Prince Harry has been called “The world’s most eligible bachelor,” as well as “Britain’s playboy,” but he’s finally settling down. Now, the media is calling his engagement “unconventional,” and “a game changer,” among other things.
The prince, 33, announced his engagement to actress and philanthropist Meghan Markle, aged 36. The two will wed this spring, and the news sparked a royal media frenzy the world hadn’t seen, since, well, Will and Kate. However, their union is a bit standard than that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Here’s how.
Markle was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She’s the first American to marry into the British royal family since 1937. The last, socialite Wallis Simpson, married Edward VIII. He chose to abdicate the throne to marry her, not because of her U.S. citizenship, but because she was a divorcee.
It’s no secret Americans are fascinated with royalty. The U.S. is delighted we finally have a non-Disney “princess” of our own: CBS gave the news a “hip hip and hooray” and even former-President Barack Obama offered his congratulations to the newly engaged couple.
Markle was married once before, to producer Trevor Engelsons. The two married in 2011 and quietly separated in 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences.”While this was enough to force Edward VIII off his throne, it won’t hold the same significance for Harry.
Markle and Prince Harry’s marriage has much lower stakes according to Anna Whitelock, a royal expert and director of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage. “Harry won’t be king and will become sixth in line to the throne … It’s less of a constitutional significance.” Harry’s father, Prince Charles, notably divorced Princess Diana before marrying Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.
Markle’s ethnicity sparked a lot of negative media coverage for the actress and philanthropist. The tabloids became so intrusive that Kensington Palace issued a statement warning the media to stop harassing her.
While some historians suspect Markle may not be the first biracial royal but rather the second, she used the media attention to project a positive message nonetheless. “I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from. And we have never put any focus on that,” she said in her first joint interview with Prince Harry.
Unlike Kate Middleton, who quietly stepped into the role of Britain’s next Queen and current Duchess of Cambridge, Markle was a well-known actress before her relationship with Harry began. She had a high-profile role on the USA Network show Suits and ran her own lifestyle blog, the Tig.
Markle also appeared in Remember Me, which starred Twilight’s leading man Robert Pattinson, and was produced by her ex-husband. Suits is currently in its seventh season.
wo years ago, Markle’s faith would have been a serious issue for the couple. Until 2015, Prince Harry would have been forbidden to marry a Catholic under royal succession rules. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is head of the Protestant Church of England.
Markle, who attended the private Immaculate Heart Convent school in L.A., was raised Catholic. The rules recently changed to allow a senior member of the royal family to marry a Catholic. This came as part of a shift aimed at removing male bias and religious discrimination in the royal order, according to TIME.
Royal Correspondent Roya Nikkhah told CBS News what makes Markle unique, “She is completely different from previous royal brides we’ve seen of recent generations, like the Duchess of Cambridge, like Princess Diana. This is a woman who’s had a career, she’s been married before, she’s had a very different background to members of the royal family.”
One of the factors is Markle’s independent wealth. While Prince Harry’s £30 million fortune eclipses Markle’s “mere £4 million,” Markle accrued her money from her acting career. She’s a philanthropist as well and has described her passion for charity work, writing, “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches — I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.”
Kate Middleton would probably break the internet if she ever logged into a personal Instagram account. This is another sector where Markle differs from her soon-to-be royal family. While Kensington Palace has a professional social media presence focused on highlighting the work of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Markle would have been the first of the British royalty with a blue checkmark next to her name — but she deleted her account in January 2018.
Markle had previously used her Instagram account as a platform to promote her now-defunct blog, The Tig, and show support as World Vision’s ambassador. Markle is also a UN Women advocate and has served as an ambassador for One Young World.
“I think Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle is a game changer for the royal family,” said Nikkhah. According to CBS News, previous to this engagement, “fairy-tale royal weddings used to go something like this: The eligible prince plucks his lady love from obscurity, showers her with publicity, and makes her a princess bride.”
Markle has changed the game, and it speaks volumes about her personality as well as how the royal family may be changing. She was already famous in her own right as the star of the hit drama series Suits. She’s from the U.S., doesn’t belong to the Church of England, and has made a name for herself as a women’s rights advocate.
It’d be most parents’ dream to have their son bring home Markle as his fiancé. She’s well-educated, charitable, and a successful actress. The British monarchy plays by stricter rules, however, and until recently, Markle may not have been deemed a suitable choice for the prince.
Harry himself has praised the Queen’s ability to adapt while remaining aware of what the Royal Family represents to modern Brits. “She’s managed to get the family to move with the times,” he said in an interview commemorating his grandmother’s 60th anniversary as monarch. “I think that’s incredibly important. You can’t get stuck in a sort of an old-age situation when everything around you is changing.”
Markle, whose mother is black and whose father is white, is being celebrated by some as a “beacon of progress” for the UK and the royal family, according to Yahoo. However, according to two noted British scholars, she’ll probably be instructed by royal advisers to hide her biracial ethnicity.
“She won’t be allowed to be a black princess. The only way she can be accepted is to pass for white,” Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor of sociology at Birmingham City University, told Newsweek “If there are people who are celebrating, it’s a bit naive, and they’ll be very disappointed.”
The royal family announced that Markle will become a British citizen before she marries Harry. A spokesman told CNN that Markle would retain her U.S. citizenship through the process of becoming a UK citizen but it was “too early to say” if she would retain dual nationality. The process is expected to take several years.
While the media and public alike will colloquially refer to Markle as “Princess Meghan,” she won’t actually be an official, capital-P princess. CTV’s royal commentator Richard Bethelson explained that the “official princess or unofficial princess” debate is about lineage. Markle will be an unofficial princess since Harry is a prince, however, she won’t have her name styled as such since she wasn’t born into a royal family.
According to CNN’s Max Foster, once Markle is married, she’ll take both Harry’s title and name. Her title will be Princess Henry of Wales, along with any other title Queen Elizabeth II might choose to bestow (Henry is Harry’s real name). Royal historian Marlene Koenig said the prince is probably in line to become a duke, and, if named, Markle will be dubbed a duchess accordingly.
While Markle’s followers rejoiced at the news, fans of the USA Network drama Suits found it bittersweet. During the couple’s first interview following their engagement announcement, Markle explained what was in store for the future of her career.
“What’s been really exciting, as we talk about this as the transition out of my career … is that the causes that have been very important to me, I can focus even more energy on,” she said. She also said she is satisfied with her seven seasons on the series, and felt fortunate to hit the show’s 100th episode mark. “I don’t see it as giving anything up,” she said of the news, “I just see it as a change. It’s a new chapter.”
Meghan won’t be giving up one of her passions, her charity work, anytime soon. In fact, she plans to use her royal status as a platform to spread her reach to a larger audience. “You realize once you have access or a voice that people are going to listen to, [it comes with] a lot of responsibility, which I take seriously,” she said in an interview with the BBC.
Vanity Fair wrote that, according to a source, Markle may set up her own foundation concentrating on young, vulnerable women around the world. This would align perfectly with her current status as both a World Vision ambassador and UN Women advocate. “It was always her intention to focus on her humanitarian work, but I think her relationship with Harry has accelerated things moving in that direction.”
A former actress, a philanthropist, and the wife of the man who will soon be bumped down to sixth in line to the throne. She’ll convert to Christianity and gain British citizenship. These are the current facts about Markle that the media has solidified, however, it’d be premature to try and predict just how widespread Markle’s influence will be as royalty.
While time will tell, we hope she’ll continue her philanthropic efforts. And, if we’re lucky, restart her blog to give us commoners a look into her new royal life.