds in London. The announcement said the couple had become engaged this month in London.

More details to come, the palace promised.

After the announcement, the couple appeared briefly before news photographers at the sunken gardens at Kensington, where they stood beside a pond and answered a few shouted questions. He wore a trim blue suit; she was in a black dress beneath a belted white coat. When Harry was asked how he proposed, Markle turned to him and said, “Save that.” Harry added, “That will come later.”

The couple were scheduled for a sit-down interview with the BBC later yesterday.

“When did I know she was the one?” Harry said. “Very first time we met.”

A pair of statements were issued by Harry’s father, Charles, Prince of Wales, and the Queen, whom Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, liked to call “the top lady”. Harry said he was “delighted” and had received the blessing of Markle’s parents.

The last time an American married into the Royal Family, Britain and the monarchy were plunged into crisis. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite and divorcée.

Harry confirmed he was dating the actress in November 2016, when he blasted the tabloid press for subjecting Markle to a “wave of abuse and harassment”.

The palace condemned “the smear on the front page of a national newspaper, the racial undertones of comment pieces, and the outright sexism and racism of social-media trolls and web article comments”.

Markle’s mother is African-American, and her father is white. She is divorced, without children from her previous marriage.

The British media quickly raised the issue of Markle’s race, marital status and nationality yesterday.

A BBC News alert read: “American, divorced, an actress and mixed race — Meghan Markle will bring something different to the Royal Family.”

The Daily Mail’s headline said that “the Queen says she is ‘delighted’ the divorced American actress is to join the royal family.”

The press seemed unsure of the British public’s gut reaction to the engagement news, even as most stories asserted that the bride-to-be’s race and nationality were either a good thing or irrelevant.

Stephen Bates, former royal correspondent at the Guardian newspaper, told the BBC: “It’s not entirely unknown that royals have married people of mixed race before. I think people in this country, certainly, are very comfortable with that these days.”

Bates added, “Fifty years ago ... it would have been an issue then, but today I would have thought people would take it as not only absolutely commonplace, but rather welcome that the Royal Family has moved into that generation as well.”

But the Guardian’s website started one of its live blogs with the tease: “Joy or disdain? Follow the reactions to the royal engagement.”

The pair made their first public appearance together in September at the Invictus Games, a sporting event founded by the prince for disabled veterans. She was dressed casually in white shirt and ripped jeans, he in a sports polo and wraparound sunglasses, and so they resembled many young Londoners out for a day of sport and fun. The couple also held hands and canoodled — and the photographers ate it up. They were also snapped standing alongside Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland.

In her career, Markle is best known for playing Rachel Zane in the popular New York City legal drama Suits, which is filmed in Toronto, where Markle has been living.

London’s Evening Standard wondered aloud, what should Markle be called?

“The most likely situation,” the newspaper guessed, “is that Harry and Meghan will actually become known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but this depends on the Queen. The Queen must grant the couple a royal dukedom on their wedding day in order for them to be allowed these titles. This is the way that wives of royals can be known on an equal level to their husbands, otherwise Markle will have to get used to being known as Princess Henry of Wales.”

The Royal Family have a long and fraught relationship with the issue of divorce — just ask the Queen’s uncle, Edward, who abdicated the throne so he could marry Simpson. Markle was previously married to Trevor Engelson, a film producer. They wed in 2011 and split after two years.

When Harry’s father, Charles, married Camilla — they were both divorcees — the couple opted for a civil ceremony.

But divorce is not the big deal it once was — three of the Queen’s four children are divorced — and there is no reason to think that Harry and Meghan could not be married in a Church of England ceremony, especially after the church clarified its position on the subject of divorce.

In 2002, the Church of England’s governing body said that “there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse”. Whether to perform the marriage in a church is a decision that “rests with the minister”, it said.

If that minister was the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury — the most senior post in the Church of England — it seems likely that he would happily oblige.

“I’m absolutely delighted to hear the news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are now engaged,” he tweeted. “I wish them many years of love, happiness and fulfilment — and ask that God blesses them throughout their married life together.”

Within seconds of the announcement of the royal engagement, Twitter erupted in celebration. “Harry and Meghan” and #Royalengagement quickly began trending in Britain and worldwide as people offered their congratulations.

“They look so in love and make such a lovely couple. This is great for Britain as a whole. Next year is going to be all about #harryandmeghan,” tweeted one.

Others were just as excited about the tantalising prospect of a day off work. When Prince William and Kate Middleton, tied the knot on April 29, 2011, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Government declared it a public, or “bank”, holiday.

“Is Harry important enough for us to get a Bank Holiday????” queried one Twitter user.

Kensington Palace said, “Ms Markle’s parents, Mr Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland, have wished the couple ‘a lifetime of happiness’“.

Prime Minister Theresa May, perhaps relieved to put aside for an hour the drudgery of Britain’s exit from the European Union, added her voice: “This is a time of huge celebration for two people in love. On behalf of myself, the Government and the country, I wish them great happiness for the future.”

Even Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and long-time republican, offered his well wishes.

Corbyn told reporters in Glasgow: “I hope they have a great time and great fun together, and having met Harry a couple of times, I’m sure they are going to have a great deal of fun together.”

The Labour leader added: “I really do admire the way that Harry and his brother have drawn attention to mental health conditions all across the country.”

Harry and William have become known for their campaigning work that aims to alleviate the stigma surrounding mental health. They have spoken openly and candidly about their own struggles with loss after their mother, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Hassan contributed to this report. Click on the PDF file under “Related Media” to view the British Royal Family tree