There has not been anyone around the British royal court like Meghan Markle for a good long while. She is not even officially part of the Windsor family yet, but the 36-year-old divorcee is already shaking things up. Meghan’s wedding to 33-year-old Prince Harry is not shaping up to be the typical royal wedding – not in the slightest. The American actress has already attempted to uproot some old royal wedding traditions and replace them with her own ideas. Some observers may well be shocked at this – but many well-wishers are applauding Meghan for asserting herself in the planning of her big day.
The list of British royal rules is an extremely long one. For all that the U.K.’s blue-bloods enjoy great privilege, they don’t necessarily have an awful lot of freedom. Meghan and Harry can’t take selfies with their fans, even if they want to, because it would be frowned upon. They are also forbidden to have social media accounts, so Meghan had to shut her personal Instagram down after she got engaged.
Even the wardrobe of a royal is tightly regulated. Don’t expect Meghan to wear colorful nail polish on her wedding day or indeed any day after that; the Queen, reportedly, does not approve. And any wedge-heeled shoes Meghan may have in her closet are also going to have to walk. Queen Elizabeth, who clearly has more-or-less the final say on things, also takes a dim view of such footwear.
So Meghan is much more limited in her wedding day plans than the average woman would be. Then again, a normal bride is not going to have her walk down the aisle watched by millions of people all over the world. But all the same, Harry’s fiancée is still trying as hard as possible to have her wedding actually be about her rather than her guests or the wider audience.
Naturally, Meghan wants her friends to be front and center at her marriage ceremony, and who can blame her? But there is one small problem, and – needless to say – that it too is rooted in royal protocol. “Most royal brides do not have adult bridesmaids,” Marlene Koenig, author and royalty expert, told upmarket U.K. magazine Town and Country in December 2017. “Catherine had her sister, because the two are close, but [Meghan] has no close sisters. I doubt Meghan will have any adult attendants at all.”
But it has been reported that Meghan is very keen to break that tradition. According to the entertainment periodical Us Weekly, not only is she going to have adults in her bridal party, but she is even going to have a maid of honor. And that news might raise eyebrows among older members of the royal family. A maid of honor is a U.S. custom, not a U.K. one. A British bride would have a chief bridesmaid instead.
“While it is very much a British wedding, expect a few American touches too. She’s not picked a chief bridesmaid, she’s chosen a maid of honor,” an anonymous insider told the magazine. “I wouldn’t imagine for one second that [Harry and Meghan] plan to sit back and be told what to do, and they won’t. Their romance feels refreshingly modern.”
The unnamed Us Weekly source added, “I think that’s something that everyone at Kensington Palace has felt incredibly excited by.” In addition to housing Prince Harry, Kensington Palace is currently home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Eugenie. So at least they are all happy. But who might Meghan choose as her maid of honor? Rumor has it that the actress is considering her best friend Jessica Mulroney. The 37-year-old Canadian is also Meghan’s stylist – and, notably, one who specializes in weddings.
But the bridesmaid tradition is not the only custom Meghan is flouting. She may well be given away by her mother, Doria Ragland, rather than her father. As Us Weekly’s anonymous insider warns, “Don’t expect a royal wedding by numbers… I’ve heard that Meghan wants her mother to walk her down the aisle, which would be a sweet moment.”
It is not known what the motivation behind that particular decision could have been. For although Meghan is very close to her mother, she also enjoys a very close relationship with her father, Thomas. But Mr. Markle prefers a quiet life and has in fact kept well away from the cameras and paparazzi so far. Perhaps it is the case that Thomas simply does not want a major role in his daughter’s wedding – not because of her but because of the media interest.
Meghan herself has never been shy in public. A fact perhaps underlined by the rumor that she may give a speech at her wedding – another big break with British royal tradition. U.K. newspaper The Sunday Times reported in January 2018 that Meghan had plans to thank her newly-wed husband and her new family in front of the hundreds of wedding guests. This would be something more or less unheard of for a British royal bride. Nevertheless, according to the report, Meghan has had Harry’s full support for this plan.
But, bearing in mind her personality, it should hardly come as a surprise that Meghan would want to do these things. She is a dedicated feminist, and in 2015 she gave a speech at the U.N. where she stated that “a wife is equal to her husband.” That said, she is actually not the first person to have married into the British royals and tried to ensure a degree of gender equality at their wedding. Indeed, Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, did something similar when she married his father, Prince Charles, in 1981.
Diana and Charles’ wedding was much more traditional than Harry and Meghan’s nuptials are set to be. But there was one small thing that caused an uproar at the time. Diana and Charles, after some discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, principal leader of the Church of England, removed the word “obey” from Diana’s vows. So the princess did not promise to obey Charles before God, only to “love him, comfort him, honor and keep him.”
In fact, this change in U.K. royal tradition has been one that has lasted. When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, she also declined to obey. By this point in history, times had changed significantly, and it was rare to find any bride who still used the word in their wedding vows. So chances are high that Meghan will not promise to obey Harry either.
Most people have seen Meghan’s decisions about her wedding so far as perfectly reasonable. Nonetheless, there have been a minority who have voiced their complaints. When news of Meghan’s wedding updates hit the internet, many took to the online comment sections to criticize her. “If Meghan and Prince Harry are willing to break royal protocols, then Harry should be stripped of all royal benefits and title and they should live as commoners. THEN they can do whatever they want,” wrote one aggrieved reader on the website of U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail.
But more worryingly, Meghan has been the target of harassment because of her race. And indeed, many of the tabloid newspaper stories written about her have had racist undertones, with outright racist insults being slung in the comment sections. The year before Harry popped the question to Meghan, he and his press secretary released a statement to the media condemning them for their treatment of the woman he loved.
“Some of [the harassment] has been very public – the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments,” it read. It was a fiery, angry piece. This move of Harry’s also qualified as a breach of royal tradition; it was unprecedented for a prince to release such a statement.
And unfortunately, though the majority of the British public have welcomed Meghan, there is a still a handful of people who hold vile views about her. In the months since it was announced she was to marry Harry, there have been two high-profile instances where Meghan has been the victim of racism. First, the girlfriend of a right-wing politician was caught using offensive language about Meghan and tweeting she would “taint” the Windsor family.
The second case was more serious. In February 2018 an envelope containing a racist letter and a mystery white powder was posted to Harry and Meghan at St. James’ Palace. The powder turned out to be harmless, but the police chose to investigate the sending of the missive as a racist hate crime.
So considering what she is up against, it is hardly surprising that Meghan is choosing to be a little bit headstrong when it comes to royal tradition and planning her big day. The message she appears to be sending is clear: I am about to become a member of your royal family, and you are going to have to accept me. And who knows? Perhaps Meghan’s matrimonial innovations will become new traditions for future royal brides to obey.