‘A new era’ dawns as Meghan marries Harry

Sealed with a kiss: The wedding is thought to have been watched by two billion people. © Getty

Can the monarchy survive? The royal wedding had civil rights, a gospel choir singing Stand By Me and a bride who gave herself away. Some are calling it a historic turning point for Britain.

It was built in 1475 during the reign of Edward IV; it is the burial place of Henry VIII; four of Queen Victoria’s children were married there. And this weekend, St George’s Chapel witnessed another significant moment in Britain’s history: the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The ceremony made several breaks with tradition, starting with the bride herself: a biracial American divorcee. It is the first time that each of these three identities has been warmly welcomed into the family.

But that is not all. Meghan’s dress was a simple design by Clare Waight Keller, the first female artistic director of Givenchy. She entered the chapel alone and walked herself down the aisle. Harry has departed from tradition by wearing a wedding ring.

The sermon was also a surprise: Bishop Michael Curry gave a passionate address which invoked Martin Luther King Jr, slave spirituals and Instagram. The music included a gospel choir singing Ben E. King’s Stand By Me and Etta James’s civil rights anthem, Amen (This Little Light of Mine).

Afterwards, the reception served “bowl food” rather than a sit-down meal; there were A-list guests, including Oprah; instead of gifts, the couple asked for donations to seven charities tackling everything from HIV to plastic pollution.

“In a time of tribalism and separation, it was a clear move toward an integrated modern future,” wrote The New York Times.

The royal family is currently very popular with the British public, in large part thanks to Harry and his brother. In 2016, over three quarters of people wanted to keep it.

But as Harry and Meghan said their vows, European republicans were meeting for an annual event to discuss abolishing the monarchy. They argue that royal families are undemocratic, and that unelected heads of state have no place in modern society.

Is this wedding proof that the monarchy will survive such doubts?

Anarchy in the UK?

Yes, say some. Harry and Meghan are helping to modernise The Firm at just the right time. It has survived periods of crisis many times before, including the reformation, a civil war and Diana’s death just over 20 years ago. But each time, against all odds, it has come out stronger. It has learned to adapt.

It will not last forever, argue others. The royal family is the epitome of privilege and inequality; as it strives to become more inclusive, this paradox will look increasingly absurd. What’s more, the current “modernisation” actually means merging the royal world with Hollywood — and celebrity culture can be fickle. Harry and William will not be young and glamorous forever. Their popularity, and the royal family’s, could easily slip away.

You Decide

  1. Will Britain still have a royal family in 100 years?
  2. Was the royal wedding really a “turning point” in Britain’s history?

Activities

  1. Write an imaginary news report about the royal family in 20 years’ time. Think about who might be the monarch, and how public opinion might have changed. Finish by answering the question: Should Britain abolish its monarchy?
  2. Choose one of the people or moments from history mentioned in this article, and produce a short report which explains how and why they changed the world. Then answer the question: Was it changed for the better?

Some People Say...

“Democracy... while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy.”

John Adams, the second US president

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England’s monarchy is very, very old: its first king, Alfred the Great, ruled during the ninth century. The current royal family can trace their lineage all the way back to him. Notable periods of change include the Norman conquest in 1066, the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1485, and the Union of the Crowns (when the English and Scottish monarchies united) in 1707.
What do we not know?
Whether the monarchy will survive the 21st century, or how it might be deposed — although Britain is unlikely to follow the example of the French Revolution and chop off the heads of the royal family. In fact, parliament has the power to dissolve the monarchy, so it is more likely to be a democratic process, such as a referendum.

Word Watch

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The only other Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick, an anti-slavery campaigner born in 1773.
First time
When Edward VIII married American divorcee Wallis Simpson, he was forced to abdicate the throne. Prince Charles and Camilla, who were both divorced, married in a civil ceremony rather than a religious one.
Three quarters
An Ipsos Mori poll in 2016 found that 76% of people wanted Britain to remain a monarchy.
Republicans
Not members of the US political party, but people who believe in a republic: a country where the head of state is elected by the people.
The Firm
Prince Phillip’s nickname for the royal family, which acknowledges that it often acts like a family business.
Reformation
In 1517, the Catholic Church split and Protestantism was born. Henry VIII broke with Catholicism and declared himself head of the Church of England less than 20 years later. It is a role the Queen still holds today.
Civil war
A war lasting between 1642 and 1651. After this there were seven years without a monarchy; it was restored in 1660.