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Arts & Culture Series: Expert Comment

Did the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle follow tradition?

Historian Dr Lise Butler compares the 2018 royal wedding with other royal marriages

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

According to City historian Dr Lise Butler, a Lecturer in Modern History in the Department of International Politics, the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle reflected both change and continuity with royal traditions.

What was different about this royal wedding?

“The decision to hold the wedding at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is an interesting one, because most high-profile royal weddings in the twentieth century have been held in London,” said Dr Butler.

“Windsor was a common choice for royal weddings in the nineteenth century, but since the early twentieth century they have often been held in Westminster Abbey – or in the case of Charles and Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral.

“St George’s Chapel in Windsor is a more private venue, and the last couple to have their wedding ceremony there was Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, who have had a relatively low-profile and scandal-free marriage. So perhaps it’s sending a signal that although they are obviously huge celebrities Harry and Meghan want to have a more private, or at least less political, marriage. This might also be reflected in the relatively small number of guests and the lack of invitations to heads of state.”

Was anything the same?

Dr Butler said: “There were elements of both change and continuity in the ceremony itself. The Queen is head of the Church of England and so, like other royal weddings, the Archbishop of Canterbury officiated this one.

“The Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, the head of the American Episcopal Church, gave a much commented-on address which departed sharply from royal tradition in its style and substance. But the Episcopal Church is part of Anglican Communion in the US, so Curry’s presence didn’t in fact challenge the monarchy’s official Anglicanism.”

How significant was this for the royal family?

“The British royal family has long been very aware that it is reliant on public support. In many ways I suspect they see the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a good PR move,” said Dr Butler.

“The last marriage between and American divorcee and a member of the royal family – when Wallis Simpson married King Edward VIII – famously resulted in huge scandal and Edward’s abdication.

“This marriage, on the other hand, seems to be very good for the royal family’s image – Markle’s celebrity, biracial background, status as a divorcee, liberal attitudes and international connections add to the monarchy’s popularity and public image. That shows a huge change in the attitudes of the royal family and the British public.

“There’s a huge amount of interest in the family at the moment, and things like the television programme The Crown have added to this. The royal family knows it is in a period of high public interest, and I suspect they want to make the most of it.”

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