Column: How the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are redefining the British monarchy in the 21st century

Jane Anne Darken
Oxford Stories

Prince Harry married acclaimed American actress, Meghan Markle, in May this past year. Markle, a divorced, vocal feminist, with a mixed-race heritage is not the stereotypical image of an English royal. She has tastefully broken old traditions. Despite people’s opinions and criticism from the press, she has proven she is taking her new role as the Duchess of Sussex seriously.

The Royal family is no stranger to scandals and divorces. Let’s not forget how Queen Elizabeth II got to the throne. Her Uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated his position as King so he could marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American socialite. Although that was 80 years ago, the monarchy has modernized its views on divorce.

According to The Washington Post, Harry still needed the sovereign’s approval to wed. In past years, permission would not have been granted to marry a divorcee, an American no less, without renouncing his claim on the crown. Even his father, Prince Charles, who is next in line to the throne and future head of the Church of England, was not remarried to Camilla Parker-Bowles in a church.

The fact that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was held in St. George’s Chapel shows that the monarchy is modernizing and speaks to the family’s acceptance of Markle. She was escorted down the aisle by Prince Charles while wearing the Queen Mary Diamond Bandeau tiara that came from the Queen’s personal jewelry collection. They even incorporated Markle’s African-American heritage by having the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church, speak during the ceremony.

However, their wedding wasn’t the start of this young couple breaking old traditions. Months after they announced their engagement, Markle spent her first Christmas with the royal family breaking protocol that fiancées are not typically invited. Even Kate Middleton never attended Christmas with the royals until after she and Prince William were married in 2011.

Even before Prince Harry met Markle, he spoke out about the grief he felt when he tragically lost his mother at just 12 years old and the mental health issues he faced in the following years after her accident. It is rare for a member of the royal family to speak publicly about a matter that is so personal. His honesty and vulnerability allowed him to connect with more people.

Through his own struggles and discoveries, the young Prince and his older brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, founded the mental health charity, Heads Together, in 2016. By vocalizing his struggles, he has “been able to redefine strength and dignity for a new generation,” The Washington Post reports.

While there are no anti-affection rules for members of the royal family, it is rare to see them affectionate in public due to their positions as working representatives of the British monarchy. However, Prince Harry and Markle are not refraining from that.

In their first interview as an engaged couple, they were holding hands, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing in an overall very comfortable normal environment. This allowed the public to see their connection and love for one another in a new, refreshing way that hasn’t been done by other members of the royal family.

Female members of the royal family are expected to wear pantyhose every time they wear a dress or skirt in public, Insider reports. When the couple stepped out to publicly announce their engagement, Markle caught everyone’s eyes – not with her stunning engagement ring, but for being bare-legged.

During her first solo engagement as the Duchess of Sussex, Markle made a small gesture of independence when she shut her car door. Although it is something that seems very small, most on-duty royals are not seen closing their car doors, and people have been positively responding to this little act, praising her for remaining “down to earth” despite her new title.

At her first appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, Markle wore an off the shoulder pale pink dress. British Tabloid, The Sun, reports fashion tradition usually dictates the royal women do not wear off-shoulder or other revealing styles. Markle is not the first royal to break this rule, and Princess Diana wore a similar style dress at an event.

Markle interacts with the public in a less official way than other members of the royal family. A big royal no-no is not signing autographs because there is a chance they can be forged. However, when a little girl asked Markle for one, she signed one for her with a smiley face.

Markle also hugs people while tradition dictates most royal family members handshake. It has also been noted that Markle prefers to carry, or in this case wear, crossbody bags instead of using a purse or clutch like the Queen or Kate Middleton. Her crossbody bag allows her hands to be free, so she greets the hundreds of people lined up to meet her.

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