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Michael Jansen: Breaking from tradition
December 08, 2017
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Britain’s Prince Harry and US actress and activist Meghan Markle surprised no one when they announced their engagement on November 27th for they have been a high profile couple for more than a year. Harry, 33, and Markle, 36, plan to marry in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in May.

They met in Toronto on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend. After a second date, Harry invited Markle to join him on a trip to Botswana in Africa where they went camping “under the stars” and were able “to get to know each other” without daunting intrusions from the public.

When news of their romance surfaced in October 2016 they faced a flurry of insulting and inflammatory social media and press comments about Markle, a divorcee of Caucasian and African-American descent.

Harry condemned the nastiness and warned it put Meghan in danger. Racism is widespread in Britain although less flagrant than in the US. The number of Britons of African and Caribbean origin is 3 per cent of the population in England and Wales while only 2 per cent identify as mixed race.

 Writing in The Guardian, Afua Hirsch pointed out that “Britain is racist, it’s still very racist.” However, the union of Harry and Megan could “change Britain’s relationship with race” due to the “symbolism of a royal marriage. From now on it will be impossible to argue that being black is somehow incompatible with being British.”

 Harry’s father, Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have expressed support for the couple while Meghan’s parents have welcomed the engagement. The royals have had time to digest Meghan as a potential daughter-in-law while her parents have no say in the matter as she is an independent woman in her mid-thirties.

 The Queen said she “is delighted to see Harry in a loving relationship.” Her comment shows that she feels this is what her grandson needs. Twelve years old in 1997 when his adored mother, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, Harry was deeply shaken and disoriented. Since the Windsors — in contrast to Princess Diana — are cool and disconnected as a family, he may not have received the emotional support he needed. 

 He did not do well in school. Unlike his elder brother William who took a Master’s degree at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, Harry did not opt for higher education but he joined the army (a duty princes must perform) where he trained as a helicopter pilot. He became a playboy who often embarrassed the Windsors with his antics. The Queen must be relieved as he is about to settle down with a woman of character. Since he is now fifth in line for the throne after his father, elder brother William, and his two children, there is little chance Harry will become king. He will be sixth in line once William’s third child is born.   

Guardian commentator Hirsch observed that “the very concept of the royal family is the anthesis of diversity.” In 1947, Princess Elizabeth married the eminently suitable Prince Philip — a second cousin by descent from Christian IX of Denmark and German Princess Louise. Lady Diana Spencer was descended from British nobility and was seen as a suitable spouse for Prince Charles. As the Spencers had close ties to the royal family for decades, the marriage was encouraged if not actually arranged.

Markle brings two revolutionary identities to diversify the still conservative Windsors. She is the first citizen of the US and the first person of mixed race to marry into the family. Although a number of senior British politicians have had US mothers (Winston Churchill, being the most notable) and wives, the Windsors had, until now, escaped US alliances.

 Meghan embraces her background and takes pride in being biracial. Her assertive approach may be easier for the royals, known as “the firm,” to accept as former US President Barack Obama is biracial and recently attended the Invictus Games in Toronto in the company of Harry and Meghan. Harry is a founder and patron of the games which provide wounded and ailing soldiers with an opportunity to take part in sporting competitions.

 For the British monarchy, the Harry-Markle match continues the unexpected revolution launched when Prince Charles married Lady Diana, a child of divorced parents, in a televised spectacular in 1981. The royal family expected a “traditional” match. Charles would cherish his bride; she would present him with heirs to the throne and undertake the public duties of a princess of the realm. However, Charles was still in love with his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana, who gave birth to William and Harry and carried out her duties, rebelled against the family and its traditions. The couple divorced in 1996, the first divorce for the Windsors. This was made doubly embarrassing when the princess developed several widely publicised romantic attachments. In April 2005 divorced Prince Charles married in a civil ceremony divorced Camilla Parker-Bowles.   

 The British royals have, reluctantly, had to accept divorce within its ranks although the Church of England rules marriage is for life and pre-Charles-Diana divorce was unacceptable. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated to marry his twice divorced US socialite Wallis Simpson. His retiring, stuttering brother, Albert came to the throne as George VI. But for the divorced Wallis Simpson, Edward might have remained king and George VI’s daughter Elizabeth, would not have become Queen. Nevertheless, nearly 20 years after the abdication, Queen Elizabeth compelled her younger sister, Princess Margaret to drop her plan to marry divorcee Peter Townsend.

 The final element of diversity Meghan Markle brings to the Windsors is her occupation: she is an actress and model. For the past seven years she has played the part of a paralegal in a Toronto-short television serial, Suits, about a law firm. She is not the first “show girl” of Prince Harry’s acquaintance to appear on the radar of gossip columnists who follow every move of the royals, but others had been white and blond. Those who seek to downgrade Markle have been digging into her past to unearth scandals but have so far failed. She is more than an actress. She is a university graduate, an activist and a humanitarian worker who is devoted to causes shared by Prince Harry. She has renounced her career in films and intends to focus on good causes.

 The match might remind film fans of the classic 1957 romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. The hero of the story set in 1911 is the showgirl who persuades a prince of an imaginary country to end plotting with Germany and join the British led alliance against Kaiser Wilhem whose ambitions launched World War I.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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