On her wedding day, Meghan Markle’s original poem read, “So I ask you to raise a glass to the astounding assurance that now life begins, and the everlasting knowing that above all, love wins.” If she only knew the battles that lay before her.
“This is not a dreamy fairy tale. Most crowns are made of thorns as well as diamonds. Raised elsewhere, Meghan cannot possibly understand what she is getting into. The Windsors are a cold and dysfunctional family,” warned journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. It was November 2017. Prince Harry, the world’s most eligible bachelor, just announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle. Alibhai-Brown’s warning seemed sensational, cruel, and hyperbolic. In retrospect, it was foreshadowing.
But this was 2017, before the coordinated hate campaign against Meghan Markle, of which her own half-sister participated. Before we learned that Prince Harry’s own brother and father leaked information to the British media about their plans to leave the monarchy. Before that same British media felt so embolden in their hatred to call Meghan and Harry’s son the n-word, liken him to a chimpanzee, and fantasize that Meghan will be forced to run naked through the streets as onlookers yell shame and throw excrement at her. This was before Meghan and Harry left the Royal Family, indefinitely. This was before everything.
It seems like a dream, looking back. We were so excited. A modern prince marrying a divorced woman, three years his senior. A marriage that once meant excommunication from one’s own family. Many lethargic journalists likened Meghan Markle to Wallis Simpson — the twice-divorced Nazi sympathizing American socialite who married King Edward VIII, forcing him to abdicate the crown. As I discuss here, it’s at best problematic to analogize an anti-racist mixed race feminist to someone who saluted Hitler. However the true royal analogy lies not with Meghan, but with Harry and his great-aunt, Princess Margaret.
As the popular Netflix series The Crown dramatizes, the real-life Princess Margaret fell in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced World War II hero and equerry to both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. Sixteen years her senior, Group Captain Townsend proposed to the young Princess, a proposal she eventually declined after years of speculation, forced separation, Parliamentary maneuvers, and intervention from the Church of England.
Despite the nearly insurmountable obstacles, if she had truly wanted, Princess Margaret could’ve married the Group Captain. State papers, released fifty years after their ill-fated romance reveal that should she have proceeded with the marriage, then-Prime Minister Anthony Eden constructed a plan for Princess Margaret to retain her royal allowance. And several other figures felt the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was anachronistic and potentially inapplicable to her.
We’ll never truly know if Princess Margaret wanted to give up everything to marry the Group Captain. We’ll never know if the Queen’s refusal to publicly support the marriage caused an indefinite strain on their relationship, as fictionally depicted.
We do know on October 31, 1955 Princess Margaret announced she would not marry Group Captain Townsend, and would remain in the Royal line of succession. We know the Group Captain remarried in 1959. He had three more children, and spent the rest of his life with his wife and family. The following year, we also know Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a marriage riddled with infidelity and despair, which ended in divorce in 1978.
Sixty-five years after Princess Margaret signed her love away, with his wife and son, Prince Harry secretly enters the United States, doing what his great-aunt didn’t: renounce everything for love. As their Netflix documentary details, royal life had reached an existential breaking point and the couple felt whatever awaited them on the other side of the Atlantic was far better than Windsor Castle and Christmases at Sandringham. Harry was willing to renounce his titles and relinquish his royal allowance for the American actress he first saw on Instagram. Stripped of security, safety, and nearly sanity, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle boarded their “freedom flight” and never looked back.
For any human being with a soul, listening to Prince Harry attribute Meghan’s miscarriage to the stress from her litigation with the Daily Mail — against whom she prevailed, and describe being frightened in her home for the well-being of her children, was heartbreaking. As Meghan shed tears when she asked those who incite lethal hatred against her if it’s worth it, one can barely remember a time when the world was excited for the Trans-Atlantic treaty of the century. As author Afua Hirsch aptly reflected, “their departure felt like the death of a dream.” And in many ways it was.
Shattered is any veneer of an alluring monarchy; any dreams of a modern princess. The only remnant of happily ever after is the unwavering Prince, man of combat and honour, who never left Meghan’s side. The only vestige of the dream: their love prevailed over a millennia-old institution, armed with a firing squad masquerading as a Fourth Estate.
Today, our past excitement seems fanciful, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s words prophetic. As international media swooned over matrimonial diplomacy, Yasmin was preoccupied with the litany of failed Windsor marriages and the traumatized women they left behind. If more had been insightful, would it have made a difference?
On the eve of the wedding, there was one tabloid story that seemed particularly preposterous. Meghan allegedly complained of the tiara chosen for her, and “demanded” a different one. Something tells me that recollections may vary, however there may be an iota of truth in that story.
Maybe Meghan tried on several tiaras, finding them all uncomfortable. Not for their diamonds or lack thereof, but for the disguised thorns underneath. As the sharp edges bruised her skin, she may have thought changing the tiara would alleviate the discomfort. She now knows it was not the antique jewels on her hairline, but the House of Windsor on her soul.