In the interest of fairness, I would like to preface this by saying that I don’t object to the institution of marriage. I’m a married person myself and it’s an arrangement that I highly recommend. I certainly don’t object to the happy couple. By all outward appearances they are two charming young people and very much in love. A good fairy tale escape is something we can all appreciate. God knows everyone on this side of the pond needed a break from the daily trainwreck on television that is Donald J. Trump administration. But make no mistake, this was far from the storybook fantasy all of us in America make it out to be. There were a lot of problems around the Royal Wedding that nobody likes to talk about. None of which are necessarily about the two people involved, but rather with the institution surrounding the ceremony…and what it represents. As pretty as it was to watch through eyes made bloodshot from waking up too early on a weekend, I found the Royal Wedding to be objectionable, and while the flush of the champagne and Earl Grey tea everyone was drinking on Saturday is still rosy on our cheeks, I may as well raise them.
First, I object to the British Monarchy as an institution. It’s an anachronistic colonial relic whose usefulness in the modern age has long since worn out its welcome. Political legitimacy today no longer arises from a hereditary sovereign. It comes either from republican institutions that place the authority to govern directly in the hands of the people themselves or by the imposition of brute force by a despot both within and outside his borders. The power of the “constitutional monarchy” in Britain exists on paper alone. The Royals themselves are now merely conduits for a massive national commercial enterprise aimed squarely at tourists; a way to sell cheap tea sets and every other kind of bric-a-brac you can name. It should also be noted that what it costs the British taxpayers to maintain the luxurious lifestyles of those in the House of Windsor does not justify the income that is being generated from tourism and merchandising. Yes, people come to visit Britain because of the Royal family. But they primarily come to see the castles, suits of armor on display and buy tchotchkes emblazoned with the Royal seal. They don’t come hoping to bump into the Queen.
Other great nations in Europe have done away with their royal families and prospered. I can see the Palace at Versailles in France without having to concern myself with the affairs of Louis Alphonse, the Duke of Anjou and the French Royal pretender. The fact that the British refuse to jettison their royalty is a reflection of just how differently they perceive themselves from their cousins on the continent. They’re not European. They’re British. Either that or they realize that their once great and vast empire has truly collapsed and all they ultimately have to prop up their economy is the reliable stream of starry-eyed yokels from America yearning to see men in frilly collars and buildings made before 1900.
Second, I object to the already “celebrity obsessed” society that exists in our country today that this media spectacle only exacerbates. I will concede that a healthy curiosity about institutions that don’t exist here is only natural. But ever since the days of Grace Kelly, Americans have become more and more fascinated with European royalty. The late Diana, Princess of Wales cemented our obsession with the current generation of British royals to the point where I honestly wonder if we as Americans want a real, hereditary aristocratic class of our own. Don’t the rich, famous and powerful in Hollywood and elsewhere already constitute a de facto one?
Consider the guest list. Why were Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney there? Are they friends of the family? No. It’s because they are as close to aristocracy this country has. The only thing missing are hereditary titles. Think about that for a moment. There are people today with enough power and wealth to beg the question as to whether they should, by birthright, command deference and servitude from the rest of us. That is a thought that should revolt you…in more ways than one. As for the rest of the attendees: David and Victoria Beckham, Idris Elba, Serena Williams and James Blunt…well, it appears they were there just to be seen and not because any of them knew the bride and groom since they were knee-high. I presume Elton John was there simply because, wedding or funeral, you can’t have a regal British ceremony of any kind without him anymore. Maybe he should have married one of the royals.
I would have been able to stomach this extravaganza more if we could at least admit what we were watching was just fun and fluff. It’s not, though. You got up before dawn on Saturday to watch the nuptials of taxpayer subsidized, ultra-rich people with no purpose in life other than to stand and wave at polo matches. The British taxpayers had to shell out approximately £32 million ($43 million US) for this, of which it is estimated that at least £30 million ($40 million US) was just for security. Part and parcel of the nearly £368 million ($494 million US) they pay just as an allowance for the expensive clothes, jewelry, luxury holidays and highbrow educations the royals get by virtue of just being born. Let’s be honest with ourselves. This wasn’t a wedding. This was a taxpayer-funded costume play to keep the tourists happy. It’s absurd to pretend otherwise.
Third, I object to notion that Americans have that somehow Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, is a transformational figure: an American woman of color destined to turn the monarchy upside down and boldly usher it into the 21st century.
No she isn’t and no she won’t.
