Two people fell in love and it was hard not to be very happy for them. It was also hard not to be excited about what their union suggested for an outdated institution: a non-white person married into the royal family for the first time; a divorcee was allowed to marry into the royal family in a full Church of England service for the first time; a gospel choir sang at a royal wedding for the first time; a black preacher invoked slavery and Martin Luther King to a largely white audience, stunning Windsor Castle and the world. In short, it looked like the monarchy was getting a 21st century update.
And in some undeniable ways, it did. But other aspects remained starkly uncomfortable. It was difficult to watch a wedding at which the mother of the bride sat conspicuously alone opposite a plethora of insignificant ‘royals’, who conducted themselves with far less dignity and grace. This still felt like an elite, judgemental club.
It was difficult to watch an independent, 36-year-old woman, be ‘given away’ by a man not even related to her. In an age in which we are trying to teach our young girls to have diverse and ambitious aspirations, it was difficult to watch a woman give up her successful career literally so that she could marry a prince. Meghan may have made that decision freely and willingly, but to watch a princess narrative of the sort we are now attempting to modify be glorified on such a large scale was discomfiting.
Harry, I think, has made a smart choice in marrying Meghan, who introduces to him and to his family a new and necessary way of looking at the world. He also clearly offers Meghan something in return; a talented and wealthy woman did not just give up her way of life for a man she didn’t love. And she has every right to make that decision. It is unfair to demand that Meghan embody feminist ideals when part of feminism is allowing women to make free choices without fear of judgement. But I am still left wondering who in that relationship is going to have to make the more compromises to ensure a successful marriage, which will always exist within the context of the monarchy – Harry, or Meghan?
Even as the ceremony unfolded, there was a sense that the wedding would be a crucial turning point for the royal family. A month on, this view has not disappeared, with public appearances fuelling commentary on what Harry and Meghan’s marriage means for an institution under so much scrutiny.
When William and Kate were married, there was little to discuss in the way of modernisation. Though not from a typical aristocratic family, Kate resembled most of what the monarchy always had been. The ceremony had all the features everyone could easily compare to that of Charles and Diana or even the Queen and Prince Phillip – it was regal, with a presence which felt befitting of a future monarch.
Harry and Meghan’s wedding took a different tone, one I feel is a decisive step towards the modern monarchy that the young royals had already been establishing through their work on mental health. Despite the huge budget and size of the cathedral, the wedding felt so much more intimate – throughout all the coverage, I felt like I knew this couple. They welcomed the public in and have been doing so in their public appearances since with familiar touches and more overt displays of affection than royal couples have ever afforded themselves. The royal family they embody is one which is more open and tolerant than we have previously seen.
Meghan’s race and feminist activism have been the subject of more opinion pieces than I could count since the wedding day last month. I hope she continues to speak out on the causes that matter to her with her elevated platform, though I sadly can’t see this happening. Already, commentators have analysed her appearance at Prince Charles’ birthday celebration in tights to death, but it has significance.
Like anyone in the royal family, she is bound by certain customs which have endured upheaval over the centuries. The intimacy and connection the public felt to the royal couple is already disappearing, falling to the traditions we were all so sure would break. It’s only been a month, so we don’t have a full picture yet, but I won’t be holding my breath for the change the royal wedding seemed to be ushering in.