HAS THE MONARCHY CHANGED THEIR VALUES?
Did you know that Meghan Markle is not the 1st American or black woman or divorcee to marry into the Royal Family!
The Royals – As we look forward to the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, it started me thinking about this liaison, and the fact that Meghan is American, a divorcee and of mixed race. Things that would have been an issue in the past within the monarchy. It’s interesting to notice the changing views of both the monarchy and establishment over time. Let’s go right back to the reign of Mad King George III. At his bidding parliament passed the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which laid out the conditions under which members of the British Royal Family could enter into a valid marriage. It seems he was annoyed that he had to toe the line and marry out of duty, whereas his brothers chose to marry commoners. He wanted to ensure the status of the royal family, not allowing any of the masses entry into the royal family. The Act decreed that his siblings and any descendants had to obtain his consent to marry. If they married without it was considered illegal, and a criminal offence. You see despite falling in love with 15-year old Sarah Lennox, a daughter of the Duke of Richmond, George settled for Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz out of duty. She was regarded as ugly, having a large mouth and flat nose. Unkindly, she was nicknamed “monkey face”. A German princess, Charlotte was descended directly from an African branch of the Portuguese royal house, Margarita de Castro y Sousa, and in 1761 at the age of 17 became Queen to dear old Mad King George. Which also means she is Queen Victoria’s grandmother, and Harry’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother.
During this time slavery was prevalent, and I should imagine Charlotte would have been sympathetic to the growing antislavery movement due to her heritage. I wonder whether that was one of the reasons George put clauses into the marriage contract between them stating she must not involve herself in politics, which she apparently complied with. Instead, she was kept busy by bearing him, 15 children.
It would appear that Charlotte’s heritage was played down. Was that because there were still several thousands of Africans still working in British households as slaves? Abolition of the slave trade happened around that time, but black people would certainly not be seen as equals. Royal portrait painters were expected to soften Queen Charlotte’s African features. Any portraits were rejected by the Royal couple if they didn’t meet their approval. So many of her portraits were not a true likeness, having been manipulated – much as images are ‘photoshopped’ today. Many of the portraits I found of Charlotte certainly show her with more European features. Sir Thomas Lawrence, a royal portrait painter of the time, had several of his painting rejected by the Royal couple and looking at a portrait I found, I can tell her nose appeared wider and her lips fuller than some others that were accepted. Sir Allan Ramsey, another notable royal painter, produced paintings that depicted her with more distinct African features. A Coronation portrait he painted of Charlotte was sent out to the Colonies and was claimed to have played a part in the anti-slave movement.
Moving on to relatively recent times. In 1936 Edward VII abdicated because he wouldn’t give up the love of his life, American, twice divorced Wallis Simpson. The Royal Marriage Act was still in force so he had to make a choice – give up the crown or Wallis, and he chose love. At that time the Church of England didn’t approve marriage for divorcees until 2002, and as the Monarch is also the Head of the Church of England he was in a very difficult position. He married Wallis and spent his life in exile being paid an income, said to be the equivalent of more than the Queen receives now in current values.
We move forward to 1953 when the next royal bombshell of its time hit. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister wanted to marry a ‘commoner’ and divorcee Peter Townsend. She could
have married him with her sister’s agreement but there were strict conditions made. The most important being that neither she nor her children could be in line for succession to the throne. The likelihood of that happening was pretty slim, but even so, she broke off her relationship with Townsend. We will never know if that was the reason or not, but there was certainly fierce opposition to her marrying Townsend. She met and married a photographer, Anthony Armstrong – Jones, deciding to do so shortly after hearing that Townsend had married someone else. The popular Netflix series The Crown would suggest that was the reason, but we will never know for sure.
By the time Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles, a divorcee, in 2005, the Church of England had changed its views on divorce. I found it interesting that the public and the Royals accepted Camilla so readily, considering that Diana had cited her continuing affair with Charles during their marriage as one of the reasons she and Charles had such an unhappy marriage. It shows how times have changed, and that affairs and divorce are so readily accepted in today’s society.
But I’m jumping ahead as I haven’t talked about Diana. Although at the beginning the Queen seemed happy with the match between her and her son and seemed to manoeuvred it to some degree, wanting her son to be settled down and producing heirs. After the wedding, it became apparent that Diana didn’t fit the mould of the establishment. She hadn’t realised that her marriage was a union of unconditional love, convenience, duty and public show.
Queen Elizabeth is completely dedicated to her duty as Queen of England above everything else. So when Diana went to her, upset about her unhappy marriage she received little sympathy or understanding from her. Diana became more popular as she carried out her Royal duties – her way. Supporting charities that were considered taboo at that time, such as AIDS. Because she was the people’s Queen of Hearts. As a mother, she showed outward public affection to her two boys. All very different from the reserved and traditional image of the Royal Family. Even after her divorce from Charles, Diana did things her way, speaking out about her unhappy marriage. She continued to carry on her charity work and secretly dated the British-Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Kha, but then ended it. Her butler, Paul Burrell claimed that Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with a Muslim man, but it seemed she may have ended it because he wanted her to live in Pakistan. This would have been unthinkable as she would have been parted from her boys.
Within a month, Diana began a relationship with Dodi Fayed, an Egyptian, Muslim film producer, with whom she met her untimely death, which has been surrounded by many conspiracy theories.
So we move forward yet again to the marriage of William and Kate. Whilst not of Royal blood, Kate appears to have taken to her role, fitting the Royal mould much more readily than Diana.
She too appears to have stolen the hearts of the public. Diana was a trailblazer in Royal terms, bucking the system, and changing the way in which the Royals behave, becoming more relaxed.
Finally, to the liaison between Harry and Meghan. Fortunately, hostility towards mixed race marriages is changing for the better, as have the other prejudices. I remember when I was divorced in the 80’s I felt incredible shame, it had such a stigma in those days. Now it’s accepted that not all marriages work out. Meghan is of mixed race, her mother being an African American
and her dad an Irish Dutch descendant, and grew up in Hollywood. Sadly her parents divorced when she was six years old. She’s spoken openly about how she has experienced racial discrimination in her life and how it’s affected her. So she is no stranger to life’s struggles. Harry has always been loved by the public and it seems Meghan has been welcomed with open arms by the British public. I think the view is that people want both William and Harry to be happy, after the sad loss of their mother.
Meghan also seems to be accepted by the Queen and the rest of the Royals. Despite the fact that she appears to ignore many of the Royal protocols, like public show of affection. Meghan is allowed to be herself, whereas Diana was reigned in. What a difference a few years make.
But what is life like for the rest of the population who are in mixed race relationships? How accepted are they in their community? Many families experience horrendous treatment from others, being bullied and rejected, just because of the colour of their skin or their religion. Unlike Harry and Meghan and their children who will at least be protected from the cruel jibes and behaviour maliciously directed at them.