This is a dance the British have done before. Americans marrying into the royal line is not unprecedented, but when it happened, it was not a story that Walt Disney would have approved of. In 1934, Wallis Simpson of Baltimore began a love affair with the future King Edward VIII. Their romance ultimately forced his abdication in 1936 after only a year on the throne so he could marry the twice-divorced native of Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania.
Now, at first glance, that may sound terribly romantic. The King relinquishing his crown to marry a simple woman he truly loves. In reality, however, the story was less fairy tale and more protracted catastrophe. Her ambition to change the monarchy by sheer dint of will; to force an institution that has been in place with little interruption since 1066 to accept her, a foreign commoner, as Queen Consort left her marriage in shambles. Rumors of affairs and a clear disdain for one another left the Duke and Duchess of Windsor miserable for the rest of their natural lives. They smiled very nicely in public, but according to one observer, they became “international society’s most notorious parasites for a generation”, the result of having no purpose in life except to attend cocktail parties.
That may have been fine for Edward. But as a woman, Simpson was even more useless than her husband the former king. The monarchical system in Britain is such that a woman’s true usefulness lies only in her womb. That is assuming, of course, that your womb is of any use to the kingdom in the first place. And yes, the word is use. Kate Middleton’s only function in the royal family was to have children who would one day sit on the throne. Afterwards, she would become useless. Possibly even a nuisance…much like her late mother-in-law after she gave birth to William, the father of her children. If this sounds less like Cinderella and more like The Handmaid’s Tale, you aren’t far off.
This is the world that Meghan Markle now finds herself in. Her husband will never be king and so at least she will be spared from the obligation to raise progeny to continue the royal bloodline. That fact, however, will not free her from the extraordinarily tight controls that being a member of the House of Windsor demand. Her travel will be rigidly scheduled. Her friends and associates carefully vetted to even be in the same room with her. What she wears, what she eats, and yes, what she says, will be carefully choreographed and scripted according to protocols hundreds of years in the making. She isn’t even granted the basic dignity of a last name.
Meghan Markle no longer exists. She is Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to her new family that she was once a California-bred TV actress. Her education from Northwestern University, her internship abroad with the US Embassy in Argentina and her popularity among people of color in the United States are of no consequence. Even her social media presence as an individual has been deleted in its entirety by Kensington Palace. All that is left of what was once an intelligent and vivacious young woman is a persona; part of a peerage that King George III, America’s first sworn enemy, created for one of his wayward children in 1801. But won’t she look great on a collectible serving tray?
This is the price of the fairy tale that everyone got to squeal with glee at on a bright May morning in London. A woman who few people had heard about until recently, unless you were a fan of Suits on the USA Network, has been permanently lost to her native country for the affections of a man, although wealthy and famous beyond comprehension, has no actual purpose in life. They are both forever relegated to acting as mere ornaments; backdrops for his older brother, the future King William V, who is himself doomed to rule a Commonwealth over which he has no real authority.
If you are hoping that she will the instrument by which the British Monarchy will be led into a new millennium, then you’re nursing a delusion. It is an outmoded behemoth, buttressed over time to withstand unwarranted change from any one person. It’s not something you can just throw a new coat of paint on and make it seem new. It is old and ugly, fundamentally irrelevant and totally unnecessary. The introduction of a biracial American woman into the family is just putting lipstick on a pig. No real change can occur. She likely would have had greater influence if she remained a minor television celebrity in this country. Her newly acquired title will grant her no greater platform to speak from. Her celebrity will surely fade as she will eventually have to cede the stage for King William and Catherine, the Queen Consort. The issues that she is currently so passionate about will now no longer affect her in any meaningful way. The things she cares about will simply be dictated to her from Buckingham Palace. Her big day is now over. Things will go back being all about William and Kate again…the way it was always meant to be.
If anyone had the power to change such an entrenched system, it would have been Diana Spencer. She tried to be her own woman, speaking with conviction about important matters to herself and a great many people from across the globe. A passionate advocate for children, a fashion icon, beloved by millions. As exceptional as she was, however, it was ultimately impossible, even for her, to break loose from the role she had been cast in on another royal wedding day in 1981. Her exit from the House of Windsor was heartbreak, scandal, a failed marriage and death in a Paris tunnel.
I hope I’m wrong, but I think it would have been better for today’s Royal couple to be together simply as Meghan Markle and Harry Windsor. Ordinary people with the ability to make your own way in the world is better than one day as an international spectacle that defines who you are for the rest of your life followed by obscurity and silence.
The fact it isn’t this way for them makes the Royal Wedding objectionable.