Joanna Bogle is Visiting Research Fellow at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. She is the author of some twenty books, including several historical biographies and A Book of Seasons and Celebrations with information on traditions and customs marking the Church year. Her most recent book is John Paul II - Man of Prayer with colleague Clare Anderson, exploring the spiritual life of St. John Paul the Great. She broadcasts regularly with EWTN and has recently initiated popular Catholic History Walks around London. She blogs at “Auntie Joanna Writes” and EWTN’s “Catholic Journalist in London”.
Prince Harry announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle on Monday.
Of course, the news made for some glad headlines and some cheeriness in a somewhat bleak time. Britain’s government is struggling to make Brexit happen efficiently, and officialdom is all intent on imposing notions of “gender fluidity,” especially in schools. The world situation feels uncomfortable. And the weather is cold. So news of a royal engagement offered a lighter note.
She is beautiful, articulate and charming. They are obviously fond of one another. He has served with courage in the Army, and helped to initiate the superb Invictus sports championships for gravely disabled former soldiers. His older brother is heir to the throne and has married and established a young family. News of Prince Harry’s engagement completes the picture of a young royalty offering much that is good and hopeful for the future.
Or does it? What do HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seek? Both endured parental divorce and know what it is to live with the confusion of a broken home. The bride is herself divorced. After living with a fellow actor for some years they went through a civil marriage but divorced two years later. Perhaps this was never a marriage that would have been recognized by the Church, but this is not something that has ever been raised. Markle—the royal announcement referred to her as “Ms,” a first for such a formal royal statement—has made a successful career in films and popular TV programs.
Neither Prince Harry nor Meghan Markle are churchgoers. Markle went to a Catholic school in the United States and has an eccentric uncle who has established his own “Catholic Orthodox” chapel and claims to be a bishop. But religion in any very specific form does not seem to play a large part in either Prince Harry’s or Markle’s life, although the former obviously takes part in the formal church events of the royal calendar.
The bride-to-be has said she wants to campaign on “gender issues.” This may indicate a desire to help girls in poor countries to have a chance of education. Or it may mean a number of other possibilities.
It was announced Tuesday that Markle will be baptized in the Church of England, and the wedding will be a Christian ceremony at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in May. The church setting will make for a magnificent spectacle.
The Queen and Prince Philip have set a shining example of faithfulness and devotion in marriage, and recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. They are greatly loved and there is immense gratitude to them for their service to the country and the Commonwealth—and there is a recognition that real Christian faith is at the core of both their marriage and their lives of dedication. Among the next generation, the track record of marital stability has been poor. Thus many hopes are placed on the younger generation now in adulthood.
The next stage will be lots and lots of photographs of the young couple, and media fascination with every detail of the wedding arrangements. Markle’s clothes will be endlessly discussed along with her opinions, and she will be very much praised for affirming those that are currently in fashion. There will be general support for the Church of England simply accepting the fact of her divorced status being no bar to future marriage. And It will be assumed that it is entirely right for the Prince and his fiancée to live together before marriage.
Walter Bagehot wrote that “A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, it rivets mankind.” Just so. For Catholics, discussion of a royal marriage is set in the context of what marriage is, and why it matters. Perhaps that is why, in the general atmosphere of goodwill, there is a slight sense of concern on the part of your correspondent.