A pro-life princess would be frowned on, writes David Quinn
The second season of the much-praised Netflix series The Crown is being released this weekend. Over six seasons it intends looking at the entire reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reign in British history.
One of the things the series is examining as it progresses is how radically values have changed in that time. Elizabeth became Queen in 1952. It was a very different world. Religion was taken far more seriously, and so was marriage. In flashbacks, season one looks at the crisis that engulfed the country in 1936 when Edward VIII – not yet formally crowned – decided to abdicate when told he could not be King and marry the thrice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. The fact she was divorced was the sticking point.
Flash forward less than 20 years to the early reign of Queen Elizabeth, and her younger sister, Margaret, found obstacles in the way of her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend. She did not marry him in the end.
Had Margaret fallen in love with Townsend a few years later in the 1960s, she probably would have been able to marry him because values were changing so fast by then. It would still have been a different thing if she had been next-in-line to the throne.
Fast forward another few decades and we find that three of the Queen’s four children are divorced and Charles, the heir to the throne, is married to a divorcée. Charles himself is divorced, of course, but his wife, Diana, died 20 years ago as we all know.
So, all is changed, and that is why no-one batted an eyelash when it was announced that Prince Harry is to marry the divorced American actress, Meghan Markle. On the contrary, almost everyone was delighted because we all like a good love story quite aside from the fact that Markle is bringing a considerable slice of Hollywood-style glamour to the Royal Family.
From the point of view of the British commentariat, which is to say, the people who get to influence British public opinion, it helps enormously that she has all the ‘right views’. She is pro-Remain, which is to say, she doesn’t want Britain leaving the EU. The fact that just over half of Britons feel otherwise doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other.
Given that most British commentators and politicians wanted Britain to stay in the EU, what would they be thinking of Meghan Markle if she had been pro-Brexit?
She has the predictable Hollywood views on ‘tolerance’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ as well. She put a picture on her social media feeds showing six hearts and the caption, ‘black, cop, gay, Muslim, me, you’.
That’s all very well, but suppose she had come out against same-sex marriage in the past, or believed that immigration from Muslim countries should be restricted? Or suppose, God forbid, she was a Trump supporter instead of being a Democrat and a Hillary Clinton supporter?
Ms Markle says she is a feminist. But suppose she was also pro-life and had publicly declared herself against abortion? (It’s possible to be a pro-life feminist, the type does exist). Would this find favour with Britain’s opinion-formers? I suspect not.
In fact, I suspect it would be very hard for Prince Harry to marry a woman who had publicly known socially conservative views on issues like marriage and the right to life. That would cause plenty of publicly-vented angst.
But if it also transpired that she was a Trump-style Republican, that is, opposed to gun control, in favour of the death penalty, in favour of curbs on immigration and so on, I suspect the marriage could not go ahead. I suspect there would simply be too much opposition to it.
In other words, in any period there will be values that, were they to be found in a prospective spouse to a member of the Royal Family, would be a deal breaker.
Divorce no longer matters, because so many British people are now divorced. The fact that Harry is currently living with Meghan doesn’t matter either because couples living together before they marry is absolutely the norm and why should the Royal Family be any different?
In fact, it might even look a bit strange if Harry and Meghan did not live together first. Cohabitation is now so normal as to be expected. People might think they were taking a risk by not finding out if they like sharing a house together first. This is despite the fact that couples who live together do not lower their odds of getting divorced later and might even increase the odds.
Queen Elizabeth, of course, recently celebrated 70 years of marriage. If The Crown, and other sources, are to be believed, her marriage to Philip went through a very rocky patch decades ago. In a different, later time, they might even have divorced. But the fact that they rode out the alleged rough patch and now seem to be happy together ought to be a lesson to society that often divorce is not the answer (assuming you believe divorce is ever the answer).
I’m not sure if British society is ready for that lesson, however.
In any event, we can say for certain that the time when a Royal could not marry a divorced person is long past. But we can also say with almost as much certainty, that a prospective spouse to a Royal must still conform to certain values or be considered beyond the Pale.
Meghan Markle has safely conformist, liberal views on everything, it would seem, and so British opinion-formers like her.
If she had outspokenly traditional views on issues like marriage and the right-to-life it would be a different thing entirely, even if she promised to keep those views to herself upon becoming a royal princess.
David Quinn’s book, How we killed God (and other tales of modern Ireland), is out now.