Will Prince Harry Have to Leave the Royal Family to Marry Meghan Markle?

By now it should be old news that Prince Harry is engaged. But, just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-four hours, here’s a quick recap: Clarence House announced Monday morning that Prince Harry and his girlfriend, American actress Meghan Markle, will be wed in May of 2018. Markle, who has been married once before, is 36 and Harry is 33. The pair became engaged earlier this month and will live in Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.

While this is certainly thrilling news, it’s impossible for those of us fascinated by the monarchy (and I mean, come on, who isn’t fascinated by the monarchy?) not to be reminded of another American divorcée who wed a British royal. Except that wedding caused a scandal that ended in abdication, whereas this wedding has the blessings of Queen Elizabeth (Harry’s grandmother), Prince Charles (Harry’s father), and Markle’s parents. Times, apparently, have changed.

For those of you not familiar with British royalty, here’s a quick refresher: Prince Harry is the second son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. He’s the brother of Prince William — of Will and Kate fame — and the grandson of the current queen of England, Elizabeth II. Until the birth of Will and Kate’s son, George, Harry was third in line to the throne (after his father, Charles, and his brother, William). Now that Will and Kate have two kids and another on the way, Harry’s dreams of monarchy (if he had any) will pretty much never come true. But, actually, if not for a scandalous engagement much like Harry and Markle’s, Harry and his entire family would have been even further from the throne.

Here’s how it went down. In January of 1936, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (British royals all have really long names for some reason) was crowned Edward VIII. But Edward — who was the current Queen Elizabeth’s uncle — was in love with Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American socialite. The couple’s announcement of their intention to wed caused a crisis that ended in Edward’s abdication of the throne.

Wallis Simpson (Image via Wikipedia)

The problem, you see, was that, as king of England, Edward was also the head of the church. And the church did not allow people who had been divorced to remarry if their ex was still alive. Wallis Simpson, as it turned out, had two living ex-husbands. But Edward was adamant and, on December 10, 1936 (less than a year after he became king), he abdicated the throne.

Edward’s abdication caused his brother, Albert Frederick Arthur George (I’m telling you, really long names) to become King George VI. King George was the current Queen Elizabeth’s father. So, if Edward hadn’t married Wallis Simpson and abdicated the throne, Elizabeth would never have been queen, Charles would not be next in line, William would not be next in line after that, and Harry would be even farther from the line of succession than he is now.

So, will Harry have to leave the royal family if he wants to marry Meghan Markle? Far from it! All of Harry’s close family (his grandmother the queen, his grandfather the Duke of Edinburgh, his father Prince Charles, and his brother Prince William) tweeted their congratulations and expressed their excitement about the news. So, what’s the difference?

Well, quite a bit has changed since the mid-1930s. In 2002 the Church of England declared that divorced people could get married in the church at the discretion of the priest. The priest in question for Harry and Meghan is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Reverend Justin Welby, and he seems to be on board. “I wish them many years of love, happiness and fulfilment and ask that God blesses them throughout their married life together,” the Archbishop said in a statement on Monday.

It’s worth noting that Harry’s father, Prince Charles (who is next in line to the throne), is also married to a divorcée, but his marriage didn’t go as smoothly. Although Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married after the 2002 change to church law, Archbishop Welby’s predecessor refused to marry them due to their adultery (they had been carrying on an affair while Charles was still married to Diana). Charles and Camilla were married in a civil ceremony which was followed by a blessing.

So it looks like Harry and Meghan’s nuptials will not be tainted by any of the scandal that plagued Edward VIII, or even by the lesser scandal which affected Prince Charles. I, for one, am happy for them and glad to see Harry (who, let’s be honest, was a bit of a party boy) finally settling down. Plus, I’m already stockpiling popcorn for the televised wedding ceremony. I mean, really, who doesn’t love a royal wedding?